Is Everything Really ‘Better with Bacon?’

Hi! I’m Allison – and I have a bacon problem. And yes, I am a dietitian.

Me chopping bacon for a roasted cauliflower dish

Me chopping bacon for a roasted cauliflower dish

Well – maybe not a problem. But I do enjoy my weekend ritual of frying up a couple delicious slices and pairing them with a late breakfast and lingering over a cup of coffee. And why not? Five to six days out of the week I eat right, workout more than most (I’m a six-time marathon runner currently training for my 7th in April) and I understand the importance of allowing myself to indulge my cravings, in moderation of course. But last weekend I took my bacon obsession to another level with a “Better with Bacon” cooking class at the Wooden Spoon (where we made 5 dishes containing bacon) and it got me thinking – what are, if any, the health benefits of my favorite cut of pork?

The Nutrition Facts:

You probably aren’t surprised to learn that most of the calories in bacon come from fat. Three slices of bacon, pan-fried (34.5 g) have 161 calories, 12 grams fat, 4.1 grams saturated fat, 34 mg cholesterol, 11.7 grams protein, and 581 mg sodium (Reference: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 26). That’s just less than 60 calories per slice.

The Benefits

A surprising source of protein: At almost 12g/3 slices (34.5 g), a serving of bacon has almost as much protein as 2 large eggs. As long as you don’t over-do it and are sure to keep your calories in check throughout the day, bacon can be a satisfying way to help meet your protein needs.

An effective mood elevator: For many, eating bacon provides a sense of satisfaction and even happiness, which decreases any feelings of self-deprivation. It may also provide a feeling of nostalgia – for me, the scent of bacon frying almost immediately brings me back to my childhood weekends when my father would fry up some bacon (the only thing he was allowed to tackle in the kitchen) while my mom cooked pancakes.

An affordable, yet familiar, luxury: Not everyone can afford some of the finer food delicacies like truffles or foie gras. Adding bacon to a dish provides not only a burst of added flavor but a sensation that many enjoy and can relate to – but since you aren’t indulging in it that often—it’s also can be seen as a luxury ingredient.

2014-01-18 16.15.56What About the Alternatives?

The reduced-fat bacon look alikes are definitely not all created equal in terms of taste and texture.

Turkey bacon can make a good bacon substitute for many people. But few bacon devotees would claim it to be a 100% replacement. At roughly 130 calories and 10g of protein for the same serving size as the info listed previously for regular bacon, many would prefer to take in the extra 30 calories and have the real thing. For me – that holds true – I’d rather have the real thing, less often, than an imposter. But—to each their own–it’s all about your own personal preferences. However – if sodium is of concern – you’re actually better off going with the real thing. A serving of turkey bacon (34.5 g) has about 200 more mg of sodium than regular bacon.

There are also veggie bacon options, which I will admit to never having tasted, so I can’t provide my true opinion of those. Nutritionally speaking, those do have fewer grams of protein/serving, as well as fewer calories and sodium compared to the real thing.

Can’t Get Enough?

All in all, I’m not suggesting we start eating more bacon or that you recommend clients/patients do the same. I just think, in the month where everyone is on a diet, it’s time to sit back and relish the things you really enjoy. Allow yourself and your patients/clients to have those small indulgences and realize that alternatives may not always be what they seem. For me, bacon is a once in a while food that I stop to enjoy when I have it. We all need those foods – because let’s face it – food is fun and meant to be enjoyed.

Bacon Fun around Chicago

Bacon seems to be popping up everywhere and in everything lately so it’s easy to get your fix – especially here in the windy city. Are you a secret bacon fanatic? Be sure to check out some of Chicago’s best bacon bites below:

A maple bacon donut from Dinkel's in Lakeview

A maple bacon donut from Dinkel’s in Lakeview

Chicago’s 2014 Baconfest in April

A maple bacon donut at Dinkel’s

The ‘Flight of Bacon’ at Bakin’ and Eggs

A beer and bacon tasting at Paddy Longs Beer and Bacon Pub

One of the many “handwiches” at David Burke’s grab-and-go style sandwich shop Burke’s Bacon Bar

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6 Responses to Is Everything Really ‘Better with Bacon?’

  1. Tammy Schmidt January 21, 2014 at 6:55 pm #

    I agree! Bacon is meat-candy! A few slices can go a long way. Perfect amount for a warm bacon dressing on a fresh spinach salad loaded with veggies, a hard-boiled egg and some black olives.

  2. Grant Prentice January 22, 2014 at 9:56 am #

    Great article! You make some good points about “eating the real thing” to fulfill your cravings – we all just need to do so in moderation. Usually the “healthier option” isn’t as good, and isn’t as healthy as you might think (turkey bacon is a good example of this with it’s higher sodium level). Bacon cooked with vegetables (like your cauliflower example) can be a great way to make these healthy, high fiber foods a little more indulgent.

  3. Julie January 22, 2014 at 10:02 am #

    major yum! bacon on ANYTHING is my favorite. and agree – turkey bacon, or ‘t-acon’ as I like to call it, just isn’t the same.

  4. Karin Rodriguez January 22, 2014 at 2:58 pm #

    I love hearing from a dietician who appreciates the emotional qualities of food as well as the nutritional ones. Bacon was always a bit of a luxury growing up and was usually reserved for vacations or family camping trips when we were all together. For me, there will never be a substitute for the good memories evoked by frying real bacon.

    I have been largely ignoring the recent bacon mania, dismissing it as an unhealthy fad, but your post made me reconsider. Perhaps I should be embracing this efficient protein delivery vehicle and using this opportunity to introduce new dishes to my family, creating a new generation of good bacon memories.

  5. Alex Kumar January 22, 2014 at 3:24 pm #

    Thought provoking nice article.

  6. Michelle January 26, 2014 at 6:55 pm #

    Love this — thanks Allison! I’m eager to try the bacon fest ideas around Chicago and love an RD who balances taste & nutrition throughout the week. Just a little bacon goes a long way in adding great flavor to my favorite foods.