There aren’t many people who don’t love bacon. Nothing beats waking up to the smell of it cooking on the stove, or finding it crumbled over a wedge salad, or even enjoying it as a fun topping on a maple bacon donut. This processed meat is affordable and full of flavor, which is why it’s so beloved and incorporated into meals at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. However, research in recent years has shown that processed meat is generally accompanied by some harmful side effects. So, does that mean bacon is bad for you? Or is it OK to have it in moderation? And, although you’ve likely heard about some of the negative effects of eating bacon, are there any benefits as well?
When it comes to processed meats like bacon, the possible harm comes from higher levels of sodium, saturated fat, and preservatives. When eaten in moderation, experts say that it should be OK; regular consumption of this processed breakfast meat, on the other hand, can be especially harmful to a healthy diet.
In an average slice of cured pork bacon, you’ll find higher amounts of fat and sodium, but you’ll also have a decent amount of protein and major vitamins. These levels depend on the type and brand you buy, but according to the USDA, a slice of bacon contains:
What happens to your body when you eat bacon
One of the benefits of eating bacon is that this cured meat can give you a quick and easy boost of protein in any meal of the day. “Just one slice of medium thick bacon has approximately three to four grams of protein,” says Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD at Balance One Supplements. “For those eating a relatively low-protein meal or diet, adding a slice of bacon can increase your protein intake and the satiety of that meal.” She adds that, “For instance, a salad’s protein content can be increased by simply adding a piece or two of bacon, adding a slice to a sandwich, or rather than a breakfast of just pancakes, you can add bacon to stay full longer.”
Bacon is considered a processed meat, which means it often contains additives and preservatives. Unfortunately, many of these ingredients have been found to have negative health effects.
For instance, sodium phosphate is one of the most common additives you’ll find in bacon, and that has been linked to faster aging and possible vascular damage. Another common ingredient added to bacon and processed meats is sodium nitrate, which has been associated with breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer.
Bacon lovers will be happy to know that there are some brands out there making bacon without these preservatives. Look for the term “uncured” on the package, and check the ingredients list before buying in order to find additive-free bacon.
Processed red meats—including bacon—have been found to have potentially negative effects on heart health when consumed on a regular basis.
According to a study published in Circulation, the regular consumption of these meats is specifically associated with a 42% increased risk of coronary heart disease and a 19% increased risk of diabetes.
An even newer report, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that eating more than 150 grams of processed meat per week (approximately five slices of bacon) was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease by almost 46% compared to not eating processed meat at all.
“For those with an existing hypertension diagnosis, or those who are borderline, eating bacon regularly can be a dangerous habit,” says Best. This is due to the fact that “Bacon is high in sodium, which can contribute to increased blood pressure by promoting water retention and constricting blood vessels.”