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How Bad Is Bacon?

How many years of life are lost to potentially preventable cancers? Every year, more than five million expected years of life are lost to lung cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer alone; “[t]herefore, identifying and improving strategies for prevention of cancer remains a priority…” This is especially important since “not more than 2% of all human cancer is attributable to purely genetic or congenital factors.” The rest involve external factors such as our diet, as I discuss in my video How Much Cancer Does Lunch Meat Cause?.

The most comprehensive summary of evidence on diet and cancer ever compiled recommends we should eat mostly foods of plant origin to help prevent cancer. This means centering one’s diet on plant foods—not just whole grains and beans every day, but every meal.

When it comes to foods that may increase cancer risk, the summary was similarly bold. Unlike many other dietary guidelines that wimp out and just advise people to “moderate” their intake of bad foods (like eat less candy), the cancer guidelines don’t mince words when it came to the worst of the worst. For example, don’t just minimize soda intake; avoid it. Don’t just cut back on bacon, ham, hot dogs, sausage, and lunch meats; avoid processed meats because “data do not show any level of intake that can confidently be shown not to be associated with risk.”

Processed meat cannot only be thought of as a “powerful multi-organ carcinogen,” but it may increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Red meat is bad, but processed meat is worse, and that includes white meat like chicken and turkey slices. So, with more heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, it’s no surprise “[p]rocessed meat consumption [has been] associated with increased risk of death.”

The second-largest prospective study ever done on diet and cancer involved more than 400,000 people in Europe. Researchers calculated that by reducing processed meat consumption to less than about a quarter of a hot dog per day, more than 3 percent of all deaths would be prevented.

The largest study, with 600,000 people, was the AARP study done in the United States. Researchers found the preventable fraction of deaths to be much higher than 3 percent, suggesting, for example, that 20 percent of heart disease deaths among women could be averted if the highest consumers cut down to less than approximately a half strip of bacon a day.

More information on processed meat can be found in videos such as:

But cancer risk has been associated with unprocessed meat as well through a variety of potential mechanisms:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

68 responses to “How Bad Is Bacon?

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    1. Have you ever tried the new carrot bacon that’s all the rage? It’s on my ‘to do’ list! Not processes, you make it yourself.

      1. Buster was so handsome and beautiful. He was our loving and loyal companion. A really good friend. We can never replace him. Sadly, he died 2014. As did his son Max and his and my baby girl, Precious, that same year. Later Jasmine, the mamma (2016), and Booter (2017), Buster’s first born, Our dear Baxter (2006) only lived 2 years. But his death lead us to stop eating meat. Jasmine had 2 baby girls that died at birth (2003). All are buried in our garden. All of them kept in our hearts. My wife and I now donate in their honor to Rowdy Girl Sanctuary in Angleton tx.
        Thank you kindly.

  1. The thing about eating carcinogens like bacon is that here and there little bits get stuck in the folds of the colon and start doing their damage.
    By the time (if and when) the carcinogenic bits get swept away the process has already started.

    1. Another thought to consider along those lines Dommy- the bacteria that break down meats break down… meat. Humans are made of meat. Is it any surprise that those bacteria lead to so many deleterious effects to our bodies?

  2. Can you comment on Lectins? I hear that these are terrible for ones health. And legumes are full of them….and other foods soy and other vegetables. It really is no wonder people have no clue what is truth and what one should eat.

    1. But the word Lectins in the search box of this site and you will get the scientific answer. One need not worry about what to eat if you simply follow Dr Greger’s “daily dozen”.

    2. Dr. John McDougall has published an excellent article on lectins.

      Basically, he says not to worry about it. He calls anti-lectin warnings “nutritional nonsense”:

    3. Please read The Blue Zones, about the healthiest, longest-lived peoples in the world. A striking commonality among all of them is daily consumption of beans.

      There are books and bloggers out there simply selling books, supplements, etc., to make money. Dr Greger is carefully pouring through the science, making his writings much more trustworthy.

    4. Here is Dr Greger’s video on this topic

      Unfortunately, the internet and YouTube are full of wild claims based on misunderstandings of the evidence and designed to sell products and ideas to the rest of us. It is easy to do. Almost anything we eat or drink can be toxic if we consume too much. Even drinking too much water kills people. This sort of thing can be spun into sensational claims very easily.

      The “lectins are dangerous” theme is one and it is a half-truth. Lectins can cause problems for some people if eaten in large amounts and/or if food is improperly prepared. However they can also fight/prevent cancer

      And around the world, the consumption of lectin-containing foods is associated with long life and survival in older people

    5. I believe Dr Gregor spoke on lectins. They are present in certain foods when eaten uncooked. Once cooked, there is no issue. Who eats raw, hard beans?

