Bacon smells and sells
Researchers at the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s Univ. Belfast said they have linked nitrites used in curing processed meats to chemicals that can cause an increased risk of colorectal cancer, but healthy alternatives to nitrates can reduce that risk.

Dr. Marie Cantwell and Prof. Chris Elliott, who published their findings last year in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics, claim “…there is a direct link between nitrites used to produce bacon and nitrosamines.” The researchers said nitrates and nitrites used to improved food quality and food safety also are sources of N-nitroso compounds (NOCs) which are known carcinogens which are substances capable of causing cancer in living tissue.

“The latest research at Queen’s Univ. Belfast has shown that there is a direct link between nitrites and the formation of nitrosamines,” Elliott said in a statement. “This means that when people consume bacon – which is currently cured with nitrites in the UK – they could be increasing their risk of contracting cancer.

However, the report also states that a variety of factors affect the formation of the NOCs including the amount of nitrite added, meat quality, fat content, processing, packaging and how the meat is handled at home.

“From a health perspective, it is certainly beneficial to reduce our intake of nitrates and nitrites from processed meat,” he added. “It is estimated that more than 50 percent of bowel cancer cases are preventable and lifestyle changes such as improved diet could help.”

The researchers also suggest healthier alternatives to nitrates and nitrates could be used in processed meats.

“It is possible and feasible to use natural alternatives to nitrates and nitrites,” Elliott explained. “For example, green tea polyphenols could be utilized for processing dry cured bacon. These innovative meat products could potentially contribute to a reduction in cancer risk by reducing nitrite in processed meats and should be explored further.”