Is “Nitrate-Free” Bacon Fooling You?

by | June 8, 2018 | Food, Health & Nutrition | 8 comments

Remember when bacon was just bacon?

Now bacon is bacon with adjectives. It must be:

  • nitrate-free
  • nitrite-free
  • uncured
  • all-natural

Some folks want to see “paleo” or “Whole30 approved” on the label, too.

I get it. I admit, being the health-conscious savvy shopper that I am, I flip those bacon packages over to read the ingredients, too. Just like you, I only want to see a few basic ingredients.

Usually, what we see on the “natural” bacon ingredient list is pork, water, salt and some celery derivative (juice, powder or extract). You might see cherry juice powder as an ingredient, too. (That’s in place of ascorbic acid.)

Who can argue with that? It’s totally natural and we avoid nitrate and its wicked cousin, nitrite, right? Wrong.

Is “Nitrate-Free” Bacon Fooling You?


Facts about Celery and Its Derivatives

Celery is naturally high in nitrate. So, paying more at the checkout for “nitrate-free” and “no added nitrate” bacon doesn’t mean you avoid nitrate. It means you avoid added synthetic nitrate. Manufacturers are technically and legally able to label their products nitrate-free; however, the finished product contains nitrate and (after some chemical reactions upon consumption) sodium nitrite from the celery.


But isn’t nitrate from celery all-natural and better than added nitrate?

No one can argue with celery and its derivatives in terms of being “natural”. But, in terms of nitrate levels, be aware that products with celery derivatives do contain nitrate and may contain higher nitrate levels than traditional cured meats.

That’s because the nitrate content of “no nitrate added” products is difficult to calculate. The nitrate levels in any batch of celery differs according to where and how it is grown (soil, air, nitrogen-based fertilizer, etc.) and a host of other factors. That applies to all plants.

But here’s the kicker: our bodies can’t tell the difference between nitrate from celery juice or nitrate that is added as a preservative. So, should we be worried?


What are nitrates and nitrites?

Instead of worried let’s be aware.

Nitrates added to foods like deli meat, cured meat and hot dogs help those foods retain their color and prevent harmful bacterial growth.

Nitrates are nitrogen-based compounds. I’ll spare you the chemistry, but basically, nitrates are harmless.


So, added nitrates aren’t a big deal after all, right?

Not so fast. When we consume nitrates, a chemical reaction occurs and converts them to nitrites. (Side note: the celery derivative used in “natural” preserved meats is treated with bacteria to convert it to nitrite.)

While this is great in terms of preventing bacterial growth on certain foods, it can sometimes be problematic for our health. Nitrite can go on to form nitrosamines, which has been linked to an increased risk of gastric cancer, albeit inconclusively.

However, preserved or cured meats aren’t necessarily our greatest nitrate/nitrite issue. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that those products account for only 6% of our dietary intake of nitrate.

We get most nitrates from fruits, vegetables, grains and drinking water. All plants contain some nitrate. Veggies like celery, leafy greens, fennel, cabbage, leeks and beets have higher (but generally acceptable) levels.


But before you panic, you should know the whole story.

We need nitrates. In fact, our bodies make them! Doctors even prescribe nitrates to individuals with certain cardiac conditions. That’s because nitrates relax blood vessels and improve blood flow.

So, nitrates and nitrites – good or bad? Avoid or eat?

You can see there’s no clear answer. There is no doubt we should all eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated.

A good approach to overall health – nitrate intake issue aside –  is to limit the amount of processed and preserved foods we eat. Sure, everything in moderation, but don’t go overboard with the cold cuts and hot dogs. Enjoy them on occasion, keep the dietary balance and always follow your individual needs in terms of health, diet and what your doctor recommends for your unique situation.


  1. Pauline

    Thank you! This is a very good article! I really found it helpful! Hope you have a wonderful adventure today!


    • Gigi Stewart

      Hi, Pauline, dear! Thank you so much. I like this one, too. I hope you have a fun weekend! xo


  2. Marilyn DeLene Gilbert

    Interesting….my grandson has migraines and his Dr requests “NO NITRATES” on all bacon or lunch meats purchased! So we look for that on the Bacon and lunch meat packages. Now I wonder if he should eat these AT ALL based upon your article above.
    Thanks for the information.


    • Gigi Stewart

      Hi, Marilyn. I’m so sorry to hear your grandson has to deal with migraines. Definitely no or very low nitrates for him. It could be worth trying to reduce nitrates as low as possible, even removing those high nitrate fruits and veggies. I definitely would not feed him the “nitrtate-free” bacon or lunch meats because as I mention in the article, because the celery extract is a natural product, the nitrate level will vary. It could, in fact, be higher in those “natural” products. So frustrating, I know. We think we’re doing thing “right”, then we find out maybe those (more expensive) “natural” products aren’t the best choice, either. Trust me, I have been there! Thanks for being part of my community! I always love when you chime in here and on Facebook! Have a lovely weekend! xo


  3. Louise

    I knew the difference between nitrate from celery and synthetic nitrates but your article made it even more clear. I don’t eat processed meat and normally stay away from pork but I do love to eat bacon once in awhile. I think I’ll stick to the PC “Free From” bacon that we get here in Canada. It is hormone and antibiotic free and they use celery extract. :)


    • Gigi Stewart

      Hi, Louise. I’m glad the article further clarified what you already knew. I’m familiar with President’s Choice products. Just a note, all pork is hormone-free, in case anyone else reading the comments isn’t sure. Celery extract won’t cut the nitrate level (as stated in the article), but it sounds like you only have bacon occasionally, and you know me, I am a firm believer in enjoying all things in moderation. What fun is life without foods we love?? ;) Have a great weekend, Louise! xo


  4. Dawn

    Hi Gigi,
    My first comment but have been following you on Facebook for several months! I really enjoy your posts, humor and your knowledge with scientific backing that you provide. So much conflicting info out there and I have been confused too much! lol. Gluten free (mostly) for about 8 months so I really love your posts with recipes. I rarely eat bacon but won’t be so concerned now. I do eat lots of fruit & veggies though!
    Look forward to your cookbook


    • Gigi Stewart

      Hi, Dawn. So nice to hear from you and happy to hear you’ve joined my Facebook community! Welcome and thank you for the kind words. I love what I do, sharing valuable, fact-based info with all of you, along with recipes, of course, makes me smile! :) I’m not a huge bacon fan, either, but I buy a couple packs per month because my family enjoys it, and I do like some handy in case the recipe development bug strikes! There are tons of recipes here on the site, but I’m guessing you know that already since you’ve been here for several months. I haven’t added as many lately, as the book work has taken most of my time in terms of recipe work; however, it will have 150+ recipes, most with variations. It is over 250 pages of delicious, easy to prepare recipes that are all gluten-free, of course, but also free from soy, peanuts and tree nuts; all but 8 are dairy-free and only 37 use eggs. Truly, a book for everyone! I am excited for it to be out and in everyone’s hands!! I will announce that info in my weekly eNewsletter, The G-List, as soon as I have it from the publisher. xo


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