Bacon… a food that as a dietitian I get asked about all the time; “Can I eat it? Is it healthy? Unhealthy? What if I just have the eye, surely that’s ok? There is no way I can have eggs for breakfast without bacon!”
And have you been to America? Everything is bacon flavoured and bacon comes with everything!
So there are lovers and hater of bacon- some people wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole and others cant give it up.
So what is it- enemy of good health or culinary delight?
Bacon is a pork product that is smoked and cured using salt. Because of this curing process, bacon is quite high in salt (sodium). These days sodium nitrate is also used as a preservative, which means that bacon is also a source of nitrates.
Bacon is considered a ‘processed meat’, because of the way it is made. Evidence suggests regular consumption of processed meats is associated with development of a range of condition including certain cancers and chronic diseases.
In many cases bacon can be considered high in energy and this is mainly because of how it is usually cooked (fried in extra fat), how it is eaten (usually with other high energy products – think fry up breakfast or burgers) and many people dont just eat one piece (you always want to go back for more).
However the nutrition and energy content of bacon can vary greatly because there are lots of different types of cuts of bacon.
In Australia if you have a look in the deli section you usually see two main cuts- middle cut bacon and short cut bacon. Short cut bacon is just the ‘eye’ of bacon (think lean round circle of bacon), while middle bacon is usually the eye with a tail of fat.
Now if you have ever been to America you will see the bacon is completely different- it is long thin pieces, with more white fat than meat (usually). This type of bacon is called ‘streaky bacon’, or ‘side bacon’ and comes from pork belly.
If bacon is a food you like and want to include in your diet then you can do this and still be healthy, however it must be recognised that regular consumption in large quantities may be adverse health effects. So here are Nutted Out Nutrition’s tip for including bacon as part of a balanced diet:
- Stick with the ‘eye’ of bacon (also called back bacon in some countries). This is usually very lean, with minimal fat.
- Limit eating bacon to a maximum of once a week (even if you have the leaner bacon, remember it is still high in salt and nitrates)
- If you enjoy bacon flavour, then use small amounts of bacon to flavour meals instead of using it as a main ingredient e.g. small amounts of bacon in a frittata or pasta, rather than eating multiple rashers at a time to yourself.
- Try not to have bacon with other high energy foods, this will help you reduce your energy intake and allow you to have bacon occasionally without it affecting health and weight e.g. dont get the hot chips with bacon and cheese on top, dont get a burger with the lot, dont get a meatlovers pizza.
- Choose to have bacon when the flavour counts so you feel like you have eaten it e.g. a nice breakfast bruschetta with small amount of bacon or BLT rather than burger with the lot. With the burger you barely taste the bacon and dont really notice you are eating it, whereas with a BLT the bacon is the main flavour so you can appreciate it more.
So bacon- friend or foe? Well I think it is both… It can be detrimental to your health if you eat large quantities of fatty cuts on a regular basis (think most weeks). However if you are like me and enjoy the flavour of bacon and have it once every couple of months or so with a nice brunch with friends, it can be a nice a flavour addition to your meal.
Remember there are no bad foods, just not great food habits. So learning how you can include your favourite foods as part of balanced, healthy eating in line with your goals is what we are here for. So book an appointment to see one of our expert dietitians. Life is too short to not enjoy good food!
And remember, eating well most of the time to keep healthy is good- but having fun during other times is good for health. That’s why I enjoyed going to the Bacon Bar in New York and trying their bacon tasting plate- why not 🙂 (but I also didnt have a hotel buffet breakfast every morning- instead opting for a light breakfast of fresh fruits and yogurt- it is all about balance).
Here is a great recipe with a hint of bacon from Weightloss.com.au that could be used for breakfast, or to go with a salad for dinner.