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3 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Fear Bacon

Crispy bacon topped with Guacamole is a popular low-carb snack

Bacon has gained a bad reputation in mainstream media. There are three main reasons for that:

  • it has high level of saturated fat
  • it has high level of sodium
  • it contains nitrates (sodium and potassium nitrates)

Let's talk about each one of them...

1) Saturated fat

As I highlighted in an article about saturated fat, there is NO evidence that:

  • too much saturated fat raises cholesterol
  • saturated fat causes heart disease
  • high cholesterol causes heart disease
  • lowering cholesterol reduces heart disease
  • there is a correlation between obesity rates and the amount of fat consumption
  • there is a correlation between obesity rates and the amount of protein consumption

The types of fat you should be worried about are toxic trans fats and polyunsaturated fats, particularly high omega 6 / omega 3 ratio.

Bottom line: Don't be afraid of saurated fat.

Bacon is high in saturated fat which has never been proven to be harmul for us.

2) Sodium and low-carb diets

It's a fact that bacon is high in sodium, but is it bad for us? The general advise is to keep sodium low. However, for low-carb ketogenic diets, an increased amount is desired.

The RDA of sodium according to the USDA is 2,300 mg, which may not be enough for a low-carb diet. The reason is that insulin, which also has the effect of reducing the rate at which sodium is extracted through kidneys, drops and it can cause sodium levels to drop significantly, too. Also, as you eliminate processed foods from your diet, your sodium intake will likely be lower than what you've been used to.

You can also check my post about sufficient intake of electrolytes. Increased intake of electrolytes will help you overcome the side effects of giving up carbohydrates (fatigue, cramps and headaches).

So, how much sodium is adequate? You should add about 3,000-5,000 mg in addition to sodium naturally occurring in food (Lyle McDonald, "The Ketogenic Diet"). Don't get the idea that you can eat a cup of salt a day when on low-carb.

Bottom line: 100g / 3.5 oz of bacon contains about 2000 mg of sodium. Taking everything into account, you shouldn't worry about sodium content in bacon.

3) Nitrates: Are they dangerous?

Nitrates (sodium and potassium nitrate) are used for curing meat such as keto-friendly bacon. Some health-conscious paleo-eaters advice against them, while others see no harm. What may potentially be harmful are nitrosamines (for more information, see my reply in the comments section).

Should we avoid bacon simply because of nitrates? A simple fact: If you avoid bacon to avoid nitrates, you would also have to cut down on vegetables, which may have a lot more nitrates that bacon:

"When it comes to food, vegetables are the primary source of nitrites. On average, about 93% of nitrites we get from food come from vegetables. It may shock you to learn that one serving of arugula, two servings of butter lettuce, and four servings of celery or beets all have more nitrite than 467 hot dogs. In short, nitrites are not a problem, provided our diets are rich enough in antioxidants to facilitate the conversion of nitrites to NO and to prevent nitrosation reactions that convert nitrites into carcinogenic nitrosamines." (Source)

Bacon and processed meat is not the only source of nitrates. In fact, 80% of nitrates are ingested from vegetables such as celery.

To counteract the negative effects of nitrates, simply eat more foods rich in antioxidants, like:

  • berries (blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, cherries, etc.)
  • green tea, black tea and coffee, cocoa powder, red wine
  • tomatoes, red bell peppers, eggplants (most antioxidants are in the peel)
  • artichoke, garlic and onion, sauerkraut
  • broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale
  • watercress and spinach
  • pecan nuts
  • spices such as cinnamon, vanilla beans and ginger root
  • eggs

Wild blueberries are on the top of the list of foods with antioxidant activity. Antioxidants help counteract negative effects of nitrates.

The reason for the "nitrate panic" is a Harvard School study from 2012 which claims that red meat consumption is linked to increased risk of mortality. This study is what Gary Taubes refers to as "pseudo science."

If you want to avoid nitrites, here is what may really surprise you. Products labeled as "nitrate-free" may actually have two times more nitrate content than bacon cured directly with nitrate salts!

"Traditionally bacon was cured by adding sodium nitrite salts directly to the meat. Today most manufacturers of "nitrite free" brands add celery salt, which is about 50 percent nitrate, plus a starter culture of bacteria. This transforms the nitrate found naturally in the celery salt into nitrite, which cures the meat. Although manufacturers label this bacon "nitrite free," this method actually generates more nitrite from the celery salt than would ever be added as a salt. Indeed, "nitrite free" bacon can have twice the nitrite content of bacons cured directly with nitrite salts." (Source)

Even rocket (arugula) is high in nitrates.

To summarise, in order to decrease your nitrate intake, you would have to avoid not only bacon but also vegetables like celery or arugula. In fact, approximately 80% of dietary nitrates are derived from vegetable consumption. This study shows there may be even health benefits of nitrates and nitrites such as blood pressure lowering effects.

Bottom line: It doesn't mean you should eat bacon from dawn to sunset, but as long as your diet is rich in antioxidants, you can include bacon in moderation (see details in my Clean Eating Challenge here.)

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Please, note that I do not offer personalised advice. For personalised advice you can contact one of our experts.

Comments (14)

Is there a link to the recipe in the main picture. I need to eat more avocados and that looks great!


