Bacon: Delicious, But Nutritious?

Mmmmmm, bacon. It is perhaps the perfect food. Salty, savory, fatty, sweet, and spicy (if it’s peppered), it hits just about every note on your palette with perfect pitch and flawless delivery. It’s no wonder America is absolutely downright head-over-heels obsessed with it… and that’s putting it mildly. It is a huge part of American culture, and just when you think it can’t find its way into any other food items, it starts showing up on donuts, dipped in chocolate, in ice cream, and infused into liquors like vodka and bourbon. Many restaurants use bacon quite liberally on their menus, and rarely, if ever, will you hear someone saying about their dish, “You know, it’s really good except for the bacon.” As the adage goes, “Bacon makes everything better.” So it’s everywhere and we love it like our first-born, but is it as bad nutritionally as its reputation suggests? And what exactly is bacon?

Bacon is simply a cured pork product, in America usually made from the fatty belly of the pig. To make bacon, the pork belly is simply cured in salt or brine, then usually smoked and cut into strips. It is usually then cooked, or at least heated, one more time and added to everything from eggs to potatoes to salads to sandwiches and almost literally everything in between. So that’s bacon in America, but it can take other various forms around the world. Jewish and Muslim cultures, in which pork is forbidden, often make “bacon” out of other animals. Much of Europe prefers a leaner type of bacon made from either the side or back of the pig instead of the belly. But when it comes to America, we like our rich and fatty bacon and prefer pork belly bacon predominantly.

But what about bacon from a nutritional perspective? While not many people would argue that bacon’s flavor literally defines the word “delicious,” its nutritional value has always been in question and has a pretty bad reputation as an admittedly scrumptious but extremely unhealthy food. However, while you can’t really argue that bacon is good for you, it really isn’t as bad nutritionally as most people think. It can be difficult to get accurate nutrition facts on bacon, because both the fat content of the meat and the thickness of the slices can vary. But approximately, one slice of bacon contains about 40 calories, 3g of fat, 3g of protein, and little to no carbohydrates. So if the typical American portion is 3-4 slices, figure about 150 calories, and 10g of both fat and protein. The fat is the biggest concern, but 2/3 of the fat is the healthy unsaturated variety, while 1/3 is the unhealthy saturated type. Bacon also contains a good amount of sodium, too much of which is unhealthy and can lead to a variety of health problems including high blood pressure. Beyond the fat and sodium, bacon also contains various chemical preservatives like nitrites that may be associated with cancer and heart disease.

Thus, at first blush, bacon may seem to put you into the express lane on heart attack highway. And while it certainly is a pretty unhealthy food, let’s take it in context. Luckily, a little bacon goes a long way. A little bit added to a dish will add a lot of a flavor but only a small amount of calories. Even eating 3-4 slices would only mean you were consuming about 3g of saturated fat, approximately the same amount found in two eggs, a glass of whole milk, a couple bites of steak, a small cube of butter, or a couple hunks of rich cheese. It is important to limit saturated fat, but a little bit in the diet is healthy and necessary, so a few slices of bacon certainly isn’t the end of the world. Additionally, some of the fat cooks off the longer you heat it up. A longer-cooked, crispier piece of bacon, which most Americans prefer, will have lost a significant amount of fat in the cooking process. Bacon also contains no trans fat, which is much more harmful than even saturated fat. So unless you’re eating a large amount of bacon on a daily basis, you really have little to worry about. A few bacon bits on a salad, a couple slices of bacon on a cheeseburger, or a filet mignon wrapped in bacon won’t kill you. Just make sure it’s not an excessive, everyday thing.

At the end of the day, know that bacon is not the worst nutritional food choice you could make. It does contain a relatively high amount of fat, but only 1/3 is saturated and a little bit of bacon can make any dish significantly tastier without breaking the calorie bank. Ultimately, bacon is epically one-of-a-kind delicious, so don’t feel like you have to completely nix it from your diet in order to be a healthy eater. Bacon can be a part of a healthy diet, as long as it’s a small part. But luckily for us bacon-loving Americans, a little goes a long way.

Article Courtesy:  Andrew Steingrube

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