Bacon, bacon, bacon! That’s what I hear every time I turn on the Food Network or go to my favorite cooking blog. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining one bit. There’s been a bacon explosion in the last few years in more ways than one. From Burger King’s bacon sundae to bacon-flavored vodka popping up on bar menus everywhere. Bacon is so popular right now, foodies are claiming it’s dead.
Dead or not, I still love it. But (channeling my inner Carrie Bradshaw here), I had to wonder, can bacon truly be part of a healthy diet? 68% of bacon’s calories come from fat, almost half of which is saturated. Each ounce of bacon contributes 30 milligrams of cholesterol. Eating foods high in cholesterol can significantly increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to less than 7% of your total calories. Making matters even worse, not only is bacon considered a red meat, it’s also a member of the dreaded “processed meat” group. This group also includes ham, sausage, hot dogs, salami and pepperoni (just to name a few). The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends that people avoid all forms of processed meat until more is known about the cancer risk.
Gah! So what’s a healthy bacon lover to do? Well, let’s focus on the positives. Bacon is a protein after all, so it has a greater satiating effect (fullness factor) after a meal than other foods so you are less likely to overeat. It’s rich in essential vitamins and minerals, including B6, B12, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc.
The cancer risk comes from nitrites used to cure bacon. At the high temperatures used for cooking, nitrites are converted to nitrosamines, which may cause cancer. You can avoid this by buying nitrate free bacon. Also look for labels indicating the use of sustainable and humane farming practices. “Certified Organic” means the animals were given organic feed and provided access to the outdoors, although not necessarily a pasture. For animals that were pastured or had significant access the outdoors, look for the following labels: “Animal Welfare Approved,” “Food Alliance Certified,” or “Free Range/Free Roaming.”
But what about the fat? Okay, we’ve got to let go of the thinking that fat is going to make us fat. Overeating of any macro-nutrient is what makes us fat. Whether it’s carbs, fat, sugar . . . consuming more calories than your body needs is what causes weight gain. Not to mention that the majority of fat in bacon is monounsaturated. That’s the same fat found in olive oil!
This probably goes without saying, but eat bacon in moderation (I know there are a lot of Paleo Diet fans that are shaking their head at this…sorry guys). A slice of bacon has roughly 35 calories and one gram of saturated fat. That one slice has tons of flavor though so you really don’t need to load your plate or overstuff your blt in order to feel full. Think of seasoning your meal with bacon rather than the focus of your meal.
Some healthy meal ideas including bacon could be:
- A bowl of fresh fruit with a side of bacon
- A baked potato topped with bacon and salsa instead of sour cream and butter
- Chopped bacon mixed with green beans and balsamic vinaigrette
- Make a healthy egg salad by replacing the mayo with mashed avocado and throwing in some chopped bacon
- Fill a whole wheat wrap with scrambled egg whites, bacon, spinach, feta cheese, and tomato for breakfast
So yes, bacon can be part of your healthy diet. So pig out!*
*Sorry, I love lame puns.