Although it's okay in moderation, you might want to hold the bacon if you are at increased risk for certain health conditions, such as heart disease or high blood pressure. And like other processed meats, such as lunch meat and beef jerky, bacon contains nitrites, which have been shown to cause cancer in animal studies.
Nitrites in Bacon
As noted in a study published in the 2009 "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition," both nitrates and nitrites in food have been linked with cancer and infant methemoglobinemia, a blood disorder. Bacon often contains a form of nitrite known as sodium nitrite, which is used to preserve the meat and protect it from harmful pathogens. According to the University of Minnesota Extension, sodium nitrite releases substances called nitrosamines, which have been proven to cause cancer in animal studies. Bacon that is cooked to a higher temperature releases more nitrosamines than less well done bacon.
Bacon also has a high fat content. Although some kinds of fat, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, actually have health benefits, bacon is high in saturated fat, which has been linked to increased risk of heart disease. Although saturated fat does increase good cholesterol levels, it also raises bad cholesterol levels, as noted by Harvard School of Public Health. High cholesterol levels can lead to a variety of chronic health conditions, including heart attack and stroke, since they contribute to the buildup of plaque in the arteries.
Some bacon is also very high in sodium. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, just one slice of cured bacon contains 194 milligrams of sodium. The recommended daily sodium intake for adults is between 1,500 and 2,300 milligrams, depending on age and other factors. That means that just three slices of bacon could account for more than 25 percent of your daily sodium intake. Fortunately, there are low-sodium bacon varieties that have a much lower sodium content. For example, one lower-sodium product contains only 82 milligrams of sodium per slice. According to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, people who eat one 2-ounce serving of processed meat each day are also more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, due to the sodium content as well as the presence of nitrites.
If you have a family history of heart disease, want to lose weight or simply want a healthier diet, there are a few ways you can still enjoy bacon and minimize its harmful effects. Always pat off extra bacon grease to decrease fat content, and avoid adding extra salt or other high-sodium seasonings to bacon. If you like eating bacon on a regular basis, consider replacing pork and beef varieties with turkey bacon, which is lower in fat, sodium and overall calories.
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Food Sources of Nitrates and Nitrites
- Harvard School of Public Health: Fats and Cholesterol: Out With the Bad, In With the Good
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Pork, Cured, Bacon, Cooked, Fried
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Pork, Cured, Bacon, Low-Sodium, Cooked, Fried
- Harvard School of Public Health: Red Meat Linked to Increased Risk of Type 2 Diabetes