Chris Kresser, a Paleo Diet advocate, says nitrates/nitrites are fine and even good for you (1). He says we should eat bacon by the loadful because of the “healthy” fats. While this may be an exciting and seductive idea for omnivores and paleo diet fans, this idea doesn’t exactly agree with the well-accepted science.
It may be true that saturated fat isn’t as bad as we used to think – and I can believe that – but that doesn’t mean you should maximize your consumption. After all, fat still has almost twice as many calories as carbs and protein. And it is true that vegetables have nitrates – much more nitrates than cured meat, in fact – and nitrates/nitrites haven’t been directly linked to cancer yet (2). So what is the problem?
It has been reported that cured and/or processed meats are the most dangerous kind to eat because such meats increase heart disease risk (3). The American Institute for Cancer Research also says processed meat should be completely avoided (4) due to colon cancer risk increases (increase rates that I would characterize as moderately concerning).
It’s not clear yet what causes these negative outcomes. It could be some combination of how processed meats are cooked and how the processing chemicals react to create carcinogens. Either way, one thing is clear: processed meats like bacon are bad for your health. The Harvard School of Public Health and American Cancer Society Agree (5).
If you eat any meat, then processed meats, including those with nitrates/nitrites, should generally be avoided. Special occasion? Fine. Every Sunday? I don’t recommend it. Bacon is not a health food.