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Bacon: Is There Anything Left to Discuss?

Bacon: Is There Anything Left to Discuss? | The Paleo Diet

Over the past few years, craze over bacon has surged in the Paleo community, but is it Paleo or isn’t it? It seems like just about every bacon issue under the sun has been argued, discussed and disputed on Paleo blogs, websites and cookbooks. I have little to add to these specific discussions because as near as I can determine most of the significant issues have been previously brought up – that is, except for the most crucial point.

When I spoke at the Institute for Functional Medicine Conference in San Francisco a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure to breakfast with a group of Paleo enthusiasts, and the topic of bacon naturally came up because it was a prominent item on the hotel’s morning buffet. The question arose, “If we decide not to eat bacon or other processed meats for breakfast, what would be a healthier choice to go along with our free ranging eggs, fresh fruits and green tea?” Well, how about a pasture produced pork chop?

Accordingly, let’s contrast the nutritional differences between bacon (a processed meat) and pasture produced pork chops (a fresh meat). Dietary analysis software represents one of the most useful tools you can have to analyze and appreciate how various foods differ in macro (protein, fat, carbohydrate) and micro (vitamins and minerals) nutrients. My personal favorite is Nutritionist Pro™ and I have been using various versions of it for more than a decade.1 This software is a bit pricey, but if you are immersed in diet and nutrition, it is well worth the cost. The data featured in the table below contrasting bacon and pork chops was derived from this software.

Take some time and look this table over if you have any doubts about whether you should eat bacon or pork chops for breakfast – at least from a nutritional point of view. I have done this analysis using a 100 gram (a little less than ¼ pound) portion of bacon which amounts to 541 kilocalories (kcal) and an identical 541 kcal portion of pork chops. For each nutrient I also provided the dietary reference intake (DRI) which represents U.S. governmental daily recommendations for each nutrient.

table1-5.13.14table2-6.13.14

One of the first data points that should grab your attention is the vastly differing protein to fat ratios between bacon and pork chops. On an equivalent caloric basis, the chops contain 79.2% more protein than bacon and 31.6% less total fat. This basic statistic has huge nutritional ramifications because lean protein is vastly superior to fat in regards to its vitamin and mineral concentrations. Meaning, meat is much more nutritionally dense for virtually all micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) than fat.

This concept immediately jumps out from the numbers you can see in this table. An equivalent caloric serving of pork chops compared to bacon contains 284% more vitamin B1 (thiamin), 130% more B2 (riboflavin), 90% more vitamin B3 (niacin), 396% more vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), 24% more vitamin B12, and 46% more pantothenic acid. For minerals, pork chops compared to bacon, have 468% more calcium, 23% more copper, 96% more magnesium, 4.6% more manganese, 6.9% more phosphorus, 57% more potassium, 82% more selenium, and 58% more zinc. Need I say more? Pork chops literally blow away bacon in terms of their nutritional superiority. In turn, the higher vitamin, mineral and protein concentrations of pork chops compared to bacon ultimately have multiple and far reaching health promoting effects.2-7

Take a look at the sodium difference between bacon and pork chops. Bacon has a whopping 2310 mg of sodium per 100 grams, whereas pork chops contain only 142 grams of sodium. This enormous difference in sodium (93% lower for chops compared to bacon) has significant physiological and health consequences. You don’t have to look very far to see that bacon’s super high salt concentration has multiple adverse health effects, including erectile dysfunction.

Before I leave bacon, let’s take a look at how bacon is typically produced. Virtually all of the bacon you buy at the supermarket comes from pigs that are raised indoors for most of their lives, predominantly fed grains, synthetic amino acids, vitamins and given hormones and antibiotics.8-10 Bacon is by no means a natural meat, but rather is selectively manufactured from the fat tissue butchered directly above a pig’s abdominal cavity. These slabs of tissue contain huge amounts of fat, little muscle (see table above) and are known in the industry as “pork bellies.”

After a pig’s slaughter, pork bellies (slabs) are typically injected with 1) salt, 2) nitrite or nitrate, 3) sodium erythorbate or sodium ascorbate and 4) phosphates.11 So, where once outside of a pig’s abdominal tissue you previously had natural fat and a miniscule amount of muscle, you now have a totally adulterated product containing salt, nitrites or nitrates, sodium erythrobate or ascorbate and phosphates – to say nothing about the selective butchering process which leaves the predominant muscle carcass behind. After pork bellies/slabs are injected, they are usually mechanically massaged, cooked/smoked and chilled and then sliced into the bacon strips we all recognize.11You don’t have to be a food scientist to know that all of these manufacturing procedures yield a product far different from the animal’s natural meat and fat content.