    1. Anybody can make any claim on the internet or media with total impunity. People will believe what they want to believe. Buyer beware.

  3. Please read The Blue Zones, about the healthiest, longest-lived peoples in the world. A striking commonality among all of them is daily consumption of beans.

    There are books and bloggers out there simply selling books, supplements, etc., to make money. Dr Greger is carefully pouring through the science, making his writings much more trustworthy.

  4. Hope people become aware of the genetic links between humans and pigs. For example:

    The same skin, eyes, heart, etc. are no coincidence. It is genetics (science). Some people will say, well how about the brain? The brain is only part different (specially the prefrontal area). The body is basically no different. We are animals except for the enlargement of a part of an organ. Everything else is the same (and works the same). However, there are people that have been taught different. They have been taught that another animals do not fit in their economical model of the world, which is a growing infestation, except as food.

    1. Eating animals is a form of cannibalism. When one kills and eat animals, one is actually killing and eating oneself.

      It is a tribalistic and ritualistic habit inherited from the obscure time of the past whensome dumb people were thinking absorbing the force of animals by eating them.

      Unfortunately, those dumb people, the priests, who were the most socially influent and powerful persons of the tribes, have transformed it into agriculture.

      That’s what the Buddha understood and why he only ate a hemp seed every day during meditation. He didn’t need much energy from carbohydrates, and hemp seeds are complete proteins. But he didn’t want to eat animals because he understood the fallacy of it, the stupid beliefs of the priests.

      Once he finished his meditation, he started a WFPB diet.

      1. “Nothing more strongly arouses our disgust than cannibalism, yet we make the same impression on Buddhists and vegetarians, for we feed on babies, though not our own.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

        1. Buddhists were followers of the Buddha, and unfortunately, they didn’t understand the Buddha, otherwise they wouldn’t have make a cult or an organized religion about those simple facts found by the Buddha.

      2. ONE hemp seed…now that is self-control :)

        I love your reply. When I can actually get people to listen to my vegan ‘spiel’ I try to explain that the animals you are eating did not die a peaceful death. They died in pain, fear and agony. Where do you think all those stress hormones which were created at that time went? When you eat meat, besides all the other things like cholesterol, saturated fat and carcinogens, you ingest the negative emotions created by being that animal being murdered.

        I’m not very popular at potlucks! ;= lol!

  5. But what really causes the cancer from bacon, it’s pork, however, what if you buy the nitrate free bacon, deli meats, hot dogs, etc?

    1. I highly doubt you will be getting it nitrate free:


      So are there nitrates or nitrites in there or what?

      Our products can be legally and technically labeled “nitrate-free,” because the brine we use contains no synthesized sodium nitrite. It contains celery powder (and thus “naturally occurring sodium nitrite”), sea salt, cherry juice powder (ascorbic acid), maple sugar and some spices.

      But to be completely transparent about it, due to the basic rules of chemistry, products that include celery powder do end up containing naturally-occurring nitrate and its derivative, sodium nitrite. We could choose to make our bacon without celery powder but it would be gray in color and, quite honestly, not as tasty.

    2. Nitrate-Free Meats
      Because the use of sodium nitrate is controversial and there has been greater demand for preservative-free meat options, some food manufacturers offer no-nitrate-added meat products. Specifically, any meat labeled as “natural” or “organic,” by definition, cannot contain chemical preservatives, including sodium nitrate. To comply with this regulation, some companies use vegetable preservatives like celery juice concentrate instead. Although natural, these vegetable products contain a significant amount of nitrates, according to researchers at Iowa State University.

    1. I thought I responded to this yesterday.

      I went back to Dr. Greger’s egg videos and the discussions and if egg beaters are egg whites, they won’t have the same choline risk, but they still can cause an increase in growth hormone and still have methionine, both of which are also associated with cancer.

      Search the internet and you will find 7 or more swaps for eggs, depending on what you are using eggs for. Tofu scrambles are one. Aquafaba is good for baking and it whips into a authentic egg-style peak and is good for baking. There are a few more swaps, but you need to look at vegan cook books.

  6. I love beans, but they make me so gassy, I keep avoiding them. How do you eat so much beans every day and not get bloated and/or gassy?

