The Bad News About Bacon

Updated on December 14, 2019
Rupert Taylor profile image

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

Benjamin Franklin once said, "Bacon is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
Benjamin Franklin once said, "Bacon is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” | Source

Benjamin Franklin once observed that “bacon is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” Sadly, the people who claim to know a thing or two about nutrition and health are now questioning Mr. Franklin’s wisdom. Bacon and other processed meats, we are told, are very unhealthy.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine offers this stark warning: “There is no safe amount of processed meat.”

Bacon on the hoof in a few months time.
Bacon on the hoof in a few months time. | Source

How Is Bacon Made?

The issue with bacon is the way it’s made, so let’s check in at the bacon factory.

In North America, bacon starts with the belly of the beast. In Europe, they use the loin. Writing for, meat scientist Elizabeth Boyle notes that “after the animal is harvested the carcass is broken down into several different sections.” Harvested? What? Like grapes or onions? Why so coy? The pig is slaughtered.

In North America, the bellies are cured by the injection of a brine made of sodium nitrite, sugar, and salt. They are then hung on a rack for about a week to allow the flavour of the brine to permeate the meat. Then, the bellies are wheeled into a smoker. Wood smoke from hickory is the favourite, but maple and apple are also popular.

Finally, comes the slicing and packaging.

It’s the curing and smoking, the very processes that make bacon so delicious, that are the villains; they produce cancer-causing chemicals.

What Is the Danger? notes that “all meat that has been smoked, salted, cured, dried, or canned is considered processed. This includes sausages, hot dogs, salami, ham, and cured bacon.”

In April 2019 a study was published in The International Journal of Epidemiology that found even a modest intake of processed meats such as bacon is “associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.”

How modest? Someone who eats 21g (0.7 oz) of bacon a day has a 20 percent lower risk of bowel cancer than someone who consumes 76 grams (2.6 ounces) a day. And, what do 21 grams of bacon look like on a plate? Not much. Just a single, thin slice.

And, even that tiny portion can be dangerous.

Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.

— Doug Larson, Journalist

The latest warning comes after a similar alert from a World Health Organization study. The research was comprehensive and involved 22 cancer specialists from 10 countries who reviewed hundreds of studies and the data of hundreds of thousands of patients.

The result was to classify bacon and other processed meats as Group 1 carcinogens. This bundles them up with other cancer-causing agents such as tobacco, asbestos, and arsenic. Mortality rates are different from those poisons, but frequent bacon-eating raises the risk of lifetime bowel cancer from five percent to six percent. You might say “Pfftt,” or something similar, “that’s no big deal.”

However, after crunching the numbers, the scientists determine that an additional 34,000 deaths a year can be attributable to eating processed meats.

Only the orange is healthy.
Only the orange is healthy. | Source

The Cancer Mechanism

The main cancer-causing culprits are nitrates and nitrites. These are added as preservatives and to give processed meats an appealing pinkish look.

Nitrates occur naturally in such vegetables as lettuce and celery but in that form, they do no harm. It’s when they interact with red meat that nitrates get troublesome. They form compounds such as nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic.

The nitrosamines damage the cells in the lining of the bowel. The next step might be a visit to an oncologist.

The dangers associated with nitrosamines have been known for more than 60 years. Twenty-five years ago, a link was made between pregnant mothers eating hot dogs regularly and increased rates of brain cancer in children.

Chemotherapy is no fun.
Chemotherapy is no fun. | Source

Food Industry Misdirection

The economics of food processing dictate that the best profits are made by getting bacon onto the breakfast table as quickly as possible. So, this means ditching the time-consuming traditional methods.

As someone wisely pointed out, time is money, so the meat industry embarked on a programme of claiming the old ways were unsafe. At the same time, it tried to trash the science that was unveiling the cancer risk.

Writing in The Guardian, Bee Wilson comments that the food industry “has for the past 40 years been engaged in a campaign of cover-ups and misdirection to rival the dirty tricks of Big Tobacco.”

It is a truth universally acknowledged that bacon can improve any situation.

— Jen Rasmussen, Author

One untruth trotted out by food processors appeared in the British magazine Farmers Weekly in 1975. The claim was made that the average male would have to eat 11 tonnes of bacon a day to run any significant risk of cancer. That is, dare we say, hogwash.

The American Meat Institute (AMI) took the tack that nitrates were, by golly, good for consumers. That’s because, said AMI, nitrates are the death knell for botulism. So, the argument is that meat processors are doing a vital public service by saving thousands of lives.

A group of well-rewarded scientists was assembled to generate research that backed up the meat industry. It has been an effective smokescreen laid across the real story about the dangers inherent in the way meats are processed commercially.

Nitrate-Free Bacon

Here’s the good news; you can still eat bacon and avoid the cancer risk.

There are ways of producing bacon, ham, pepperoni, and the like, that don’t use cancer-causing agents. The traditional method is simply to salt the meat.

Nitrate-free bacon is available almost everywhere. Retailer Marks and Spencer in the United Kingdom offers that product and says it “is just as delicious as standard bacon.”

Big-box giants such as Costco and Walmart are also offering nitrate-free bacon. There are also plenty of artisanal butchers curing meat in the old-fashioned way.

So, crank up the burner, let’s have some nitrate-free bacon for breakfast.


Bonus Factoids

  • The good people who make Proscuitto di Parma in Italy stopped using nitrates in 1993. They’ve been making this ham for 2,000 years. It takes 18 months to cure and is quite expensive. But, what do you want? Cheap stuff that might harm you or quality food that’s delicious and safe to eat? Maybe eat a little less?
  • Cancer Research UK says 8,000 fewer cases of cancer would occur in Britain if everybody gave up eating processed and red meat.
  • In other good news, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine suggests that, because of contamination in meatpacking plants, grocery stores ought to carry a label on meat that says: “May contain feces.”


  • “Bacon – Do You Know How It Is Made?” Elizabeth Boyle,, September 7, 2017.
  • “Diet and Colorectal Cancer in UK Biobank: a Prospective Study.” Kathryn E. Bradbury, et al., International Journal of Epidemiology, April 17, 2019.
  • “Eating Just One Slice of Bacon a Day Linked to Higher Risk of Colorectal Cancer, Says Study.” Nina Avramova, CNN, April 17, 2019.
  • “Eating Processed Meat Is Associated With an Unhealthy Lifestyle.” Atli Arnarson,, June 4, 2017.
  • “Processed Meat.” Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, undated.
  • “Yes, Bacon Really Is Killing Us.” Bee Wilson, The Guardian, March 1, 2018.

© 2019 Rupert Taylor


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • LoyalFrienemy profile image

      Loyal Frienemy 

      14 months ago from JAIPUR

      Very clear facts. Will surely share this informative piece on other platforms too.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      14 months ago from Sunny Florida

      I am sorry to hear the news about bacon. I don't care as much about sausage or various lunchmeats, but I really like bacon. The good news is I buy unprocessed and look for any meat that has no nitrates, etc. I appreciate knowing the facts about bacon.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      14 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for the facts. Will pass this article on to relatives who love to eat bacon.

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      14 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Hi, Rupert, any processed food including fruits and vegetables carry some risks. Doctors and the advertising industry has made a pack in agreeing. Thanks, for sharing.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)