Answering “Is Bacon Healthy?” Why Bacon Isn’t Bad For You

21 Feb

Chances are, if you are like me, you will be enjoying bacon for breakfast this weekend. Even if you are on a diet, you probably cheat on the weekends, and bacon is surely one of your mistresses. I intend to help alleviate some of the guilt you will feel as you fry up an aromatic slice of the finest cured and smoked pork belly around.

I am not worried that my bacon habit will lead to an earlier death despite a widespread correlative study about red meat consumption (that I refuse to link to) would have you believe. I am also not worried that my bacon habit will lead to obesity, heart disease, or cancer (as some bacon haters have tried to convince me). In fact, I believe that my bacon habit is actually good for me, and it can be good for you too!

Before I get into why bacon is healthy, I need to address the haters. The reasons you will hear why bacon is bad for you are:

  • It will make you fat, because fat makes you fat, duh.
  • It is high in saturated fat, and saturated fat is linked to high cholesterol and heart disease.
  • It has cholesterol, and all cholesterol will kill you.
  • It is cured with carcinogenic chemicals called nitrates that are linked to cancer.
  • It is high in sodium, and high sodium diets are linked to hypertension and heart disease.

I am sure you are scared, but do not worry! I am here to address these concerns and put your mind at ease.

Bacon Won’t Make You Fat

The belief that fat will make you fat is ill-informed and outdated. Many pro-bacon parties will argue that a strip of bacon only has 40 calories and that people generally don’t eat more than a few strips. I will not engage in this type of argument because

  1. I don’t know where they are getting these measly 40 calorie slices of bacon, mine weigh in at twice that on a bad day.
  2. I am writing for a bacon-loving audience, and last night I met a man who will make a 1lb. plus BLT.
  3. I am trying to show that Bacon is GOOD for you, not just NOT BAD for you.

Given these three conditions, I will skip the calorie argument. Instead I will start by arguing that the macronutrient content of bacon (fat and protein) will not cause an insulin response, will not convert to blood sugar, therefore will not be stored as hard to lose white-fat) and contributes greatly to satiety (the quality of being satisfied).

First I will address the fat. Fat takes longer to digest than carbohydrate which is almost instantly converted to blood sugar. Depending on your hormonal mix at the time of ingestion, excess blood sugar is stored as either glycogen (if you are in an anabolic, or post workout state) or white fat (if you are in a catabolic state or your glycogen stores are full).

Because fat is not converted to blood sugar and takes longer to digest, it will contribute to satiety. I urge you, if you are a nutrition nerd, to read about the different types of fats and how your body metabolizes them, each is different. For those who want to learn more about the effect of different fats on satiety, read this NIH meta study. Also, in defense of the fat, a study by the NIH shows that plasma leptin levels are higher in test subjects that ate a high fat diet. Leptin is a hormone that tells the brain that your stomach is satisfied.

The most important contributor to satiety is protein. Studies have shown that increasing protein intake and decreasing fat intake while leaving carbohydrates constant led to a decrease in appetite and increase in weight loss over the control group. One of the reasons you feel full after eating a high protein meal is that you secrete the hormone peptide YY, which is shown to reduce hunger.

Studies have shown protein to be the most satisfying macronutrient with fat in second and carbohydrate last. So, by including protein and fat-rich bacon in a meal, you will feel full faster and for longer. Plus, I only know one person who eats their BLT with a full pound of bacon! Most people limit it to a few strips per day.

Dietary Saturated Fat and Cholesterol Won’t Kill You

I don’t want to bore you with a thousand words, so if a picture is worth a thousand words, the below video is worth millions. We evolved eating animals, and animal fat=saturated fat and contains cholesterol. Dietary cholesterol is synthesized by males into testosterone. Want a long lasting erection? Eat bacon and eggs [this claim has not been evaluated by any medical professional that I know of and is intended only to be a hyperbolic joke, not medical advice].

Boners aside, Bacon can help you lower your cholesterol. How? Because 45% of the fat in bacon is monounsaturated fat in the form of oleic acid. Oleic acid is shown to lower LDL (bad cholesterol), and there are weak correlative studies that show it can raise HDL (good cholesterol).

For those who still believe that cholesterol in your diet is bad: there is about 4x the amount of cholesterol, ounce-for-ounce, in raw eggs than bacon. For comparison there is about 1.5 times more cholesterol, ounce-for-ounce, in bacon than lean poultry. The total cholesterol per ounce of bacon is less than 1/10th the total daily RDI. Plan your bacon intake accordingly.

Why Nitrates and Nitrites in Bacon Won’t Kill You

Bacon is usually cured with salt, nitrites and/or nitrates. Studies have shown that Nitrates and Nitrites are carcinogenic and therefore consumption will cause cancer. These studies have been discredited, peer review FTW! Also, even if nitrites and nitrates did cause cancer, there are far higher levels of nitrites in your saliva and vegetables than in cured meats like bacon. So try to avoid contact with your spit at all costs!

For those who would rather err on the side of caution, you can buy nitrate and nitrite free bacon or just read this exhaustive article on the subject.

Why Sodium Won’t Kill You

There was a study done in 1970 that showed when rats were fed the human equivalent of 500 grams of sodium, which is 200 times the 2500mg RDI for sodium, there was increased presence of hypertension. Ever since then it has been repeated and recommended by the government that people eat a low-sodium diet or risk hypertension and heart disease.

The AMA has since published studies showing that low sodium intake (less than 3000mg/day) is actually associated with higher mortality from cardiovascular disease. This same study also showed that the lowest incidence of heart disease exists for subjects who consumed between 4000-5999mg of sodium per day. So, don’t sweat the roughly 180mg per slice! 

If you are still not convinced about the sodium thing, you can also find low-sodium bacon as well. There is also uncured bacon available in most health food stores. Another option for wary bacon lovers is to simply eat pork belly, which is uncured, and when braised is phenomenal porsine preparation. 

In conclusion, bacon isn’t bad for me, or you. So eat bacon guilt-free this weekend, and on Monday I will tell you why bacon is GOOD for you!

3 Responses to “Answering “Is Bacon Healthy?” Why Bacon Isn’t Bad For You”

  1. admin April 23, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

    This doctor agrees with what I’ve said:

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