    1. I think you have to persevere and keep trying different remedies. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you. Having said that, I finally think I may have found an aid to lessen my problem with gas – I take a probiotic with my oats in the morning. I had been taking it for some time without any noticeable difference, but then I read a comment on this site that mentioned that it’s important to take the probiotic with fibre. It’s really helped.

    2. Several tips:

      -Add beans and other high fiber foods in smaller portions at first, then build up over time. A full portion of beans is 1/2 to 1 cup.
      -Drink plenty of water as you add beans to your diet.
      -If you cook them yourself, make sure they are soft and very well cooked.
      -If you cook them yourself, you can add the sea plant kombu to the pot. This helps break down the gas.

      Dr Anderson, Health Support Volunteer

    3. You keep them in water minimum 4 hours then throw out the water. Then cook them for 2 hours in a full pot of water, then throw out the water again, fill it with water then continue cooking cooking.

  7. I think if you want a piece or two of nitrate free bacon, go ahead. There may be those who have it every week and those like me about once a month. Not worth all this discussion in my opinion.

  8. “The only difference between a dog, cat, horse and dolphin and a cow, chicken, pig and turkey is perception. One is no more valuable than another. And yet in this culture, we hold the former animals in high esteem and the latter we brutalize for food. All animals are deserving of respect and freedom from violence. The way to respect others is veganism.”

  9. I read all of your comments and went to the nitrites video and am trying to analyze what you are talking about.

    Okay, the regular bacon, there is no safe dose.

    The Nitrate Free Bacon still has the celery nitrates.

    If I am understanding the video I just watched, the question would be does the celery nitrates turn into nitrites and into nitrosamines?

    In the absence of plants phytonutrients, the nitrates become the bad stuff.

    Without Vitamin C, the nitrates in meat pre-form into nitrosamine, before the bacon ever makes it into our mouths. Is what I think I am listening to, but I am not 100% sure that using celery nitrates might bring some phytonutrients. I don’t know the answer to which phytonutrients might be added, but Time Magazine doesn’t think that Nitrate Free takes away the Cancer risk.

    Plus, there are other cancer risks, particularly how you cook it, because frying in a pan you get the other bad stuff.

  10. Seems like, if you are going to eat bacon, the only way to minimize your risks of cancer might be, eat nitrate free, don’t pan fry it and add a lot of phytonutrients from plant sources, and stay at less than 6 slices. (One of the articles I read gave that as the magic cancer number, but Dr. Greger said that there is no proof that there is a small enough level to not cause harm.)

    1. Pondering it again.

      If the nitrate free bacon actually has celery nitrates and if those nitrates have already done the nitrate to nitrite to nitrosamine process before you put it in your mouth, I don’t know if adding extra phytonutrients would lower the final nitrosamines or not.

      Nitrates plus meat in the absence of plant products equals a high risk of cancer, on top of the heart risks is how I am understanding it.

  11. What’s bad about bacon is that it is a rich protein food like the foods found in the Neanderthal diet.

    Neanderthals had a rich protein diet, like modern humans (1), and that’s probably why they disappeared of the surface of the Earth.

    Agricultural abundance make us live as Neanderthals nowadays and the pharmaceutical industry tries to correct the effects of this Neanderthal diet on Homo Sapiens.

    But the true Homo Sapiens diet is a low protein diet with lots of carbohydrates to fuel the brain, not a high protein diet with animal products.


      1. As modern humans, only a few neanderthals ate healthily… But as all their mates disappeared, even the vegan neanderthals seem to have disappeared.

        Perhaps that will also be the case for homo sapiens…

    1. It appears that with their “continuous update project”, the world cancer research fund is perpetuating a continuous long-term denial of the fact that there is no need at all for animal based foods to live, as we descend from our primate ancestors who ate no animal foods and from whom we evolved thanks to cooked carbohydrates.

      The only reason we began to eat meat as a species was cultural and primitive religious beliefs and not out of necessity, because we were amongst the very rare animals to be able to eat tubers and starches thanks to our control of fire, so there was no environmental pressure on our food from other species, and starch-based foods were very abundant.

      1. The WCRF CUP project reviews the current state of the science.

        Your beliefs and opinions may not be confirmed by the evidence to date but IMHO that is more a comment on your beliefs than it is on the veracity of the WCRF’s reviews of the evidence.

        1. It is not a belief that our ancestors were primates, and primates does not eat meat nor any animals eggs or milk.

          Anthropologists affirm that our ancestors got most of their proteins from young leaves, not from any animal foods, only smaller primates tend to eat insects.

          The belief that we would need meat or fish in our diet, even in small quantity, has no evidence whatsoever.

