When you type “bacon” into a search engine, over 45,000,000 results come up. As a nation we are obsessed with bacon. Obsessed. From Wendy’s 970 calorie Baconator with its 6 slices of bacon to bacon-topped cupcakes, Americans can’t get enough of this tasty pork product. In fact, bacon sales have steadily increased since 2011, making bacon a $4 billion industry in 2013. As many as 65% of Americans would name bacon as the official food of the USA. So, if you haven’t already, should you hop on the bacon bandwagon and sign-up for the Bacon-of-the-Month club? (Yes, there is such a thing!)
Bacon is one of the oldest processed meats in the world, originating as early as 1500 BC in China. Pig flesh is cured (preserved) using large amounts of salt, as well as other preservatives and stabilizers including nitrites and nitrates. Ingredients can even be added to bacon to make it easier to slice or to keep it from spattering while you’re frying it up in a pan.
Is bacon that bad for you? Bacon slices can come from several different parts of the pig, yielding different fat and calorie contents. The most common type of bacon in the US comes from pork belly, looks streaked and contains a fairly high proportion of fat. In fact, almost 70% of the calories in bacon come from fat, with about 1/3 of those fat calories coming from heart-unhealthy saturated fat. Not to mention, bacon contains large amounts of sodium (not good for your blood pressure) and a fair amount of cholesterol. Think of this food as bacon-wrapped heart disease.
Heart disease isn’t the only health concern when it comes to bacon though. The American Institute for Cancer Research advises against eating bacon and other processed meats due to their link to prostate cancer as well as other forms of cancer. Bummer.
So, is there a way to eat your bacon and enjoy it too?
- Yes, sort of. Bacon is a very flavorful food so a little goes a long way when it comes to finishing a dish. Add one ounce of cooked bacon to an omelet, salad, sandwich, baked potato or casserole for a punch of delicious flavor. One ounce of pork bacon (2-4 slices, depending on the type) ranges from 105 to 140 calories and 7-10 grams of fat.
- Try turkey bacon for fewer calories and less saturated fat. Not all turkey bacon brands are created equal; read the nutrition label for the best choice. Caution: turkey bacon is still considered a processed meat with added nitrites and nitrates so eat in moderation.
- Go Canadian! Canadian bacon, similar to ham, is a lean alternative to traditional bacon. An ounce of Canadian bacon is around 70 calories and 3 grams of fat.
- Become vegetarian. Vegetarian “bacon” or protein strips offer a bacon-like taste and texture but without the pork and the heart-unhealthy fat.
While I don’t recommend becoming a bacon connoisseur, enjoying a small amount of bacon every now and again can keep you from feeling deprived and add some fun to your diet.