What You Should Know Before Buying Nitrate-Free Bacon

In all of the vast known universe, through the expanses of galaxy groups and clusters, star systems, and celestial bodies, nothing is better than bacon. Nothing. But, you can have too much of a good thing, and taking a closer look at what's in your bacon might do you some good.

The dangers of processed meats like bacon come from added nitrates found in very high concentrations. Nitrates, as an additive and preservative, provide a lot of utility because they preserve vibrant colors in many processed meats and extend the expiration date of foods. They can, however, also introduce some health risks.

Added nitrates can increase the risks of certain kinds of cancer, and complications during pregnancy, according to WebMD. For this reason, many health professionals debate and discourage the consumption of processed meats, per Cook's Illustrated. Bacon specifically can have up to 380 mcg of nitrates, and ham, hotdogs, and various deli meats are also very high in added nitrates.

Nitrates in your bacon and meats

With all the talk about nitrates in processed meat, it's surprising that these chemicals are naturally abundant in leafy greens like spinach, lettuce, and arugula. However, not all nitrates are created equal. According to WebMD, some studies have shown that these naturally produced nitrates can help prevent cancer. Nitrates found in products like beetroots and beetroot juices can also reduce blood pressure which is a key risk factor for heart disease and stroke, per Healthline.

It's the added nitrates that you want to worry about. Lots of marketing and packaging for bacon will say things like "no nitrates or nitrites added," but this just means that the meat was not directly treated with nitrite or nitrate (two chemicals that are effectively identical) but instead treated with celery juice, per Cook's Illustrated. Unfortunately, bacon cured with salt and celery juice will react with saliva to form nitrite, which in turn becomes harmful nitrosamines. In fact, WebMD states that bacon packages labeled "nitrite-free" were tested to have more than double the amount of nitrates as regular bacon. Similarly, Cook's Illustrated found that "uncured" brands were higher in nitrites after sending different packages in for lab testing. So if you're trying to avoid nitrates, you may be better off going with the conventional option — or skipping the bacon altogether.