By Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS aka “The Nutrition Myth Buster”™
I’m frequently asked what I eat for breakfast.
OK, are you sitting down? Because I’m going to be completely transparent here and I promise it’s going to shock you.
My favorite breakfast food is……bacon.
I know, right? How can Dr. Jonny eat—let alone, advocate—the consumption of a food that has been the poster child for everything that’s wrong with the western diet?
Well, your honor, I’ll tell you how. And hopefully counter some of the bad press that has surrounded this much maligned and slandered food for decades.
You see, it all comes down to cholesterol. Bacon has two strikes against it—one, that it’s an animal food and two that it’s high in saturated fat. Which, you’ve been told to avoid for one reason only—because it raises cholesterol.
But if cholesterol turns out to be just as much a threat as Y2K turned out to be—which is how it’s starting to look—than all the prohibitions against saturated fat and animal products starts to collapse like a house of cards.
And that’s starting– thankfully– to happen. Actually, the dietary dogma that damned saturated fat and cholesterol while exalting “complex” carbohydrates that send blood sugar into the stratosphere (and with it obesity, diabetes, and heart disease) is finally starting to be seen as a highly flawed—and decidedly unscientific—philosophy
Let’s not mourn it. That low-fat philosophy made us sick, fat, tired and depressed, and is probably partly responsible for the fact that our children now have a lower life expectancy than we do.
Back to bacon.
Bacon is a great mix of protein and fat—2 slices of a popular commercial bacon have 6 grams of fat– great for energy, balancing hormones and satiety—and 4 grams of protein, all for a measly 70 calories. Contrary to popular misconception, only 1/3 of the fat in bacon (2g) is saturated. (These numbers may vary slightly from brand to brand, but you get the idea). And even if it were saturated fat—which it’s not—who cares? Saturated fat does not and never did cause heart disease, a fact roundly demonstrated in two major meta-analyses in the last five years, including one published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
But I digress.
With bacon, however, there is the issue of nitrates.
Full disclosure: I was a believer in the notion that nitrates were the devil and should be avoided at all costs. I myself always recommended nitrate-free everything. But I was wrong.
The number one source of nitrates in the human diet is not processed meats. It’s vegetables. There are far more nitrates in butter lettuce, arugala or celery than there are in hot dogs, and there are more in your saliva than in any of them. And who cares? The “study” that made us all afraid of nitrates in the 70’s has long been debunked (although you never hear about that). And the nitrates in luncheon meats actually boost nitric oxide in the body, which improves everything from energy to heart health. (Beet juice supplements work for energy because they help increase nitric oxide!) And to top it off, recent research has shown that dietary nitrates may actually be helpful for some conditions like angina.
So does that mean processed luncheon meats like bacon are good to eat?
Not so fast.
As Dr. Steven Masley and I point out in our upcoming book “Smart Fat: Eat More Fat, Lose More Weight, Get More Healthy” (Harper Collins, Jan 2016), what makes a fat “bad” or “dumb” is not whether it’s saturated or unsaturated but whether it’s toxic or non-toxic. That’s where organic and pasteurized come in. I would not recommend bacon—or any meat for that matter- that comes from factory farmed animals. Fat is where animals (including us) store all our toxins. So animals that are fed hormones, antibiotics and steroids, and are not raised on their natural diet of pasture are a toxic waste dump, and those toxins wind up—guess where?—in the fat of the animals that eat them.
But bacon from healthy, happy, pasteured pork? That’s a whole different story.
In my opinion, grass-fed meat is a health food. And so is bacon that comes from humanely raised, organic, pastured pork.