Certain foods just get more attention than others, don’t they? Bacon is definitely one of those foods. (Sorry, vegans and vegetarians, but it’s true.) Most people think it is delicious, many people consider it an unhealthy indulgence because of the high levels of saturated fat and salt and some Paleo followers eat it at every meal considering it a health food.
So where should bacon fit within a healthy lifestyle? Let’s address some key points to help us figure that out.
Bacon is processed! Shouldn’t I avoid processed food?
If you think about it most of our food is processed. Unless we only eat raw meat and unwashed fruits and vegetables then our food needs to be “processed” in some way to make it edible. We need to consider the specific steps in processing bacon to determine whether they impact your health.
Traditional curing with sea salt
Traditional curing of bacon was carried out using sea salt to preserve a pork belly. The sea salt helps prevent the growth of dangerous bacteria, which helps keep it safe to eat, pulls moisture out of the meat making it more flavorful, and helps to “cook” the meat via controlled fermentation.
In addition to sodium chloride, sea salt contains other chemical compounds including saltpeter or potassium nitrate. During the curing process the nitrates get converted to nitrites by salt resistant bacteria. It was determined that these nitrates and nitrites were a key in the curing process to keep the meat safe as well as contributing to taste.
Artificial nitrates and nitrites
Modern day curing typically uses curing salts that contain artificial nitrates and nitrites, usually sodium nitrite. There have been some scares around the safety of nitrite and nitrates but the evidence now suggests that they are not carcinogenic and it is definitely important that the meat is well preserved to keep it safe to eat. It is also worth noting that including bacon in your diet would likely be only one of many sources of nitrates and nitrites in your body including your own saliva and vegetables. No one is suggesting we avoid those!
Nevertheless, I prefer to stay clear of artificial ingredients wherever possible and so look for bacon that is made using natural curing techniques. This bacon can legally be labeled as “uncured bacon” although this is clearly a misnomer. Often these natural techniques involve the addition of spices like celery salt that are inherent sources of nitrates and nitrites that preserve the meat.
What about sugar?
Sugar is often an ingredient in bacon. Sugar aids in the fermentation process that cooks and preserves the bacon. It provides food for the probiotic bacteria. Nevertheless it is possible to make bacon without adding sugar or other sugary sweeteners and that’s the bacon I look for.
Bacon is salty! Isn’t that dangerous?
For people eating mostly natural and home cooked foods there is nothing wrong with eating some salt, especially sea salt, and it will not be harmful for them. In fact too little sodium can be a problem. For those eating more highly processed and packaged foods they may need to be more careful about adding to their sodium load. Adding bacon to an already sodium packed diet may just be exacerbating problems.
Bacon is fatty! Shouldn’t I avoid animal fat?
Yes, bacon is fatty but the myth that we need to avoid saturated animal fats for our heart health is now at an end. What is important for our heart though, is that we make sure we avoid a lot of sugary foods and highly processed grains like white flour and that we also keep our intake of anti-inflammatory fats called Omega 3s at good levels. We want to balance them with our intake of Omega 6 fats. Bacon does contain more Omega 6 fats so we should take some steps to make sure we don’t over do it.
Eating pasture-raised pork will make sure there is a better balance with more Omega 3s as compared with factory-farmed pork. Also, eating bacon in moderation only is what I recommend. Let’s not treat bacon as a primary source of protein but on the other hand there is no reason to avoid it completely.
If you’re looking for a convenient way to access high quality meat, including great bacon, then I highly recommend ButcherBox. Their meat is all hormone and antibiotic free, grass-fed and grass-finished and gets delivered to your door! I hope you enjoy it!