QUESTION (Brooke):

Hey Jamie!
Can you point me to some sources you’ve read about nitrates/nitrites, what they are, what we know about them/what we don’t know, etc?  I’m trying to learn a little more and am not sure where to start.

ANSWER (Jamie):

Ok, so I did a little digging and what I found is that the typical nitrites and nitrates used in meat producers are actually sodium nitrites and nitrates which do not naturally occur during the curing process. They are used to prevent bacteria and preserve the product, as well as give the products their signature colors (ex.: pink ham). This is to be helpful, but when the sodium nitrites/nitrates are cooked at a high heat (such as bacon), they become nitrosamine which causes cancer. See below…

Sodium nitrate is used mainly as fertilizer, but plays other roles as well. It is a raw material in the production of gun powder and is also used in glass and pottery enamel. Sodium nitrate is a key component of instant ice packs. It is also used in making rocket propellant and as a food preservative. Sodium nitrite is used primarily as a preservative for freshness and for color.

The nitrates and nitrites themselves are not nearly as harmful as their close cousin nitrosamine. Nitrosamine is carcinogenic, and is created when nitrates and nitrites meet up with acid or heat.  When we cook bacon that has been cured and loaded with preservatives, the direct high heat converts some nitrites to nitrosamine. 

Robb Wolf (Paleo guru) says that nitrite/nitrate free items are not worth the money because he says processed meats should not  play a huge role in your diet. If it does play a huge role, he and Whole 9 would recommend that you buy clean, humanely farmed bacon to avoid this, but truly they would say processed meat is not a good, nutrient source of protein and should be eaten sparingly. When they are eaten sparingly, Robb Wolf says nitrite/nitrate free is not worth money. So if you are gonna eat these meats often they’d say don’t get cancer, but really they would say it should be “generally” avoided/limited consumption.

Also, check these links out:

I hope this helps! Let me know if you have more questions and I can maybe link you to an expert! This was a great question and it was so good for me to do the research and become more educated – thanks! Lunchmeat is free of stuff but our bacon isnt. This encouraged me to clean up my act a bit. Thanks!


Jamie (Outside Ordinary)

One response »

  1. brookefrost says:

    Thank you Jamie! Appreciate your time and efforts to get this information for me!

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