Health Benefits of Bacon
I’ve recently seen a lot of “bacon bashing” by people claiming bacon is bad for health. That is untrue. This article explains why bacon is a very healthy food and which types of bacon are best. Let me state up front that saying bacon is healthy does not mean it’s healthy to eat it in huge quantities, nor does it mean it’s healthy to eat large amounts seven days a week. “Moderation in all things” applies to bacon and every other healthy food or beverage. Recognizing the health benefits of bacon is not permission to go hog wild. (Pun intended.)
Even the healthiest bacon is still a processed meat and is not your best option. Please enjoy it in normal serving sizes (3-4 slices), preferably no more than once or twice a week. People who do not have a gall bladder or who have gall bladder disorders would be wise to avoid bacon or to use a strong digestive enzyme containing high amounts of lipase when eating it.
When I say, “bacon,” please note I am referring to ethically raised, grass fed, organic bacon made without nitrates and/or nitrites. Buying from a small, local farm is the best option for finding this type of bacon. Ask a lot of questions to ensure you are getting what you want.
Why nitrate/nitrite free? Because nitrates and nitrites may lower the amount of oxygen in the blood stream and may lead to coronary issues when eaten frequently. Bacon processors have changed how they make bacon. They now add Vitamin C to counteract the potential negative effect of nitrates, but my preference is still to avoid them. If that’s not possible, an occasional dose shouldn’t be harmful. Baking your bacon instead of pan frying it will help prevent the nitrates/nitrites from forming potentially harmful nitrosamines.
Here are the health benefits of bacon:
- Bacon is loaded with healthy fat: Yes, healthy!! The belief saturated fats cause heart disease was based on one small, poorly designed study in the 60’s which drew conclusions its design did not make valid. The commercial oil industry jumped on board and began quoting the study, trying to convince the public that heavily processed vegetable oils were healthier than animal oils. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Over the next 50 years, the American public was slowly but surely duped into thinking saturated fat caused heart disease. That is simply not true. Multiple studies proved saturated fat does NOT cause coronary problems. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recently compiled and reviewed 21 different studies including over 350,000 people. They concluded saturated fat has no connection to heart disease. The truth is that saturated fat helps maintain the integrity of cell walls, boosts immunity, helps the body absorb calcium, and actually improves heart health.
Three slices of bacon contain a good combination of monounsaturated and saturated fats. (Please note that bacon in a limp, almost raw state increases the amount of fat it contains and may fail to kill parasites in the pork. Crispy bacon is a better option.) Three slices contain 2.1 grams of saturated fats, 3.5 grams of monounsaturated fats, 140 grams Omega 3 fatty acids, and approximately 1200 grams of Omega 6 fatty acids. Eating grass-fed bacon will increase the amount of Omega fatty acids and greatly decrease the amount of inflammatory Omega 6 fatty acids. The numbers shown here are from grain and corn fed bacon, which I recommend avoiding if you can. Bacon also contains high levels of heart-healthy oleic acid, the same acid found in extra virgin olive oil.
- Bacon literally makes you happy: It’s true! Bacon contains high amounts of the neurotransmitter glutamate. Glutamate affects brain chemistry in a way that boosts mood and increases happiness levels. There’s a chemical reason eating bacon makes us feel so good! (Monosodium glutamate is not a valid source of glutamate, so don’t try to boost your mood by eating that.)
- Bacon is nutritious: Bacon is loaded with far more healthy nutrition than most people realize. Three slices of crispy bacon contain beneficial amounts of selenium, phosphorous, magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron, Vitamin D and Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and B12. Bacon also contains enough protein to count as a serving, along with less than a gram of carbohydrates. Three slices of bacon contain 7-9 grams of protein, a single serving. The belief bacon contains nothing but fat is false. Bacon does indeed contain high amounts of sodium, so look for a processor who uses mineral-rich sea salt instead of using overly processed table salt. I’m not a fan of turkey bacon, as it generally contains much higher amounts of artificial sodium than regular (pork) bacon does. For more information on the nutrients mentioned here, read Surprising Facts You Need to Know About Vitamin B12, Why You Need More Magnesium, and Facts About Iron-Deficiency Anemia.
- Bacon is a hefty source of energy: Since bacon is 68% healthy fat and fat is the best source of energy there is, eating bacon is a delicious way to boost energy levels without raising blood sugars. Healthy fats boost energy levels 80% percent than carbohydrates. Smart long distance runners “fat load” before a race instead of carb loading because they know it’s more effective and does not lead to blood sugar imbalances.
- Bacon can boost brain function: Bacon contains high amounts of the chemical choline, which is known to improve memory and learning capacity. There is some evidence choline may be beneficial for brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, Tourette’s syndrome, seizures, schizophrenia, etc. (Please note that choline should never be substituted for medications used to treat these diseases.) Evidence also exists that regular consumption of choline may reduce the incidence of dementia as we age.
There you have it. When enjoyed in moderation, oven-baked, organic, grass-fed, nitrate-free bacon is a healthy addition to most eating styles. Go for it!
Is Bacon Bad for You, or Good?, Authority Nutrition
Study Questions Fat and Heart Disease Link, New York Times
Nutritional Data for Bacon, Nutrition Data
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