Hi Sydney, the Guacamole is here:


With regard to the other comments...I just have to say wholeheartedly irresponsible and ill-informed. evidence for saturated fat?  Well, it is true that they are demonized too much and that a moderate or low intake may even help you.  There is evidence for example that too little saturated fat may increase risk for hemorrhagic strokes as evidence from mouse studies and epidemiologic studies in the Japanese.  However, to say there is no evidence for atherosclerosis is just not true.  The animal studies verly clearly show a relationship and can easily categorize which fats are the worse with a dose-response relationship.  Saturated long-chain fatty acids (bascially those solid at room temp) are the worst for producing atherosclerosis.  PUFA's and MUFA's are the least or even have a beneficial effect.   Too much PUFA however seems to raise the risk for stroke and possibly some cancers as well as PUFA's have unsaturated bonds are are reactive chemicals.  Now the epidemiologic studies are hard to reproduce the animal studies...but this is not because those effects are not likely present, it is because our technical ability to conduct well-controlled human studies is very poor.  The similarity in biology between mouse and man and the simple chemical and inflammatory mechanisms of atherosclerosis should give us big pause.  


Thank you for your insights. Based on recent studies, I disagree that we need to keep our saturated fats low (unless there is a health condition such as hypercholesterolemia). My comments about saturated fats are based on recent studies and are not intended to encourage anyone to overeat saturated fats. In fact, I made it clear throughout my blog that a healthy diet should include MUFA and omega 3 food sources.


  This is a bit overly optimistic.  First of all, it is the nitrites not the nitrates that are so bad.  Second, cured meats have other carcinogenic chemicals in them, and it is a no-brainer why they would.  Any chemists knows that when you place sufficient energy into a chemical soup under low oxygen conditions, you get a smorgaborg of highly reactive (and thereby carcinogenic and damaging) chemicals.  The studies on mice 30 years ago feeding them nitrites and nitrosamines were pretty remarkable in that cancers were relatively easy to produce with levels that a person would consume over their life, and since this damage is cumulative, I think the animal studies are important.  Recent epidemiologic information suggests that nitrites are indeed carcinogenic, however they are much less so than cigarette smoke for example.  This is not necessarily comforting however with regards to our health, as to make a cancer, you need a lot of very specific genetic mutations...its like winning the lottery for a cell to become a cancer.  That means even an small increase in cancer for a particular substance means that there is a heck of a lot of background genetic damage for many other cells that do not become cancers, and we really don't know what all that background damage produces...but it is likely it is much more subtle and poorly researched phenomenon like senescence and aging.  I would avoid bacon and any meat cook under low oxygen conditions and/or high temperatures.  Your taking chances with some pretty random chemistry.


So is it best to cook bacon at 275 for longer?


Yes, this is better. I usually cook mine at 275 F / 135 C for 30 minutes.


After constantly hearing the negative connotations associated with nitrate content in bacon, I ate it seldom to avoid what could potentially cause digestive inflammation.  However, after reading your post and researching other studies, unprocessed bacon is good in moderation if a well balanced diet full of antioxidants to balance the gut.  I advise taking a digestive enzyme always before a fat laden meal to aid digestion.


Isn't this a little deceptive? It's the amines in meats that undergo a chemical reaction with the added nitrates (nitrites), that actually form nitrosamines. The fact is, in highly acidic environments (the human stomach), the combination of amines in meats and nitrates in vegetables can form nitrosamines, which are highly carcinogenic, which is why red meat is said to be bad for you. In bacon, cured meats and beer, these added nitrates only increase the risk of nitrosamines to form. There have been reductions in the formation by the addition of ascorbic acid to bacon and cured meats, but it is still possible for nitrosamines to form, and it is something that should be eaten in moderation.  


Hi Nicole, I agree that bacon should be eaten in moderation. This post was not meant to encourage overeating of bacon and processed meats.
Nitrosamines may be carcinogenic but they may as well not be the villain, there is conflicting evidence - we simply don't know. Here is a review of studies: (section 3 actually points out that it is still unclear whether and under which circumstances nitrosamines are created in the digestive system).
So why are processed foods are linked to cancer?
Cooking at high temperatures is one of the reasons for carcinogens to form. When nitrites are heated at high temperatures, they convert into nitrosamines - gentle cooking will prevent the formation of nitrosamines. As mentioned above, their formation in the digestive system is questionable.
Although studies show an increased risk of cancer, especially colon cancer, linked to consumption of processed meats, there are often other ingredients added in the products (e.g. artificial food colouring). That's why it's important to choose wisely when buying bacon and always opt for pastured pork.
Also, studies that show a link between processed foods and cancer don't seem to have any control over processed carbohydrates eaten with the meats, neither trans fats (sausage and bun, hamburger and chips fried in soybean oil, etc.) nor other factors (typical for epidemiological studies).
Studies on nitrites, nitrosamines and cancer vary and epidemiological studies don't prove causation (applies to both arguments for and against nitrites). This doesn't mean they are meaningless but we should take them with a pinch of salt. Bacon is not a "free" food but there is no need to avoid it. We should always eat foods rich in vitamin C, E, beta-carotene and polyphenols to counteract the negative effects. As I suggested here, bacon should be eaten in moderation:


I noticed in this blog that the terms nitrates and nitrites are used interchangedly. what is the difference? or which are we actually discussing?


Hi Amana, yes, these are often used interchangeably. Both are used as preservatives. Sodium nitrate has one more atom of oxygen compared to sodium nitrite. Nitrates are converted to nitrites in our digestive system and then may be converted to nitrosamines (see my comment above for more info).


Fabulous post! Everything about nitrates I was looking for - I used to avoid bacon for this reason, what a fool I was Smile


So true - nobody will touch my bacon! Thanks for this! Smile


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