Iva Carter
Published by Iva Carter
Last Updated On: November 30, 2022

As someone who lives the carnivore lifestyle, I'm often asked about the difference between cured and uncured meat and which is better for you.

Uncured meat has recently become a part of my diet, but before I included it in my regimen, I did extensive research and talked to my nutritionist to get a scientific perspective.

Here's a quick run-down of cured vs. uncured meat and what you should look for when making your next purchase.

Quick Summary

  • Cured meat has been treated with salt, nitrates, and nitrites to extend its shelf-life.
  • Though still preserved, uncured meat has not been treated with artificial chemicals.
  • Natural meat forgoes all preservation other than refrigeration.

Curing Meat

A close up image of cured meat, salt, and other ingredients

It is impossible to discuss uncured meat without a firm understanding of how curing meat is done.

Curing is accomplished by treating meat with salt, chemical additives, or other processing agents to preserve the meat products and enhance their flavor.

The curing process can take weeks or even months, depending on the type of meat and the desired result.

Salt and other preservatives are injected into the meat to reduce its moisture level and make it last longer before going bad. Examples of cured meats include hot dogs, bacon, ham, sausage, and pepperoni.

One of the main benefits of eating cured meat is that it provides your body with high-quality protein. Protein is essential for building and maintaining muscle mass, and it can also help you lose weight by keeping you feeling fuller for longer.

Cured meats are also a good source of B vitamins, which are essential for energy production and immune function [1].

However, curing meat is associated with health risks. The main concern is that when you cure meats, you introduce salt, which can increase your sodium intake.

This can lead to high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems. Cured meats are also high in fat and calories, which can contribute to weight gain.

Also, there is an association between cured meat and cancer. This is because processed meats contain nitrates and nitrites, which are converted into cancer-causing compounds in the body [2].

Also Read: How to Season Meat?

Uncured Meat

An image of two uncured bacon meats on top of a paper

Uncured meat has not been treated with any synthetic nitrates or nitrites. These preservatives are added to cured meats to give them their pronounced pink hue and extend their shelf life.

These are still processed meats; the only difference is that they don’t use chemical brine or a preservative.

These uncured versions of hot dogs, bacon, sausages, and the like simply use a natural preservative like celery powder or a salt mixture. That said, they generally do not last as long as cured meats.

This does not mean nitrates and nitrites are not found in uncured meat products [3].

You can isolate these compounds in uncured meats and naturally occurring curing agents, like celery juice, beet extracts, and celery powder.

This is why some manufacturers will label their product as "no Added Nitrates or Nitrites," even though there may be natural nitrates or sodium nitrite in the product.

"But the relationship between dietary nitrates/nitrites and health is a lot more nuanced than merely saying "they're bad for us." For example, the high natural nitrate content of beetroot juice has been credited with lowering blood pressure and enhancing exercise performance."
- The BBC

And because they have not added chemical preservatives, these meats often have a higher salt content than their cured counterparts.

Uncured meats are generally considered better for you than cured options because they do not contain synthetic preservatives.

However, it is important to note that both types of meat can have more sodium than your body needs, so it is essential to check the nutrition label before purchasing either type of meat.

Additionally, although uncured products do not have synthetic chemicals added, uncured options still contain natural ingredients that are converted to sodium nitrite or nitrates.

These can be converted into cancer-causing compounds in the body, just like artificial chemicals.

Natural Meat

An image of natural and fresh meat on a black slate

Of course, there is meat that does not contain any additional salt, nitrates, or nitrites. And that is natural, or fresh, meat.

Natural meat has not been treated with any processing agents or added preservatives. It has to stay refrigerated or frozen for food safety, as it will go bad quickly if not properly stored.

It will retain its naturally occurring color and not take on the pink appearance of preserved meats.

The main benefit of eating fresh meat is knowing exactly what you're cooking. Because the food is not processed, there are no synthetic ingredients, and there is no chance of consuming harmful chemicals.

Additionally, there is no artificial flavoring in natural meat. You will have to season it yourself, but that allows you to tailor the flavors to your liking.

However, natural meat does not have the same shelf life as cured ham or processed meat. For food safety, it needs to be consumed more quickly and should be stored in the fridge or freezer.

Additionally, although natural meat is a better option, it is important to remember that all meat contains some amount of saturated fat and cholesterol.

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FAQs

Is Uncured Ham Safe to Eat?

Yes, in moderation, uncured ham is safe to eat. Its natural preservation process doesn't use any synthetic chemicals, which can be harmful.

However, salt acts as the primary preservative, and uncured products may contain compounds that, although natural, are tied to cancer.

Are Uncured Meats Healthier than Cured Meats?

Yes, uncured meats are generally healthier than cured meats. This is because it doesn't contain any artificial preservatives or synthetic chemicals. For example, uncured hot dogs are simpler and closer to nature than cured products.

Which Tastes Better, Cured or Uncured Ham?

Cured ham often tastes better as it has a richer flavor because of the flavorings that are added when you cure meat.

Buying uncured ham and deli meat may leave you with saltier food because they have additional sodium introduced during the preservation process.

Should You Try Uncured Meats?

Whether you like hot dogs, bacon, sausages, salami, bologna, or prosciutto, you can choose an uncured version of your favorite processed meats. Both cured and uncured ham have a longer shelf life than fresh ham, but they often contain high salt levels.

If you are looking for the healthiest option, choose natural meat. And if you want pasture-raised, hormone- and antibiotic-free meat delivered to your door, check out ButcherBox. Learn more about this meat delivery service by clicking here.


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23871079/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35303088/
  3. https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/focused-on-health/eat-less-processed-meat.h11-1590624.html
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