Bacon is a favourite staple of the western diet, and its popularity has risen over the years at a steady rate. Bacon recipes like the Bacon Explosion are sweeping the Internet, fast-food chains are offering double bacon burgers, and restaurants are making bacon-wrapped steaks and even adding bacon bits to desserts. That’s because bacon tastes great with just about anything.
Although bacon may be a tasty treat, it also has its downsides, with the main thing being that it’s perceived as very unhealthy. We’re going to have a look at the good and bad things about bacon so you know all there is to know about what you’re consuming.
Good things about bacon
- Eating a small amount of bacon (a few strips) can be beneficial to your health, as it contains essential nutrients and vitamins including protein, iron, zinc, vitamins A and B, and essential fatty acids.
- The amount of niacin (Vitamin B3) found in bacon can help you live longer.
- If you’re pregnant you can eat bacon – in fact it’s encouraged! – because it contains the chemical choline, which helps foetal brains develop regions related to memory.
- The reason that so many people like bacon and egg rolls when they’re hungover has it’s basis in science – eating a bacon sandwich can cure your hangover! The carbohydrates in the bread help get rid of the alcohol from your system faster, and the amino acids in the bacon can change your brain chemicals to make you feel better.
- Bacon is healthier than sausage. Two sausages have 140 calories and 12 grams of fat, whereas three strips of bacon (one ounce) only have an average and 9 grams of fat.
- One ounce of high-fat bacon is 140 calories, and low-fat bacon is only 105 calories.
- Bacon is a cured/processed meat, so it contains nitrites and nitrates (preservatives like salt and sugar) that enhance its flavour. That’s why nearly everything tastes better with bacon.
- Eating antioxidant-rich vegetables or foods with vitamins C and E with bacon can inhibit the conversion of nitrates into nitrosamines, which are known carcinogens (see below for more info). So consider drinking orange juice after eating your bacon.
- The nitrites and nitrates in bacon extend its shelf life. For an unopened package, the bacon be eaten up to one week after the used by date. For an opened package, you have 7-10 days to eat it. For bacon that’s close to the expiry date, you can freeze it and it’ll stay good for 1-2 months. If you cook it and then put it back in the fridge within two hours, you’ll have an extra 3-4 days to eat it.
- Weirdly enough, pigs are a great natural recycler of marijuana. This was discovered when a group of Washington farmers fed cannabis waste to their free-range pigs, which resulted in smoked bacon that was highly profitable.
Bad things about bacon
- Bacon is not only a red meat, but it’s also a processed meat that generally has a lot of artificial ingredients and preservatives (the bad bacon), which isn’t safe to eat. However, there are now brands selling bacon that specialise in no artificial ingredients or preservatives.
- The more bacon you eat, the higher your risk of dying early from cardiovascular disease or cancer.
- Eating bacon can increase your risk of getting pancreatic cancer. If you eat an extra 50 grams a day, the risk is increased by 19%, while eating an extra 100 grams will raise the risk by 38%.
- The large amount of nitrites and nitrates found in bacon can also increase your risk of developing heart disease.
- Consuming bacon on a regular basis will affect your body’s ability to use and produce insulin as a result of the nitrates in bacon, which raises your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
- The nitrates in bacon get converted into N-nitroso (nitrites turned into nitrosamines) when absorbed by the body, which can also lead to lower lung function and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- If you heat up bacon at a high temperature, this can also create nitrosamines.
- Bacon also increases cancer risks due to carcinogenic PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) compounds that are produced during the curing process.
- Bacon has a lot of saturated fat (34%), which is bad fat, and it can lead to an increased risk of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes and an unhealthy weight gain.
- Bacon also has a lot of sodium (190 milligrams per slice), which puts you at risk of getting heart and kidney disease, stroke and high-blood pressure.
- An ounce of bacon contains 30 milligrams of cholesterol, and eating too much cholesterol can cause heart disease.
- Although we have to eat, killing pigs for bacon can seem like a bad idea.
- Bacon from factory-farm pigs is more likely to make you sick, because they can develop a type of bacteria with a strong resistance to antibiotics.
- If you’re a guy and are thinking of having a baby, you shouldn’t eat a lot of bacon because it can lead to a lower sperm count.
- There is no bacon that’s uncured and has no added nitrates and nitrites.
Why you should reduce the amount of bacon you eat
Overall, there are more bad things about bacon, so ultimately you should reduce the amount of bacon you eat. According to a study published in the journal BMC Medicine, it has been estimated that 3% of premature deaths could be prevented each year if people just consumed less than 20 grams of processed meat a day. So if you eat a lot of bacon, consider varying your diet with other protein-rich foods, such as fish, chicken, beans, lentils, tofu, cheese, yoghurt, nuts and seeds. Also eat your daily recommended intake of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables.
You should also limit your saturated fat intake to less than 7-10% of your total calorie intake to prevent any health problems in the future. For example, if you eat 2000 calories a day, you should consume less than 16 grams of saturated fat a day. In this case, you can still enjoy eating a small amount of bacon, but just don’t eat it every day.