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Introduction

Bacon and eggs are a classic American breakfast combination (and are actually a popular Keto diet breakfast since it is low in carbs)! Yes, the smell of sizzling bacon in the morning can make even the seasoned vegetarians hungry…

But bacon has been receiving a lot of negative attention too because of its potential health risks. Processed meat has been linked to an increased risk of cancer – and people are wondering whether eating bacon is safe.

There has been a lot of debate about bacon and whether it is unhealthy for us.  The concerns started arising after research studies began revealing the link between eating bacon and various severe health conditions. In the following part of the post, we will be taking a closer look at the latest research on bacon to provide an objective overview of this popular food.

How Is Bacon Produced Nowadays?

Bacon is made from pork, but the process of making the final product may differ from manufacturer to manufacturer.

Traditionally it is made by rubbing cuts of pork belly or loin with a mixture that contains salt and spices, then leaving the meat for a week before it is washed, dried and smoked.

However, the process of mass-produced bacon is quite different from that nowadays. Before being smoked, bacon is often cured by injections of salty water (which often includes sugar as well as chemicals such as sodium nitrate, potassium nitrate, and ascorbic acid) [1].

The curing and smoking processes preserve the meat, as well as give bacon its salty taste and red color. Nitrates and salt give bacon a much longer shelf life because they prevent bacteria from developing [2].

Can Eating Bacon Harm Your Heart?

Just like many other meat products, bacon is highly nutritious. It is high in protein, vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B12, phosphorus, and selenium.

Bacon is also is incredibly high in fat (In fact, it is 70 percent fat!). 50 percent of bacon fat is monounsaturated, and a large part of those fats are oleic acid – the same healthy fatty acid olive oil contains (and is considered to be incredibly healthy for). However, 40 percent of the fat is saturated and 10 percent polyunsaturated (with it also being relatively high in cholesterol [3]).

Dietary cholesterol is not that much of a concern anymore due to recent studies failing to establish a link between cholesterol and heart disease [4], but many health professionals still think saturated fats increase your risk of heart disease.

Interestingly, studies haven’t shown a consistent link between saturated fat intake and heart disease [5] – and it could be that the health effects of saturated fat depend on various other factors (such as the type of fat and people’s overall health and lifestyle).

What Are The Effects of Eating Processed Meat?

No matter what bacon lovers say, the truth is that processed meat is bad for us. By processed meat, we mean things like sausages, salami, dried meat, beef jerky, canned meat, and, of course, bacon.

Multiple observational studies have found strong links between processed meat consumption and severe diseases, including high blood pressure [6], heart disease [7], colorectal and bowel cancer [8, 9], and others.

Why is processed meat so unhealthy, then? It is treated with many harmful chemicals that are not naturally found in fresh meat, such as:

  • Nitrite (which turns into nitrosamines in processed meats) [10];
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) [11];
  • Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs) [12];
  • Sodium Chloride.

Those chemicals are added to either improve the meat’s taste or extend its shelf life.

In addition to that, people who consume high quantities of processed meat are also likely to have a much lower vegetable intake [13] which may further contribute to health issues.

Be Aware Of The High Salt Content

You probably already know that eating lots of salty foods is considered unhealthy. Well, research supports this claim with studies showing that eating food high in salt may increase the risk of stomach cancer [14].

The following groups of people are particularly at risk of developing health problems related to salt consumption, according to the Harvard School of Public Health [15]:

  • People who have high or slightly elevated blood pressure
  • People over age 50
  • African Americans
  • People who have diabetes

Not only is salt potentially carcinogenic but it may also increase blood pressure in those with salt sensitivity, according to a study conducted in 2015 [16]. Therefore, if you suspect you may have salt sensitivity, then it may be worth staying away from highly salty foods.

Hypertension is dangerous – and may damage your body over time. According to the Mayo Clinic, nearly half of the people with untreated hypertension die of ischemic heart disease (a heart disease related to reduced blood flow), while another third die of stroke [17].

Bacon is high in salt because salt is used in the curing process. Since it has been associated with many health risks, you should consume it in moderation, as well as watch your intake of other salty foods.

Are You Increasing Your Risk of Cancer Overall By Eating Bacon?

Bacon, as well as other processed meats,  contain chemical additives like nitrites and nitrates. Cooked in high heat, these chemicals form nitrosamines – compounds which are known to increase the risk of cancer [18].

However, bacon does contain less nitrosamine now than it did in the past. To counteract the effects of these carcinogenic compounds, manufacturers often add antioxidants like vitamin C and erythorbic acid during the curing process, this way reducing nitrosamine content [19].

That said, scientists are still concerned that consuming lots of nitrosamines may lead to an increased risk of cancer [20].

Does The Way You Cook Bacon Have an Effect On Your Health?

When it comes to cooking bacon (or any kind of meat, for that matter), finding the balance is very important. You may be tempted to cook the meat for longer and on higher heat to avoid it being undercooked (which we often hear is worse than it simply being overcooked), but that’s not necessarily true.

When meat like beef, pork, fish, or poultry are cooked using high heat, harmful compounds like heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) may form. PAHs may form when juices and fat from grilled meat drip onto the surface or fire and causes smoke and flames. The smoke contains PAHs which then attach themselves to the surface of the meat.

Additionally, PAHs may already be found in various smoked meats as they form during the preparation process.

HCAs form when sugars, amino acids, muscle substances (creatine or creatinine) react when cooked at high temperatures.

Various lab tests have shown that these compounds are mutagenic. In other words, they alter our DNA which may increase the risk of cancer[21].

So, what does this mean for bacon lovers? Your best option would be to cook bacon on low heat to kill potential pathogens (e.g., bacteria, parasites, and viruses) but not on high heat.

Conclusion

Bacon is an incredibly popular food enjoyed by many Americans – as well as many other cultures around the world.

Bacon is also fairly nutritious with high amounts of protein, Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and B12, selenium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, zinc, and potassium.

However, research has linked processed meats with several life-threatening illnesses, such as certain types of cancer as well as heart disease.

While most of the studies into the carcinogenic effects of bacon have been observational, the results are quite alarming and may require regular bacon eaters to make changes to their diet to at least reduce its consumption to an extent.,

While bacon is considered to be a Keto-friendly food, any foods that have been linked to various diseases would be best to be consumed in moderation.

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This article has been reviewed and fact-checked by a certified nutritionist, and only uses information from credible academic sources.