BACON: Delicious or Devilish?

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breakfastFor many years a healthy, balanced breakfast consisted of a few eggs, a couple strips of
bacon, a serving of fruit, and a single piece of toast.

But, for the last few decades, the public has been told to rely upon endless servings of processed, sugar-laden foods such as a bagels, muffins, cereals, and juices.  

As I’ve said before, health and fitness beliefs seem to operate as a pendulum. First things are amazing, then they become less popular, until they are outright feared, before they return in popularity.

Bacon is no different – a few years ago is was beguiled as a cause of cancer but nowadays you can’t go to a market without seeing an organic package of bacon for over $10 a pound, or a local restaurant that doesn’t have bacon as a side for at least 1 of their dishes.

What are the real facts surrounding this food? It is a whole food that anyone could make, found in nature. But it also goes through processing methods that may increase its downsides.

Well, today let’s break things down and explore the objective facts of bacon.bacon-chart

Just to clarify, bacon, regardless of producer or source, is made from the belly of a pig. It is often cured using salt and spices, before being cooked or smoked at a very low temperature for multiple hours. It is then cut into thin strips, packaged, and later fried in a pan.

Let’s start by looking at the actual nutritional quality of bacon – what does it provide us with, for better or worse?

For the sake of simplicity, let’s use 3 strips of bacon as a single serving. Although it is very easy to consume an entire package in one sitting (and I have before), bacon is typically a side or garnish. Below is the nutritional data for 3 strips, or about 1 ounce of bacon:

135 calories

0 grams of carbs, 9 grams of protein, and 11 grams of fat, including:

3.5 grams saturated, 5 grams monounsaturated, 1.5 grams polyunsaturated fat

The 3 strips fulfill the daily needs of the following vitamins / minerals:

12% Vitamin B3 (Niacin)

6% Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)

6% Vitamin B12

3% Vitamin B6, B2 (Riboflavin), and Panthothenic Acid

21% Selenium

21% Sodium

12% Phosphurus

6% Zinc, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, and Copper

What we see here certainly doesn’t qualify bacon as an empty source of calories, but neither does it show bacon to be the most nutritional-dense food.

Similar to any meat or seafood, it has a significant and balanced amount of B Vitamins. It also contains useful minerals that are not found in a lot of modern foods (specifically selenium, zinc, magnesium, and copper).

It contains no carbs which may be good for a typical person working a desk-job, but it also means bacon lacks any fiber to improve gut health. However, it offers a substantial amount of naturally occurring fat and a moderate amount of protein, which could benefit most Americans.

What about the negatives?

During the curing process, a significant amount of sodium is added. While sodium is an essential nutrient, vital for maintaining proper hydration and electrolyte levels, it is very easy to over consume.

Also, most producers add sweeteners (to once again promote overconsumption) and preservatives that may have concerning health effects.

However, the nitrates/nitrites are not the biggest issue. These actually occur naturally in all plant foods, and you’ll even see that “no nitrite added” bacon will list “naturally occurring nitrites from celery salt” in the ingredients. The fact of the matter is, the average person will consume far more nitrites/nitrates from veggies than they ever will from bacon!

Really, the most concerning issue is the sourcing of the meat.

32fd64b0a87000487ecda0019781c3e1If you raise a pig with plenty of land, allow it to root around for fruit, plants, nuts, small rodents, and occasionally supplement its feed with food scraps from the family dinner table, then the resulting meat will be amazingly nutritious. Pigs raised this way can have as much omega 3 as some fish!

However, if the pig is raised in a commercial feedlot, unable to move or avoid its own waste, pumped full of corn, soy, and wheat, then its meat will have higher levels of inflammatory omega 6 fats and less nutrient-density. Not to mention the disastrous effects this style of “farming” has on the environment!  

Now that the objective facts are listed, the decision to include bacon is up to you.

Is the crunch, amazing flavor, and even more addicting smell of fried bacon worth the couple hundred calories (and sodium) it may contain?

For me and my goals, 3 strips of bacon every day for a week is a perfectly healthy incorporation. Then, for the sake of variety, maybe I’ll have breakfast sausages or smoked salmon the following week.

Maybe one Sunday I’ll fry up half a pound of bacon with a massive amount of broccoli and eat it as one meal…but again, I probably won’t have it again for another month or two.  

But I also consume no other processed meats or foods with added sodium. If you are eating cold-cuts, you are already consuming the exact same molecules and inputs as bacon, with maybe half the flavor!

So, try to find a local farm with properly raised pigs, buy a few packages of bacon when they are available, and enjoy a few strips now and again – I promise your taste buds will thank you!

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A Calorie Is NOT A Calorie!

This is something health coaches, nutritionists, and scientists (trained in biology, chemistry, or endocrinology, as opposed to conventional medicine) have said for decades.

The notion that all calories are the same; that calories-in (consumed) compared to calories-out (burned) is the end-all-be-all in terms of bodyweight; is archaic and damaging to our public’s health.

Just last week, a study was published showing the results of consuming a high-protein diet. However, fat and carb intake was held constant between the two groups, meaning the high-protein group was consuming over 500 extra calories a day.

After 8 weeks, there was no difference between the two groups, in terms of bodyweight or body composition.

This suggests:

1.) Excess calories coming from protein may not lead to weight gain. This may be invaluable for individuals trying to lose weight considering that protein is the most satiating macronutrient.

2.) It is not necessary to consume extra protein to gain muscle. This is most useful for individuals trying to put on muscle, since protein can be the most expensive macronutrient.

I’ve always suggested my clients try to consume one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. This has been the standard for athletes and performance-oriented individuals for decades. Unfortunately, the general public has been convinced that protein is bad for the kidneys or the body as a whole.

There are many studies showing that individuals with kidney impairment have issues with high-protein diets…but these results have never been replicated with healthy populations.

The way major food companies produce and prepare meat will make it harmful to our body (and the environment). Feeding corn to cows literally becomes a race against the clock to see if the cow can grow fat enough to slaughter, before it dies of indigestion and infection. At the same time, grain-feeding will skew the omega-3 / omega-6 ratio, increasing the amount of inflammatory omega-6 found in the animals fat.

However, if cows, or any animal for that matter, are given enough land to wander about, and a natural diet for them to freely consume, their meat will not only be healthy for us, but may be the most beneficial food we can consume.

So, if your goal is to reduce body-fat, and you plan to achieve weight-loss using calorie restriction, make sure you are not reducing your protein intake. And keep in mind, if you are hungry or have trouble staying full, have a few extra bites of protein.

Alternatively, if you are trying to increase muscle mass, consume 1g protein per 1lb bodyweight, but, after that save your money and get extra calories from natural carbs or healthy fats. Scoops of expensive protein powder or additional pounds of chicken breast may not make a significant difference.

This study is just one more step towards correcting our understanding of food and the human body. Nothing that comes from nature, meant to give us sustenance, is automatically bad for us. It is only when we tinker with nature, maximizing production while minimizing cost, that problems arise.