          Our brain evolved by cooking tubers and other starches vegetables not by eating meat.

          Eating meat has always been a cultural behavior, not a natural behavior.

          1. “Today, there are 40,000 kilograms of tubers per square kilometer in Tanzania’s savanna woodlands (1)”.

            Our ancestors lived in a state of starch abundance with no environmental pressure against their food: green leafy vegetables and starches vegetables, their diet being similar to the diet of modern native african, composed of 60% tubers.

            Eating meat has never been a necessity for them, so one can infer that they began to eat meat for cultural reasons, as indicated by prehistoric arts where the painting are all about animals, not about tubers, fruits and green leafy vegetables.


  12. I just read an article touting Epic’s new pork rinds as a “healthy food”. I almost fell off my chair. The myth of humane and healthy meat is just yuppie BS.

  13. In these science based studies and conclusion I would like to see more differentiation between good quality meats and bad quality meats. This would help answer the question of how much influence the way the meat is raised has on the negative results of the studies. For example, would you results of the studies be the same if subjects only ate grass-fed, non-hormone red meats and non-farm raised fish?

    1. Dave,

      A few of the topics might have a change. I say that, because of my dog food. I buy a brand, which has chicken in it, which terrified me conceptually, but it is organic farm raised chicken and the dogs in that family live up to three times longer than other dogs is why I buy it. They have photos of 27 year old dogs on the bag, so grass-fed might accomplish something.

      HOWEVER, grass fed doesn’t change the fats and choline and carnitine and growth hormone and Methionine and burger viruses and chicken viruses and bovine viruses and in the case of bacon the nitrosamines and these are all factors, highly associated with disease.

      Some examples that come to mind is that Dr. Greger’s video on Casein said that they could cause tumors to grow and shrink and grow and shrink by giving it Casein or removing Casein. Same thing with Growth Hormone and Methionine.

      I am not a science person, but logic tells me that some of the risks for some diseases might change, but, heart disease, would be one, which might not change and that is the leading cause of death.

      I just had a sweet friend pass away from a heart attack and it was a shock to everyone.

      Grass fed wouldn’t have prevented that.

    2. Also, if you look under the topic of meat, Dr. Greger points out studies showing that meat consumption affects mortality rates, not just “processed meat” consumption.

      There are things like the gut bacteria, which may or may not change going organic meat. I say that, because organic fruits and vegetables have different bacteria than nonorganic and we don’t know if the bacteria is good or bad, we just know that it is different.

      I was thinking about that today, because my work will pay for my lunches everyday and salad is what I do get, and I get every vegetable you can possibly imagine, but they aren’t organic is what has started niggling in the back of my conscience.

      So…… will the gut bacteria had lots of non-organic bad guys….. and what were the studies on Round up again.

      It is so unfair, is what my inner immature teenager says. I buy organic fruit and vegetables every day for home and I am working so hard at this, but I am saving $4000 a year on lunches, which might be killing me or helping me and killing me.

      I can’t do the “How much Round-Up is in my lunch?” math without help, but I have been updating my house and $4000 was too big a temptation, but hospital bills has come into the other side of the equation, so I guess I will make out in the end.

      I need a life math tutor.

      1. Dr. Greger, if I show up at your live video Q&A, could you tell me how much Round Up is in a salad?

        LOL! Nope, I won’t ask “high research” questions.

        I am not on Facebook, but I am still pondering if any of my questions are worthy of asking in the live talks.

    3. There are a number of countries where all the beef is from grass-fed cattle and synthetic hormones are not used. The more meat people eat there, the higher the rates of cancer. I can’t offhand recall any studies on farmed vs non-farmed fish in terms of their actual impact on human health.

      However, all this hype about grass-fed this or that is based on speculative reasoning and arguments that grass fed is less unhealthy than grain fed. That may (or may not) be true but where is the evidence that it is actually healthy? There is none to my knowledge …… as far as I can tell it is all industrial-strength wishful thinking that gives people an excuse to continue eating beef etc even though the World Health Organization after a thorough review of all the evidence, concluded that red meat is probably carcinogenic.

  14. Dave,

    Regardless of the method of raising the beef, your still placing a high level of saturated fat into your diet.

    Although there are differences in the oil content of meat relative to the methods of grazing, there remains the same key health aspects of changes in vascular responses along with a host of other health considerations.

    While I appreciate your question the underlying issues are still identical for as an example, the fish. Please see a recently (yesterday) written blog on and the study on fish and plastics…. and no the fish were not raised in a farm setting.

