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Everybody knows bacon is delicious, to the point that an almost cult-like obsession with the crispy little bits of pork has formed over the last decade or so.
But the nutritional value of bacon has been something that’s been frequently debated over the years, similar to eggs, fittingly enough. The question of whether or not bacon is good for you hasn’t flip-flopped quite THAT much however, merely our understanding of how some aspects of it might contribute to the function of your bodies. So, let’s break down the good and the bad bits here.
1. The Good
Bacon is an excellent source of monounsaturated fats, which is about 50% of the fat making up bacon, most of which is specifically rich in oleic acid. This is what makes olive oil such a darling to nutritionists; it’s considered heart healthy and overall significantly better for you than other kinds of oil, like canola or vegetable oil.
Bacon is also surprisingly high in a lot of needed vitamins, including most B vitamins (1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 12), iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, potassium, and selenium.
It’s also chock full of protein, as you’d expect from a meat; a solid 37 grams.
This is part of the reason it’s been enjoyed as a breakfast food for centuries. It’s widely available and filling, as well as fairly nutritious overall.
2. The Bad
While 50% of the fat provided by bacon is the “good” fat, which can actually aid heart health…well, the other half is not. 40% of that is saturated fat, while the remaining 10% is polyunsaturated fat, both of which may contribute to heart disease and high cholesterol.
The interesting thing here is that the link between these fats and heart disease is currently in dispute…and has been for a while. The general consensus seems to be that it’s best avoided, but it’s more that it acts as an “amplifier” than the actual cause of heart disease and high cholesterol; if you live an otherwise healthy life, the occasional strip of bacon isn’t likely to increase your cholesterol levels.
The bigger concern here is that bacon is the double whammy of “bad meats”. It’s a red meat, which has been nebulously linked to increasing the risk of cancer. Experts generally agree that limiting consumption of red meat, though the specific “allowed” amounts vary. About 18 ounces per week seems to be considered safe currently.
However, even worse, bacon is a processed meat, which has been fairly definitively linked to higher cancer rates, though no one quite knows why (high amounts of nitrates and nitrites seem to be the current consensus), particularly for prostate and colorectal cancer. No amount of processed meat is considered safe.
Compounding the issue is that bacon is extraordinarily high in sodium, like all cured meats. High levels of sodium are one of the biggest contributors to high blood pressure, which increases the risks of heart disease and strokes.
Most of these things apply to other types of bacon (like turkey bacon) as well, so don’t buy into the hype around those supposed “healthier” substitutes; the main thing they contribute is a lowering of the fat content, which is actually by far the least of the worries with bacon.
Is bacon healthy for you? No. I don’t think anyone could ever actually consider bacon a “health food”.
Is bacon bad for you? Well, that question is a bit more complicated, though leans toward yes. Eating a few slices of bacon with your breakfast as a treat once in a while isn’t going to kill you, by any means, and it’s far from the worst thing in the world for you; most foods high in processed sugars are going to be worse, for example.
However the key here is moderation. Eating bacon regularly, especially in high volumes, is absolutely a problem. The classic two egg breakfast with two to three slices of bacon on the side is one of the worst ways to get your calories in the morning, no matter how delicious it is. Similar to a lot of other comfort foods (fried chicken, pancakes, and the like), bacon simply is not something that should be a staple part of your diet.
Even if your activity level helps to offset the caloric intake, the more invisible health effects aren’t going to be mitigated no matter your lifestyle. Whether a couch potato or a lumberjack, those huge sodium levels and the inherent risks that come with regular consumption of processed meats (and red meats in general to a lesser extent) are going to stick around.
So what do you do?
Not eating bacon altogether is an option, though not a particularly fun one. And as I’ve hopefully made clear, not really necessary. It should just be something you only eat on occasion (every couple of weeks or so) rather than your daily breakfast protein. This goes for a lot of similar foods as well, like sausages and hot dogs.
Making an effort to cut down on the grease content is another good way. Oven cooking your bacon on a wire rack allows for a lot of the bacon grease to drip off into a waiting pan, without letting it reabsorb into the bacon itself, this should marginally increase the healthiness of the bacon. Similarly, making sure that the rest of your meal (and other meals throughout the day) ALSO isn’t high in sodium can help cut down on the health impacts of sodium rich foods; after all, you need a fair amount of sodium to function.
A slice of bacon is equal to about 10% of your daily recommended value, so plan accordingly for the rest of your meals.
But ultimately, just remember the golden rule of nutrition: overindulgence is the worst thing when it comes to consuming ANY kind of food. Everything else falls by the wayside somewhat, so as long as you’re cognizant of what you’re eating you should be good.