Is Uncured Bacon Really Healthier Than Cured? What To Consider

Who doesn't love bacon? The popular breakfast staple and versatile ingredient has been a favorite in kitchens and hearts for many years. Its savory aroma and rich flavor are associated with comfort and indulgence, making it a sought-after food. Many people look for ways to enjoy bacon's irresistible allure while embracing a more health-conscious lifestyle. Bacon is traditionally prepared using curing methods, often involving sodium and nitrate-rich additives. These additives preserve the meat, extend its shelf life, and enhance its flavor. However, they have come under scrutiny due to potential health concerns. 

Concerns have been raised about the potential dangers of consuming bacon cured with nitrites, which can form carcinogenic substances when cooked at high temperatures. As a result, the market has seen an increase in the availability of "uncured" bacon as a safer alternative. To make bacon healthier and safer, some options being considered include the use of nitrate-free curing agents, natural flavorings, and organic ingredients. It is worth noting, though, that while these options may be better for some people, uncured bacon doesn't offer significantly more health benefits than cured bacon.

The difference between cured and uncured bacon

It can be confusing when bacon is labeled as "uncured," as it implies that it hasn't undergone the curing process. But it's important to note that all bacon undergoes some form of curing (per Healthline). 

The process of curing bacon starts with pork belly, which is then coated with a blend of salt, sugar, and either sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite. This process helps to preserve the bacon, keeps it fresh for longer, and gives it that mouth-watering flavor. However, some people worry about the potential health risks associated with nitrites. One of the main concerns is the formation of nitrosamines, which can occur when nitrites react with high cooking temperatures. This concern has prompted many people to seek out uncured bacon alternatives.

Uncured bacon is a more modern and natural approach to bacon production. It emphasizes the use of plant-based sources of nitrates, such as celery juice powder or other naturally occurring nitrate-rich ingredients, instead of synthetic curing agents like sodium nitrate or nitrite (per the USDA). It's worth mentioning that nitrates are converted to nitrites in the body (via the EPA), so both cured and uncured bacon contain nitrites in some form.

Understanding nitrate and nitrite concerns

Nitrites and nitrates are chemical compounds widely used in food processing, particularly in curing and preserving meats. They give cured meats their pink color and distinctive taste (per EFSA). However, there are concerns about their potential to form nitrosamines, compounds that can be generated when nitrites interact with amines naturally present in meat. 

Several research studies have highlighted the concern about nitrosamines, particularly those studies that have classified some nitrosamines as potential carcinogens when consumed excessively or under specific conditions. A study published in 2015 in the journal Toxicological Research showed the highest concentrations of N-nitrosamines were found in processed meats, such as bacon, sausage, and ham, and that exposing these foods to high heat during frying or grilling can affect the concentration of N-nitrosamines in food. 

Whether you prefer the taste of traditional cured bacon or opt for an "uncured" version, it's important to remember that moderation is key, no matter how it's cured. While uncured bacon uses natural sources of nitrates, like celery juice powder, it's still unclear whether the natural nitrites in celery are less harmful than those added to cured bacon (via Healthline).