Save Your Bacon

Written by Kaayla Daniel, PhD, CCN

Monday, 10 December 2012 21:02

Sizzling Bits about Nitrites, Dirty Little Secrets about Celery Salt and Other Aporkalyptic News

“When you’re in my house you shall do as I do and believe who I believe in. So Bart, butter your bacon.” Homer Simpson

Neal Barnard, MD, head of the Physicians Committee for (Ir)Responsible Medicine, tried to round up an army of vegans to protest a Bacon Festival in Iowa last spring, but succeeded in recruiting only six volunteers.1 Why so few? Probably fear of bacon! Not fear of death by bacon, which is what Dr. Barnard hoped to fuel with anti-meat rhetoric and billboards of skulls and crossbones, but vegan fears of succumbing to the lure of bacon itself! Bacon’s smell and taste are so seductive that many vegetarians fear it as “the gateway meat.”

But what of those health risks? What about all that fat, cholesterol and sodium? And what about nitrites? It’s not just vegans after all who warn us against bacon. Recently, the Harvard School of Public Health announced with great fanfare that just a small daily serving of red meat would increase our likelihood of death by 13 percent, while a little bacon, hot dog, sausage or other processed red meat every day would kill us off 20 percent faster.2,3

In fact, the study was pseudo-science at its best—an observational study using notoriously fallible food-frequency questionnaires, with researchers drawing unwarranted conclusions based on mere associations. Much ado about nothing, in other words. A careful look at the data suggests a 0.2-fold increased risk at most. And that’s for people eating supermarket meat from factory farms who also happen to smoke, are couch potatoes, and eat their red meat wrapped up in white bread and buns.4-6

Sadly, lots of people assume Harvard’s warnings must be valid. Red meat, bacon and other tasty high-fat foods, after all, have long enjoyed reputations as being both delicious and dangerous. Indeed, the bacon question has been argued for years now, with most non-vegan internet bloggers concluding that bacon’s “not so bad” if used to add a bit of flavor and crunchiness to “healthy” foods such as salads and vegetables. Comedian Jim Gaffigan spoofed this point of view on Late Night with Conan O’Brien when he described bits of bacon as “the fairy dust of the food community” and eating a salad sprinkled with bacon as “panning for gold.”

A bit more bacon—even a few strips— sometimes even gets the Food Police stamp of approval, provided it’s a special treat, of course, and not a daily indulgence. But such recommendations usually come complete with a warning to stick with lean bacon, and then cook it so it’s firm but not soft. While that last sounds a bit naughty, it’s actually anti-fat food puritanism—the goal being to render the soft parts into fat that can be poured or patted off.

But what if bacon is actually good for us? What if it actually supports good health and is not a mortal dietary sin after all? What if we can eat all we’d like? Naughty propositions to be sure, but ones the Naughty Nutritionist™ is prepared to argue. And that promise is not just a strip tease!


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