Most everybody loves a good deli sandwich, and let’s face it — it’s hard to think of life without bacon. The downside is that nitrates found in cured deli meats like bologna and salami, as well as in bacon, are thought to have negative health effects.


So what exactly is nitrate? The answer is a little more complex than most people realize. There are actually two chemical compounds to consider when thinking about nitrates in food. The first is sodium nitrate. This is a salt found naturally in countries like Peru and Chile. The second compound is nitrite. This is also naturally occurring. Nitrate has been used for generations to preserve meats. It fights bacteria and provides the meat with a pink color. Around the turn of the 20th century it was discovered that when nitrate interacts with the bacteria in meat, it converts to sodium nitrite. Today almost all meat manufacturers skip this naturally occurring process and just add synthetic sodium nitrate for preserving.

There are several health concerns associated with nitrates and nitrites. In 1970 it was discovered that when meat containing sodium nitrite is heated above 266° F it creates nitrosamines, or compounds that are carcinogenic to animals. Since this discovery, the FDA has regulated the quantity allowed in foods. Carcinogens are known cancer agents.

In addition to a potential cancer risk, the American Medical Association has warned that a diet high in nitrites may lead to a health condition called methemoglobinemia. This condition inhibits red blood cells from carrying oxygen properly through your body. This can lead to respiratory problems and worse. Nitrites have also been thought to increase the risk of childhood type 1 diabetes when pregnant mothers consume large quantities of foods with sodium nitrites. Other risk factors include digestive, esophagus, stomach, and heart issues.

Nitrites are found in a wide range of processed meats including bologna, salami, hot dogs, bacon, ham, luncheon meats, corned beef, and smoked fish. Luckily, there are ways to avoid them. At Butcher’s Best we cure our own, nitrate-free bacon. And we make our own sausage. We’ve received some very positive feedback on our natural meats. This type of store-cooked product is not available in grocery stores.

Making healthy eating decisions for you and your family can have a very positive long-term effect on your health. Although it sometimes does involve extra effort, the payoff can be big. Once you decide that eating natural, real food is worth it, it’s a satisfying feeling to know that you are doing good things for your body.