It's salty, rich, and makes everything more delicious - yes, it's bacon! Everyone's favorite pork product has the best reputation for taste but not so good reputation for health. But is it as bad as some health experts warn? Learn more about the many pros and cons of bacon health facts and how to include this food in any healthy diet.
Americans love bacon. We put it on everything from eggs and hashbrowns to sandwiches and burgers - we even bake it into donuts!
And while this processed meat tastes heavenly, it doesn't come without its pitfalls - saturated fat is one of the worst one.
We're going to be honest and state the obvious - the calories in bacon are high, along with the saturated fat content, cholesterol, and sodium.
However, not all bacon is made the same - if prepared properly and consumed in moderation - bacon can even offer some health benefits.
Also, if you don't feel comfortable eating bacon, you can still get your 'bacon fix' with a healthy bacon substitute, like turkey bacon or plant-based alternatives.
Long story short - you don't need to give up bacon to be healthy. We'll explain everything below!
What is bacon made of?
Bacon isn't merely a fresh cut of meat.
- Producers take pork belly or less fatty back cuts and cure it with an injection or soak it in brine, known as 'wet cure;' or with dry salt, a 'dry cure.'
- Nitrites or nitrates get added to speed up the bacon-curing process and stabilize the meat's color.
- Bacon producers leave the cured meat to dry for a few weeks or months or smoke the meat. They may also boil the bacon.
- We can cut bacon from several parts of the pig, producing side bacon, back bacon, collar bacon, cottage bacon, or jowl bacon.
The resulting flavor of bacon is salty, rich, and smoky, which quickly amps up the flavor of almost any meal.
Bacon Nutrition Value: Pros and Cons
While we hear a lot about the downsides of consuming bacon, both pros and cons come with eating this processed meat.
Bacon Nutrition Facts
First, let's take a look at the straight nutrition facts you'll find in the typical package of bacon on the shelf at the grocery store.
Per serving, 3 regular slices
- Calories: 161
- Fat: 12g
- Saturated Fat: 4.1g
- Sodium: 581mg
- Carbohydrates: 0.6g
- Fiber: 0g
- Sugars: 0g
- Protein: 12g
- Cholesterol: 35mg
Can I eat bacon in healthy amounts?
Let's focus on the good news first - bacon contains absolutely no sugar and is an excellent low-carb alternative.
- The calories aren't exceptionally high, and the protein in bacon is quite substantial, at 12g in only 3 slices.
- The sodium in bacon is likely the most significant cause for concern, as those same 3 slices contain ¼ of your recommended daily sodium intake.
- The cholesterol in bacon is a little on the high side, but you'd have to eat 22 pieces to go over the USDA's daily recommended allowance for cholesterol.
- This processed meat contains 12g of fat, which is about ¼ to ⅙ of the fat you should eat in a day - while it's on the high end, it won't put you over the fat limits when paired with lighter foods.
Health Benefits of Bacon
Here are a few of bacon's positive effects you can reap while eating it.
Healthy Fats + Saturated Fat
Yes, bacon contains quite a bit of fat, but 50% of it is monounsaturated and mostly oleic acid, the same fatty acid that makes olive oil so good for your heart and health. So, much of the fat in bacon is relatively healthy.
And I'd argue that all of the fat in bacon may be healthy, including the saturated stuff.
However, another significant portion of bacon's fat is saturated.
According to some health professionals, this is the big, bad wolf of the fat world, and they believe it increases risk factors for heart disease. But no studies have consistently proved this link at all, and overall diet and lifestyle factors are much more significant risks for the development of heart disease.
Plus, a regular serving of bacon is relatively small - if you're watching your portion sizes, you won't overdo your fat intake.
High-Protein and Low-Carb
Low-carb and Keto diets are the latest dietary craze that seems to be building some significant weight loss results. And bacon fits right into these diets, as a high-fat, high-protein food source with almost non-existent carbs, at less than 1g per serving.
Potassium and B-Vitamins
Bacon contains some essential micronutrients, including potassium, which supports bone health, heart health, muscle strength and prevents high blood pressure.
You can also find over 50% of the RDA of two essential minerals in bacon; selenium and phosphorus. These minerals are crucial antioxidants and bone strengtheners.
This cured meat is also a fantastic source of a range of B vitamins, including B1, B2, B3, B12, B5, and B6, supporting everything from cellular production to brain function and energy levels.
Drawbacks of Bacon
Why is bacon bad for you? Here are a few reasons why bacon has garnered a bit of an unhealthy reputation.
- Bacon is cured with salt or brine, so it should come as no surprise that it's higher in salt than some other foods.
- Each serving contains ¼ of the RDA for sodium, so watching portions is crucial to keep your salt intake in check.
- A diet that's chronically too high in salt can raise blood pressure and increase stomach cancer risk.
Nitrates and Nitrites
These bacon additives used in the curing process can form carcinogens, known cancer-causing agents when exposed to high heat.
Luckily, many bacon producers have started to add antioxidants during the curing process, which lowers bacon's nitrate content and reduces the risk of ingesting harmful carcinogens.
Processed Meats and Disease
Bacon is processed meat, and several studies have linked a diet high in processed meats with a higher likelihood of developing certain cancers and diseases.
How to Include Bacon in a Healthy Diet
Even with a few drawbacks, you don't have to completely take bacon out of your diet to be healthy.
You can enjoy bacon as a part of any healthy diet with the help of one key - moderation.
- Keep portion sizes in check.
- Avoid consuming bacon more than a few times per week.
- Use it as a condiment to top your meal, rather than the main course.
- Crumble bacon on a big green salad, or make a healthy, low-fat chicken wrap with grilled veggies and a slice of bacon for some extra-salty, rich flavor.
Healthiest Way to Cook Bacon
- The healthiest way to make bacon is to pan-fry it until crispy so that most of the fat melts off it.
- Be careful not to burn the bacon, increasing your carcinogen consumption.
- The best way to reduce the fat and calories in a bacon slice is to drain it well.
- After you cook your bacon, place it on some paper towels to drain, and mop up any extra melted fat as you see fit.
Delicious Bacon Alternatives
There is no genuinely perfect replacement for bacon, but there are plenty of 'bacon-like' alternatives that can give you a similar taste and feel to our favorite cured meat.
Bacon vs. Turkey Bacon
Turkey bacon shares the same downsides of being processed meat, but it's much lower in calories and fat than regular bacon.
This turkey-based bacon has a slightly different taste and texture, but it's a pretty tasty option for anyone closely watching calorie and fat intake.
If you've switched to a plant-based diet and find yourself missing the taste of bacon, you can use alternative store-bought vegan bacon or make your own out of marinated tempeh, tofu, or seitan.
While these options are high-protein, they contain almost no fat, so we suggest pairing them with vegan fat sources, like avocado, to get that post-bacon fullness.
So, Can Bacon Be Healthy?
Yes! The beauty of a healthy diet is that it doesn't have to be perfect - instead, it's essential to focus on a good balance of mostly lean, nutritious food while allowing treats in moderation.
Bacon isn't inherently bad and contains a few benefits we outlined above.
However, it's a processed food, which you should limit within a healthy diet: keep your portions small and enjoy occasionally, not daily.
P.S. - We weren't kidding earlier - you should seriously try out a bacon donut!