I saw a tweet the other day trumpeting the virtues of bacon. Apparently bacon is no longer just delicious, it’s actually a healthy choice. I love bacon. When I lived in residence way back in the day I lived for bacon day. A few years ago I hosted a bacon-themed potluck for my birthday for which I made bacon chocolate bars. And when I heard about the impending aporkalypse, I went to the market and bought some bacon. Despite my love for bacon I have no illusions of it being a health food. It’s actually something that I normally eat infrequently. It’s a “sometimes” food as us dietitians are fond of saying. Could it really be true that bacon is now healthy? I was skeptical at best.
The article linked to by the tweet confirmed my suspicions. While appearing to be evidence-based and quite well-written I was still leery of its message. I know that we’re often getting things wrong and changing our tunes about the health benefits of foods but could we have been so wrong about bacon? I don’t think so. The first alarm bell was raised by the fact that the author is an acupuncturist. Now, I know that people from various backgrounds can do research and know about nutrition, but when the background of the author is from a relatively scientifically unsupported field this makes me doubtful about their message.
Honestly, I’ve been doing a little digging and what he’s saying about nitrates not necessarily being all that bad for us may be true. I do wish that he provided more links to actual research rather than other bloggers though (alarm bell number two). I also wish that he provided a link when he stated that the study condemning nitrates and nitrites had been discredited. Be that as it may, even if nitrates aren’t all that harmful after all, this doesn’t necessarily lead to the conclusion that bacon is a healthy choice. Compounds in bacon may or may not be cancer causing. What else do we know about bacon? It’s high in fat, 30 grams in one serving (75 grams). Not that fat in and of itself is bad but too much of anything is bad for you and roughly 20-35% of your daily calories should come from fat, preferably including mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Bacon uses up a large quotient of your fat intake for the day, leaving you with little room for other fat-containing foods. It’s also got lots of protein, about 28 grams, and about 400 calories. At 1821 mg of sodium, that’s more sodium than you need in an entire day. It’s got a decent amount of potassium: 443 mg, but little else in the way of nutrients.
So, sure, a slice or two of bacon on occasion is no big deal. However, even if the nitrates in bacon prove to be harmless, or even beneficial, as Kresser says, this doesn’t make bacon the healthiest food choice. There are still plenty of other nutrients to be concerned about in bacon, as well as the nutrients that it doesn’t contain and you won’t be able to get at breakfast if you want to consume a reasonable number of calories. I’d suggest not taking nutrition advice from an acupuncturist.