Bacon might be a popular breakfast food, but that doesn’t stop bacon lovers from eating this crispy treat around the clock! In fact, according to the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), U.S. consumers spend a staggering $5 billion on bacon annually, and the average American eats 18 pounds of bacon each year. In 2014, Market Watch reported on a survey conducted by food manufacturer Smithfield Foods that found that 65 percent of Americans want to make bacon the national food of the United States.
However, it’s safe to say most people also assume that bacon is fairly unhealthy — a tasty treat to enjoy at your own risk. It’s fatty and salty and packed with nitrates, so it can’t possibly be good for you — or can it? After all, some research suggests that the health implications of this cured and usually smoked pork product are more complicated and complex than we initially thought.
Eating bacon every morning for breakfast would be a delicious way to start your day, but what effects would eating bacon every day have on your body? Read on to find out!
Eating bacon every day could lead to weight gain
Bacon lovers, beware! Eating this breakfast food every day could cause you to pack on some pesky extra pounds.
According to the energy balance model of weight control, whether you gain or lose weight is a matter of balancing calories in versus calories out. If you consume more calories from food and beverages than you burn through exercise, the activities of daily life, and simply keeping all your body systems up and running, you’ll gain weight. If the reverse is true, you’ll lose weight. Some macronutrients contribute more calories to the equation than others.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), protein and carbohydrates each provide four calories per gram, while a gram of fat provides nine. That’s bad news for bacon lovers, because a single slice of cooked bacon packs 3.3 grams of fat, making this breakfast meat a very calorie-dense food. Either way you slice it, eating a large amount of bacon every day isn’t good for your waistline.
If you're worried about heart disease, you shouldn't eat bacon every day
Eating bacon every day could negatively impact your heart health.
As registered dietitian Mark Windle at Fitness Savvy told The List, “40 percent of the fat in bacon is saturated. Saturated fat can lead to the development of plaques, which form in the blood vessels of the body, including the coronary arteries that supply oxygen to the heart.” According to Windle, these plaques can either break off, becoming dangerous blood clots, or can become so large that they completely block blood flow in the vessel. This, in turn, can lead to several forms of heart disease, including coronary artery disease, heart attack, and congestive heart failure.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, claiming the lives of 647,000 Americans every year. When it comes to avoiding heart disease, nutritionist Lisa Richards believes that limiting yourself to one serving of bacon daily is safe. However, as Richards told The List, that’s much easier said than done. After all, the standard serving size for bacon is a solitary slice.
Bacon actually contains a lot of "good" fat that helps fight inflammation
Although eating bacon every day may be discouraged because of its high saturated fat content, you may be surprised to learn that half of it comes from a type of fat that most researchers consider beneficial. According to Psychology Today, about 50 percent of the fat in bacon is monounsaturated, and the vast majority of that is oleic acid — the same fat that’s so prized in olive oil. (For those keeping track, the remaining 10 percent of bacon fat is polyunsaturated.)
Oleic acid is an omega-9 fatty acid with many health benefits, including lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL, “bad”) cholesterol, raising high-density lipoprotein (HDL, “good”) cholesterol, and maintaining cell membranes. A study conducted in 2006 and published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology found that oleic acid also helps fight inflammation in the body.
Psychology Today also points out that although the saturated fat in bacon is traditionally considered unhealthy, it has a very important role to play, as it makes the other fats much more stable and less likely to oxidize. This is important because oxidized fat creates free radicals that can damage the body.
Eating bacon every day provides your body with many important nutrients
Bacon is actually packed with nutrients vital for good health, believe it or not! According to the University of North Dakota, a single slice of bacon contains three grams of protein. And as WebMD notes, protein is important for building and repairing tissues and is an important building block for enzymes, hormones, bone, blood, and skin.
Bacon also contains a number of key micronutrients. According to Healthline, a 3.5-ounce serving contains 27 percent of your daily thiamin (vitamin B1) needs, 56 percent of your niacin (vitamin B3) needs, 17 percent of your vitamin B6 needs, and 21 percent of your vitamin B12 needs. It also provides 8 percent of your iron and magnesium requirements, 16 percent of your potassium requirement, and 23 percent of your zinc requirement.
While eating bacon every day could help fill some nutritional gaps, Healthline notes that these nutrients are also found in all other pork products, as well. So, if you’re not a bacon fan, there are other tasty options available!
Eating bacon every day may reduce feelings of anxiety and depression
Does eating bacon every day make you feel happy? Well, there may actually be a scientific explanation for that.
