There are few things as irresistible as a sizzling slice of bacon first thing in the morning.

However, while many people know that bacon isn’t the most nutritious food, recent reports have linked this scrumptious red meat to cancer.

As such, you may wonder whether there’s a scientific connection between bacon and cancer, as well as how much bacon you can safely eat — and whether there are any ways to reduce any associated health risks.

This article examines the research to determine whether bacon causes cancer.

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Studies show that bacon may increase your risk of cancer in several ways.

Processed meat

Processed meats are any meat product that has been preserved through curing, smoking, salting, canning, or other methods.

Cured meats like bacon are considered processed, alongside cold cuts, hot dogs, sausage, and jerky.

Notably, all processed meats, including bacon, were recently classified as carcinogenic by the World Health Organization (1).

That’s because multiple studies have tied a greater intake of processed meat to a higher risk of certain types of cancer, including colorectal, stomach, and breast cancers (2, 3, 4).

Cancer-causing compounds

Most bacon products contain sodium nitrite, which prevents bacterial growth and improves taste and color (5).

When exposed to heat, sodium nitrite may produce nitrosamine — a compound that has been linked to cancer (6, 7).

Furthermore, curing, grilling, and smoking contribute to the formation of harmful compounds like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), heterocyclic amines (HCAs), and advanced glycation end products (AGEs), all of which are considered carcinogenic (8, 9, 10, 11).

Sodium

Bacon is very high in sodium, with around 193 mg in each slice. For reference, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends limiting your sodium intake to under 2,300 mg per day (12, 13).

Consuming high amounts of sodium increase may not only increase your blood pressure levels but also be linked to a higher risk of cancer (14).

Specifically, some research associates increased sodium intake with a higher risk of stomach and lung cancers (15, 16, 17).

summary

Processed meats like bacon are considered carcinogenic. In particular, cured meats are high in sodium, nitrates, PAHs, HCAs, and AGEs, all of which may increase your risk of cancer.

A study including nearly 475,000 people associated each 20-gram increase in daily processed meat intake — which equals around 2 slices of bacon — with an 18% higher risk of colorectal cancer over 7 years (18).

Thus, eating even a few slices of bacon per day may harm your health in the long run.

Still, while bacon may not be the healthiest breakfast option, you don’t need to cut it out of your diet altogether.

In fact, you can enjoy bacon from time to time as part of a healthy, well-rounded diet, as long as you’re pairing it with plenty of nutritious, minimally processed ingredients.

If you eat bacon regularly, aim to decrease your intake as much as possible, but feel free to enjoy it once or twice per week as an occasional indulgence.

summary

It’s safe to eat bacon occasionally as part of a balanced diet, but you should try to lower your intake substantially and pair it with a variety of minimally processed, whole foods.

One of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce the cancer-causing compounds in bacon is to switch your cooking method.

That’s because many harmful, cancer-causing compounds are produced during what’s called Maillard browning reactions, which are chemical reactions that occur between proteins and sugars when they’re exposed to high temperatures (19, 20).

Therefore, pan-frying and high heat baking may be particularly dangerous.

Simply cooking bacon at a lower temperature may decrease the concentration of these harmful compounds (21).

Some research also shows that microwaving bacon reduces the amount of nitrosamines compared with pan-frying (22).

You should also buy uncured, nitrate-free bacon whenever possible and look for products that contain low levels of sodium.

summary

Cooking bacon at a lower temperature or microwaving it may minimize its concentration of harmful compounds. Furthermore, it’s best to shop for uncured, nitrate-free bacon that’s low in sodium.

While there’s no need to cut bacon from your diet completely, this highly processed red meat may contain several carcinogenic compounds.

Therefore, it’s best to minimize your intake and enjoy bacon as an occasional treat rather than a daily staple.

Additionally, you should opt for uncured, nitrite-free bacon and cook it at a lower temperature or microwave it instead of frying it to reduce its harmful effects.