Nitrates, Bacon, and You

Did you ever see the 1980s cult classic, UHF?

It was Weird Al’s first, and only, movie. Filled with the oddities that people his mind, one of the main characters is Stanley Spadowski, janitor extraordinaire. In one scene, recently freed from a kidnapping and reunited with his deceased father’s beloved mop (yes, that’s right, his mop), Stanley waxes eloquent in a brief, rousing speech, telling his listener,

“Sometimes you gotta do something! Sometimes you gotta get up, you gotta run to the nearest window, and yell as loud as you can – THESE FLOORS ARE DIRTY AS HELL AND I’M NOT GONNA TAKE IT ANYMORE!”

Today I can relate. Today I feel you, Stanley.

Why?

Nitrates and Nitrites. I can’t take any more ‘health experts’ using them as proof that you should give up bacon. So here’s my window and I’m yelling – “Bacon is still good!”

But…

What about the nitrates and nitrites?

If we want to avoid them, we naturally reach for the uncured meats on the grocery shelf right?

Well, it ain’t that simple. Uncured meats aren’t actually uncured. Legally they can be labelled uncured, but really…

  • Uncured meat products contain nitrites, they just come from different sources, usually celery powder.
  • Celery powder, just like many vegetables contains nitrites, but, arguably, no one knows how much.
  • Whereas curing salt used in meats is an exact, measured, and limited amount of nitrites, celery powder is measured by the amount of powder, not the amount of nitrites, so you could get more than necessary to cure your bacon.

Still, I can see the concerned look on the faces of so many customers asking, “What about the type of nitrites or nitrates you use?”

I’ve been asked about them so many times that I thought I’d tell you my nitrate saga (All the while wondering if there are many such sagas…).

Five or six years ago we began curing our own bacon. We’d found a bulletproof recipe that was simple and quick. But our recipe called for ‘curing salt’, or salt that includes sodium nitrite. And I’d heard nitrates and nitrites were bad, so I started digging. First thing I found was that, in large concentrations, they contribute to cancer. But, I wondered, can you get a large enough concentration from bacon?

Probably, if you find yourself in a drug-induced mania and decide to ingest 3-5 grams of nitrite, equivalent to what you’d get from 6,000-10,000 servings of bacon, you could die. But bacon causing cancer because of nitrite conversion to nitrosamine? I doubt it. Here’s why…

  • Nitrates and nitrites naturally occur in the human body – our bodies actually make some, therefore their existence in our body does not mean immediate nitrosamine conversion and cancer, or else we’d all be dying of cancer right now.
  • Nitrites are actually necessary in our bodies for controlling blood pressure, preventing memory loss, and accelerating wound healing.
  • Most ingested nitrates/nitrites are excreted in urine within 5 hours of consumption.

Still, why use nitrites in the first place?

Botulism. Nitrates/nitrites are used to cure meat so that you don’t get this disease that can paralyze or kill you if you cook and eat uncured meats.

We obviously didn’t want that, but if we used them, could we hurt people? I came to the conclusion that it’s highly unlikely because

  • The amount of nitrites we consume in cured meats is somewhere around only 5% of our total nitrate/nitrite intake.
  • The vast majority of nitrates/nitrites we ingest come from vegetable sources – around 80%.

It really all boils down to this –

  • Just because something says ‘natural’, or ‘uncured’, or ‘organic’ doesn’t mean it’s that. Manufacturers understand that the ingredient list on their package is a form of marketing.
  • Most problems with processed meats, like allergic reactions, are from hidden items in the product that can legally be labelled things like ‘natural flavors’. Remember, the closer you get to your food source, the fewer ingredients, and safer you’ll be.
  • Bacon is mostly pork. Find healthy, clean pork and harmless bacon is just around the corner.
  • Labels don’t make your food safe. Only you and your farmer can do that.

If you want to avoid bacon, honestly that’s your prerogative.

I will warn you, however, that kicking bacon is unnecessary and can actually lead to bacon withdrawal. Symptoms include lethargy, depression, irritability, boring breakfasts and soggy quiches.

And nobody, I mean nobody, likes soggy quiches.

By the way, we will have bacon available this month, but it goes quick! If you want some, text 901.491.0183 or email topoftheworldfarm@gmail.com now to get your name on the list.