It all comes down to the zinc and magnesium in your beloved breakfast meat. As nutritionist Lisa Richards told The List, “Studies have shown those with zinc deficiency are prone to anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders.” Richards continued, explaining, “Adding zinc rich foods to your diet can help mitigate these issues.” According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 6.8 million Americans struggle with generalized anxiety disorder and 16.1 million have major depressive disorder.
A 3.5-ounce serving of bacon provides 23 percent of your daily zinc needs and 8 percent of your magnesium requirements. Richards points out that when it comes to these two micronutrients, bacon is just as good as (if not better than) fish — a food often praised for its mood-boosting abilities. For example, a 3.5-ounce portion of cooked salmon provides the same amount of magnesium but only 3 percent of your zinc needs.
Eating bacon every day might be bad for your mental health
Bacon might be packed with nutrients believed to improve your mental well-being; however, other evidence suggests that eating large amounts of processed meats like bacon could actually be detrimental for those struggling with certain psychiatric disorders.
In 2018, a team of researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine led by Dr. Seva G. Khambadkone published a study in the journal Molecular Psychology that examined the diets of individuals with and without mania and other psychiatric disorders. They found that a history of eating processed meats, such as jerky, salami, and bacon, was strongly associated with having mania. According to Mental Health America (MIA), mania is a “period of extreme high energy or mood associated with bipolar disorder … [It] is a serious change from the way a person normally thinks or behaves, and it can last for weeks or even months.”
Speaking about the results of the study, health and wellness researcher and coach at Tons of Goodness Kathryn Schwab told The List, “While further investigations are warranted, individuals at risk for mania may consider limiting ingestion of […] bacon and other processed meats.”
Can a daily side of bacon improve your memory?
Eating bacon could help you remember why you walked into the kitchen, thanks to its high choline content.
According to Healthline, choline is an organic, water-soluble nutrient that is neither a vitamin nor a mineral. It’s essential for good health, and although your liver can produce small amounts, you need to eat choline-rich foods to meet your daily requirement. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has set the daily adequate intake (AI) for choline at 425 mg for women and 550 mg for men. Fortunately for bacon lovers, a 3.5-ounce serving of bacon provides 123 mg of memory-boosting choline.
Choline has many functions within the body, including assisting with cognition and memory. As registered dietitian Trista Best at Balance One Supplements explained to The List, “In terms of the brain and mood, choline is necessary to form the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.” Best continued, saying, “This neurotransmitter is responsible for regulating mood and maintaining memory. A regular intake of choline in the diet can reduce the rate of memory loss.”
Eating bacon every day may actually give your immune system a boost
You daily side of bacon could be helping your immune system fight off harmful bacteria and disease, thanks to its zinc and magnesium content.
As nutritionist Lisa Richards told The List, “Magnesium primarily controls inflammation, an immune response that can become low-grade and chronic.” She continued, explaining, “Magnesium also plays an interesting role in cellular apoptosis, which is the death of cells to prevent replication of damaged cells that lead to cancer and other chronic disease.” Richards also noted that zinc helps prevent the immune system from overreacting, speeds wound healing, and in some cases may even help the body destroy cancer cells.
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, a number of problems can befall the immune system. Some individuals may have a weak immune system because of genetic defects or certain diseases. On the other side of the spectrum, the immune system can become overactive (leading to allergic reactions) or even attack the body’s own cells (causing autoimmune diseases). Fortunately, bacon just might be the tastiest way to help keep your immune system happy and healthy.
High blood pressure could be a consequence of eating bacon every day
Bacon’s high sodium content makes it a bad choice for those struggling with hypertension (or, high blood pressure). As registered dietitian Mark Windle at Fitness Savvy explained to The List, “Bacon is high in sodium because of the curing process. Excess sodium in the diet over time may contribute to high blood pressure and possibly the risk of stroke and cardiac issues.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) divides hypertension into two stages. Stage 1 hypertension is defined as a systolic pressure of 130–139 mmHg or a diastolic pressure of 80–89 mmHg. If an individual’s blood pressure is 140/90 mmHg or higher, they have stage 2 hypertension. About 45 percent of Americans have either stage 1 or stage 2 hypertension, putting them at higher risk for heart disease and stroke.
The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that Americans limit their sodium intake to no more than 2,300 mg a day. The report notes that the average American, however, consumes about 3,400 mg daily. A 3.5–ounce portion of bacon contains a whopping 1,030 mg — more than 40 percent of your daily sodium “budget.”
If your breakfasts always contain bacon, you may be putting yourself at higher risk for diabetes
Bacon could be bad news for those trying to keep diabetes at bay.
