Over the past five years, there has been a 40 percent increase in bacon consumption in the United States, due partly to the popularity of high-protein, low-carb diets. Many consumers believe bacon is high in protein, but regular pork bacon is high in fat with little protein.
Increased consumption of bacon and other cured, processed meats is of concern because most of these foods contain nitrates and nitrites, preservatives used in curing meat to counteract the undesirable effects of salt upon color.
The meat industry justifies their use by claiming they prevent the growth of botulism-causing bacteria. This is true, but proper refrigeration and careful handling also prevent bacterial growth.
When exposed to high heat, nitrates and nitrites form nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic (cancer causing). High temperatures used for processing meats like sausage and bacon assist in the formation of nitrosamines. Although the risk of cancer is small, it is still worth avoiding nitrates whenever possible.
Nitrate- and nitrite-free meats are available that are produced by a method approved by the USDA that uses lactic acid. Other options are turkey and vegetarian “bacons,” which are higher in protein and lower in fat than regular pork bacon. Canadian bacon is very lean and high in protein.
Uncured bacon, often labeled “natural,” is usually made without synthetic nitrates or nitrites. Organic bacon is nitrate-free, and the pigs are fed a special diet and raised according to strict standards. All types of bacon are soaked in salt brine and smoked, with or without chemicals or added sugar. It is necessary to read the label or research the manufacturer to learn more about the product.
Eating cruciferous vegetables (such as cabbage, broccoli, bok choy and brussels sprouts) that contain special phytonutrients (plant nutrients), as well as foods high in the antioxidants vitamins C and E can reduce the formation of nitrosamines.