A final way of comparing the artificial and unhealthful characteristics of bacon to free range pork meat is by contrasting the nutritional characteristics of feed lot raised pigs (which are used to produce bacon) to free ranging wild boars.12-14 Although you may think that wild boars are completely unrelated to domesticated pigs, actually they are exactly the same genus and species – except that one lives under the hand of humans whereas the other lives freely.

Wild pigs/boars forage freely and opportunistically and eat mainly vegetable material, but also small game species, eggs, nestling birds.15 Consequently, for humans eating wild boar meat, we may benefit by consuming the superior nutritional characteristics of wild pigs including leaner meat,14 greater beneficial polyunsaturated fats12 and higher vitamin E.13

Because pigs are monogastric animals (single stomach), they have the ability to convert vegetable and plant 18 carbon fatty acids (ALA) to the 20 and 22 carbon fatty acids (EPA and DHA) which reduce inflammation, reduce cardiovascular disease and promote good health for us all when we eat pork. Free ranging pork contains higher concentrations of these beneficial fatty acids than are found in their feed lot produced counterparts.16-18

In the past 200 years, the food processing industry has produced an incredible plethora of food products which are almost irresistible to our taste buds. I’ll list just a few of these, but bacon surely must lie somewhere in the top 5 or 10. Here’s my list of non-Paleo foods which adversely affect the health of humanity:

  • Soda pop
  • Bacon
  • Potato chips
  • Ice cream
  • Pizza
  • M&Ms
  • French fries
  • Hamburgers
  • Tacos
  • Salsa and chips
  • Doughnuts
  • Sandwiches
  • Pancakes
  • White bread
  • Sausage
  • Bologna
  • Cheese
  • Milk
  • Candy
  • Just about any other product man/woman has their hand in producing.

Cordially,

Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

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REFERENCES

1. Nutritionist Pro Software. Axxya Systems, Stafford, TX http://www.nutritionistpro.com

2. Cordain L. The nutritional characteristics of a contemporary diet based upon Paleolithic food groups. J Am Neutraceut Assoc 2002; 5:15-24.

3. Cordain L, Eaton SB, Brand Miller J, Mann N, Hill K. The paradoxical nature of hunter-gatherer diets: Meat based, yet non-atherogenic. Eur J Clin Nutr 2002;56 (suppl 1):S42-S52.

4. Cordain L, Eades MR, Eades MD. (2003). Hyperinsulinemic diseases of civilization: more than just syndrome X. Comp Biochem Physiol Part A:136:95-112.

5. O’Keefe J.H., Cordain L. Cardiovascular disease as a result of a diet and lifestyle at odds with our Paleolithic genome: how to become a 21st century hunter-gatherer. Mayo Clin Proc 2004;79:101-108.

6. Cordain L, Eaton SB, Sebastian A, Mann N, Lindeberg S, Watkins BA, O’Keefe JH, Brand-Miller J. Origins and evolution of the western diet: Health implications for the 21st century. Am J Clin Nutr 2005;81:341-54.

7. Carrera-Bastos P, Fontes Villalba M, O’Keefe JH, Lindeberg S, Cordain L. The western diet and lifestyle and diseases of civilization. Res Rep Clin Cardiol 2011; 2: 215-235.

8. Millet S, Raes K, Van den Broeck W, De Smet S, Janssens GP. Performance and meat quality of organically versus conventionally fed and housed pigs from weaning till slaughtering. Meat Sci. 2005 Feb;69(2):335-41

9. Hansen LL, Claudi-Magnussen C, Jensen SK, Andersen HJ.Effect of organic pig production systems on performance and meat quality. Meat Sci. 2006 Dec;74(4):605-15.

10. Edwards SA. Product quality attributes associated with outdoor pig production. Livestock Prod Sci 2005;94:5-14.

11. http://www.nassaufoods.com/index.php?content=basicmanufacturingofbacon

12. Skewes O, Morales R, Mendoza N, Smulders FJ, Paulsen P. Carcass and meat quality traits of wild boar (Sus scrofa s. L.) with 2n=36 karyotype compared to those of phenotypically similar crossbreeds (2n=37 and 2n=38) raised under the same farming conditions 2 Fatty acid profile and cholesterol. Meat Sci. 2009 Oct;83(2):195-200.

13. Quaresma MA, Alves SP, Trigo-Rodrigues I, Pereira-Silva R, Santos N, Lemos JP, Barreto AS, Bessa RJ. Nutritional evaluation of the lipid fraction of feral wild boar (Sus scrofa scrofa) meat. Meat Sci. 2011 Dec;89(4):457-61

14. Sales J, Kotrba R. Meat from wild boar (Sus scrofa L.): a review. Meat Sci. 2013 Jun;94(2):187-201

15. Laurent S, Timonthy JR. Diet of wild boar Sus scrofa in Western Europe with particular reference to consumption of agricultural crops. Mammal Review, 2003;33(1): 43-56.