    One of the key and highly influential differences to consider is the inherent high fiber content of the WFBP diets. This one change of fiber has a radical influence on absorption, the micro-biome, antioxidant concentrations systemically and ultimately the response of the bodies system responses, which is not available from either fish or meat.

    Let’s go explore the health of the planet and your question. Please see this article and consider the ecological aspects;
    Here’s Why Grass-Fed Beef is Just as Bad for the Environment as Grain-Fed. I believe that we need to address the complete picture of meat and fish, as examples when we talk about the comparisons.

    So I’m not certain that the question is the method of raising meat or fish, but rather total health impact.

    Dr. Alan Kadish moderator for Dr. Greger

  15. Dave, my relatives who lived into their 90’s all ate meat and that was what someone was pointing out about their family and it doesn’t sway me to want to leave vegan, but I know that which meats you eat and whether they are organic or not and whether you boil them or cook them well done all would affect things.

    My relatives were seriously poor and ate meats like paupers. They ate it in casseroles rather than as the main course. They shot game and caught fish from the river they lived on and raised their own chickens and rabbits. Each of those changes the risks, per Dr Gregers videos.

    Thry also had a garden and ate fruits and vegetables.

    My grandmother told me a story of her sixteenth birthday and she wanted something special, but there were six kids and they didn’t have year round work, and she got a bacon grease and baked bean without the actual bacon sandwich.
    She said that she stormed out the door and then said to herself, “What a spoiled brat you are. Why are you going to make mom worry about you when they already have so much to worry about.”

    She never got Diabetes, but did have heart problems in her nineties, but she died of aspiration pneumonia.

    Pain would be how meat affected her more than health.

  16. India is a vegetarian country, but has a heart disease problema. Is there a problema with the whole plant food diet? Or what is the root cause of the problema?
    • Heart disease, especially coronary artery disease is rampant in India. According to studies, Indians have heart disease almost 10 years earlier as compared to their western counterparts
    • Statistics show that the rate of heart diseases in India is double of that of the national averages of western countries.
    • According to the Indian Heart Association, “50% of all heart attacks in Indians occur under 50 years of age and 25% of all heart attacks in Indians occur under 40 years of age.

    1. Only some communities in India are vegetarian, and vegetarian is not synonymous of a healthy diet: vegetarians often eat more dairy products, eggs and processed foods loaded with oils than some omnivorous persons.

      Heart disease is linked with the gut bacteria, and only a strictly plant nutrition allows one to develop a gut bacteria which will not favor the creation of compounds linked with atherosclerosis (TMAO).

      A gut bacteria sustained by an animal based foods diet might be responsible for a lot of diseases, and if not the initiation, the promotion of them.

    2. Another commenter ab30 gave a good response to your comments, but I did look at that news report you mentioned which specifically mentioned junk food and other poor lifestyle choices being assumed by youngers individuals in India. Again even if these indiv are more vegetarian that in other countries, if they eat much processed, high fat, high sugar foods, they are more at risk for several chronic diseases including cardiovascular conditions. This hardly casts a doubt on vegetarian diets–just gives more impetus to eat less processed, cholesterol-laden foods in addition to the meat! Since you’re obviously interested in this subject, delve deeper by reviewing some of the many videos on cardiovascular disease Dr. Greger has prepared. (Use the search box above) and thanks for your comment.

  17. My question is how do you convince 80+ years olds that eating bacon, cooked in traditional holiday meals causes cancer or that eating fried foods also during special occasions or holidays causes heart disease when they don’t have cancer, diabetes or heart disease?

    1. Eating bacon or fried foods on special occasions might not make one sick, though if one eats healthy all the time, I doubt that one really appreciates bacon or deep fried foods, because of the neuro-adaptation of taste.

      If one eats regularly animal-based foods, one has cancer, diabetes and heart disease, but their effects might no be visible or diagnosed in every one.

    2. Patra,

      It is very difficult to change anyone’s perspective if they themselves have no motivation to do so; especially older adults who have formed habits over many years. A good approach with this population is to cook them delicious healthy foods and encourage healthier options, rather than trying to get them to change options that they have held their entire lives.

      Also, not everyone who eats unhealthy foods will develop a chronic disease. Likewise, not everyone who eats healthy will not develop disease. Lifestyle, genetics, and environmental factors all play a role in disease and health.



  18. Is there any evidence that plant based whole foods diet reduces the risk of contracting
    Clostridium difficile infections?

    1. Hi Jie: Thanks for your comment! Is there something we can help you with? We have a diverse team of health support volunteers that would be happy to help answer a question for you.

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