Bacon is mostly fat. Healthy fat.
47% of it is monounsaturated oleic acid. The same that is in olive oil.
3% is monounsaturated palmitoleic acid. This has valuable antimicrobial properties.
40% is saturated, the reason that bacon fat is so relatively stable and unlikely to go rancid under normal storage or cooking conditions.
The high saturated content is important, because it helps protect the rest, which is the remaining 10% in the form of unstable polyunsaturated fats.
Pork fat also contans a large amount of choline, an antioxidant that is superior to vitamin E. Likely the reason that lard and bacon fat are very stable and not prone to rancidity from free radicals.
If the bacon comes from pastured pigs (which all animals should be), it’s full of vitamin D, as long as the pigs were allowed to play outside in the sun.
Edit 5/15/12: Like humans, pigs can get sunburned and, like humans, they make vitamin D through the action of sunlight on their skin and store the nutrient in their fat. Pigs raised in confinement will die if not exposed to UV-B light, the wave length needed for vitamin-D production.
What about the CHOLESTEROL???
As we would expect, the good fat in bacon comes with cholesterol, a “no no” according to the Food Police, and yet another reason for bacon’s dangerous reputation. The evidence against cholesterol causing or contributing to heart disease, of course, is inconsistent, contradictory, misinterpreted and sparse. It’s oxidized cholesterol — as found in the powdered milk and powdered egg ingredients used for processed, packaged and fast foods, including low-fat and non-fat milks — and oxidized lipids (unstable polyunsaturated fats) that contribute to heart disease, NOT CHOLESTEROL.
Also, as biochemical textbooks make clear, cholesterol is the mother of all hormones, including our reproductive and mood hormones. Thus bacon’s cholesterol content may be part of the reason it enjoys such a reputation as a “feel good” food!!
What about the SALT???
Animals seek out salt licks, paleo people eat and drink salty blood and other animal parts, and biochemists point out we need sodium and chloride for blood, sweat, tears, mucus and semen. Textbooks make all of this abundantly clear, yet U.S. government guidelines recommend drastic reductions in salt intake. Sadly, low-salt diets increase the likelihood of heart disease, hypertension, cognitive decline, osteoporosis,insulin resistance and erectile dysfunction. no-salt-limp-dick-syndrome sounds like no fun for either party involved!!
What about the nitrites and nitrates???
We get more nitrates from our own saliva. This notion of ‘nitrite-free’ or ‘organically cured’ meats is a public deception. Traditionally bacon was cured by adding sodium nitrite salts directly to the meat. Today’s manufacturers of “nitrite free” brands add celery salt, which is about 50 percent nitrate, plus a starter culture of bacteria. This transforms the nitrate found naturally in the celery salt into nitrite, which cures the meat. Although manufacturers label this bacon “nitrite free,” this method actually generates more nitrite from the celery salt than would ever be added as a salt. Indeed, “nitrite free” bacon can have twice the nitrite content of bacons cured directly with nitrite salts.
There still seems to be some debate over what happens when you cook with nitrates, but cooking food creates all kinds of things, like minute amounts of carcinogens and such. In the whole scheme of things I’d wager that whatever nitrosamines get created from heating nitrates is marginal and insignificant.
Researchers have consistently found carcinogenic nitrosamines in fried bacon, but the bacon studied almost certainly comes from factory farms. Fatty acid composition has a big effect on nitrosamine formation, and factory-farmed pigs routinely eat feeds that include inferior oils.
Cured bacon with nitrite increases circulating NO levels in our blood. This is a good thing. It’s vital for a long healthy life. Traditionally cured meats are the best source. Beets too.
NO is a signalling molecule in the cardiovascular system. When produced by our blood vessels from nitrite, it signals the surrounding arterial tissues to relax. This lowers blood pressure, expands narrow blood vessels, eliminates dangeous clots (you’ll have none if you are eating Paleo), and reduces plaque formations on arterial walls. NO also reduces triglyceride levels.
NO optimizes circulation and affects every bodily system. More blood flow. More oxygen transfer. Better energy. Better brain function and attention. And more blood flow means better sex life. (NO is also a key ingredient in many erectile dysfunction meds, and workout supplements). NO also helps the immune system fight off infections, and helps brain cells communicate more effectively. Want more? Just do a quick PubMed search! There are myriad benefits to NO!
So Nitrates and Nitrites aren’t dangerous???
Nitrates are natural products of the nitrogen cycle and found in water, plants and animals. Nitrites are naturally present in saliva, in the gut and indeed in all mammalian tissue. In short, nitrites are not a problem, provided our diets are rich enough in antioxidants to facilitate the conversion of nitrites to NO and to prevent nitrosation reactions that convert nitrites into carcinogenic nitrosamines. It’s also obviously important to avoid eating readymade sources of nitrosamines, such as occur in soy protein isolates , non-fat dry milk and other products that have undergone acid washes, flame drying or high temperature spray-drying processes.
Why does everyone think bacon aint “all that”?
Why do fats and cholesterol get the shit-end of the stick? Bad studies and worse publicity, with the latest “study” out of Harvard a prime example (Just Google “red meat increases death”). These “studies” show only a weak association with evidence that is inconclusive.
Science is catching up. The media is always going to be far behind, and is always going to mis-interpret the results. Of course our hunter-gatherer ancestors got it right from the beginning!
Stick to pastured animals, free ranging, not grain fed. Traditionally cured, not injected, machined, processed, or whatever.