16. Romans JR, Wulf DM, Johnson RC, Libal GW, Costello WJ.Effects of ground flaxseed in swine diets on pig performance and on physical and sensory characteristics and omega-3 fatty acid content of pork: II. Duration of 15% dietary flaxseed. J Anim Sci. 1995 Jul;73(7):1987-99

17. Averette Gatlin L, See MT, Hansen JA, Sutton D, Odle J. The effects of dietary fat sources, levels, and feeding intervals on pork fatty acid composition.J Anim Sci. 2002 Jun;80(6):1606-15

18. Martínez-Ramírez HR, Cant JP, Shoveller AK, Atkinson JL, de Lange CF. Whole-body retention of α-linolenic acid and its apparent conversion to other n-3 PUFA in growing pigs are reduced with the duration of feeding α-linolenic acid. Br J Nutr. 2014 Apr 28;111(8):1382-93

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18 Comments on "Bacon: Is There Anything Left to Discuss?"

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  1. Dom says:

    Do you really think that our ”paleo” ancestors did not eat every single last piece of an animal? Pork belly or not, it still provides essential fats and protein. It only matters where you get it and how its made. I smoke my own bacon and I eat it every day. Feel Great.

  2. Brian says:

    Smoking your own bacon is a good solution, just use fresh herbs and spices.

  3. Alan Nelson says:

    Bree, the bounty is only for live hogs. As for selling, there are many buyers with prices that vary from 20-35 per pound. it takes a lot of hogs to pay for the fuel, feed, time and effort but, it is a lot of fun.

  4. Dragoneat says:

    This is very interesting to know. I would love to have bacon often, although I realistically eat it sparingly. The food list at the bottom kinda disappoints, but I guess one would have to find the paleo grade of food. But it does make me wonder if bacon should have been mentioned in this list I saw somewhere.

  5. Kotoula says:

    So the lesson here is buy pastured pork, either as bacon or pork chops. Try to get bacon that has as few chemical additives as possible. And drain the fat. No biggie, I’m doing all of these things already, so this article has taught me nothing. If you want to rage about the sick food North Americans eat, rage about CAFO meat and dairy, but don’t pick on Bacon which can be a pretty good healthy choice if one is considerate of the facts.

  6. I don’t worry about bacon as my only, occasional, processed meat. More a condiment than a food.
    But this table does illustrate what I think is a likely issue with a diet high in processed meat – the low B6 to protein ratio. You need B6 to metabolise amino acids. A higher protein diet that’s low in pyridoxine is a relative deficiency (e.g. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8683352)
    Low B6 intakes are associated with vascular diseases like haemorrhoids and deep vein thrombosis, perhaps because of the role of pyridoxine in nitric oxide synthesis.
    Bacon has 0.0095mg B6 per g protein, optimal is 0.02mg or greater. Not a problem with bacon alone, but a nutritional defect in a diet high in processed meat.

  7. Real says:

    This article makes me very sad. It won’t change my habits though as I’d prefer to eat bacon and eggs to a bowl of Captain Crunch!

  8. Dr.Garry Lee says:

    This comparison with a lot of assumptions about how good the pork is in relation to the bacon leaves one thing out. The protein:fat ratio. Too much protein is not desirable as it’s not palatable and is best kept at 15-20% calories. As for these huge amounts of vitamins. When did you last see someone who ate reasonably who was vitamin deficient?
    Theoretically favouring one over another due to such an analysis is of little value unless you study the actual effects of the food on people.
    Eskimos and hunter-gatherers went for the fatty stuff, every time.

  9. Scott Sedam says:

    Good analysis and very educational, but I went back through it twice and it appears the fat content in the bacon is before cooking. I realize this will not change the nutrients, but the fat percentage will change pretty drastically. I think the only fair way to compare fat content is cooked, as it is consumed.

  10. James Crowley says:

    We buy our own pork bellies from local farmers and prepare our own bacon without added preservatives. I think the point should be made that there is nothing inherently wrong with bacon as food. Pork chops may be nutritionally superior, but consider that you have to use the entire pig. And let’s face it, the supply of wild boars is pretty limited.

    • Bree says:

      James,
      Not sure where you live or if hunting in Texas is an option for you…In many parts of Texas wild boars are abundant, so much so that many counties offer a bounty (price per tail turned in)to keep the populations in check. These animals can reek havoc on a piece of land with their obsessive rooting and most farmers/ranchers do not want them on their property.
      -Bree

    • Alan Nelson says:

      The wild boar is running ramped in Texas and most of the south. As it is wild game it can not be sold.

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