In 2010, a team of researchers led by Dr. Renata Micha published a paper in the journal Circulation that analyzed a collection of previous studies exploring the connection between red meat, processed meats, and a number of chronic conditions, including diabetes. Dr. Micha and her colleagues concluded that consuming processed meats such as bacon (but not red meat) was associated with a higher risk of diabetes. The authors of the paper pointed out that how, exactly, processed meats contribute to the development of diabetes is still unclear. Healthline cautions that those who eat a large amount of processed meats also tend to have a less healthy lifestyle in general, so it may be difficult to pinpoint the exact role processed meats like bacon play.
According to the Diabetes Research Institute, approximately 32.6 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, and another 1.5 million new cases are diagnosed each year. Diabetes can affect all systems of the body and lead to numerous complications, including vision loss, kidney failure, and lower-limb amputations.
Eating bacon every day may increase your risk for certain cancers
Unfortunately, eating bacon every day could put you at a higher risk for certain cancers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cancer claims the lives of around 600,000 people each year. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that, of those deaths, 22 percent are from lung cancer and 9 percent are from colorectal (bowel) cancer. That’s bad news for bacon lovers, because a 2007 study led by Dr. Amanda J. Cross and published in Public Library of Science Medicine found that eating processed meats like bacon was positively associated with both lung and colorectal cancer.
So how much bacon is safe to eat every day if you’re worried about the cancer risk? Registered dietitian Trista Best at Balance One Supplements told The List, “The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that eating as little as 50 grams a day of processed meat — the equivalent of only 2–3 slices of bacon — can increase your risk of bowel cancer by almost 20 percent.” So, you’ll need to keep your bacon eating in check and limit portion size, especially if you eat other processed meats.
Some additives in your daily bacon may protect you from the negative health effects of nitrates
Eating bacon every day comes with plenty of downsides — and many of the negative health effects associated with bacon (and other processed meats) are tied to nitrates and nitrites.
According to Healthline, these are substances that can occur naturally in some foods but are also added by manufacturers to bacon and other processed foods as a preservative. Nitrates are relatively inert and unlikely to cause harm. Nitrites, on the other hand, can become nitrosamines, which are known carcinogens.
However, a paper published in 1989 by Dr. S. R. Tannenbaum in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research found that the presence of vitamin C could prevent the formation of dangerous nitrosamines. That’s why, according to an article published in Psychology Today, bacon manufacturers often add ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and alpha tocopherol (vitamin E) to their product. So, if you’re concerned about the preservatives in your bacon, take a close look at labels to find bacon that includes one or both of these vitamins that your body needs.
Overcooking your bacon creates harmful substances that may also increase your risk of cancer
Overcooking bacon is a mistake many people make. However, overcooking bacon — or any meat — can actually create dangerous carcinogenic substances.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals formed when muscle meat, including beef, pork, fish, or poultry, is cooked using high-temperature methods, such as pan frying or grilling directly over an open flame.” HCAs and PAHs are mutagenic, meaning they can cause changes in a cell’s DNA, increasing the risk of cancer.
For instance, a 2005 study led by Dr. Kristin E. Anderson and published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention concluded that HCAs and benzo(a)pyrene [B(a)P], a type of PAH, increased individuals’ risk for pancreatic cancer. Although the researchers did not test bacon specifically, they noted that these results were likely consistent for any form of well-done meat cooked at a high temperature. There is a healthy way to cook your bacon, however. To reduce your risk of HCAs and PAHs, the NIH suggests microwaving, lower-temperature cooking, and frequent turning meat.
Can you avoid the health risks of eating bacon every day by switching to "nitrate-free" bacon?
If you’re a bacon fanatic, you’ve probably noticed packages advertising “nitrate-free” or “no nitrates added” bacon and wondered if it was a healthier option. Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding “no.”
For starters, there’s no such thing as nitrate-free bacon. An article published in Time reveals that while packages may advertise “no added nitrates,” this bacon still contains nitrates, albeit from a natural source — celery salt. While celery salt may sound like a healthier alternative, the article points out that the body can’t distinguish between “natural” and “added” nitrates.
Even more alarming, according to an article published in Psychology Today, is the fact that celery salt is about 50 percent nitrate — and when manufacturers add it and a starter culture of bacteria to bacon, the bacteria transform the nitrate in the celery salt into nitrite. This process creates much more nitrite than would be added to regular bacon. As a result, the “natural” bacon can actually have twice the nitrite content of conventional bacon. And, as mentioned above, nitrites are volatile and may transform into dangerous nitrosamines. Be careful, bacon lovers!
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