How to Make the Healthiest Choice When Buying Bacon

Everything you need to know before bringing home the bacon.

By Ashley Vogt Davids
Photo of a plate of bacon.

Nov. 18, 2020 — 6 a.m. EST

The Fast-Food Bacon Boom

From This Episode:

The Fast-Food Bacon Boom

All foods can be enjoyed in moderation — that includes bacon. Bacon has always been a beloved breakfast food, but thanks to its growing popularity among restaurants and fast-food chains, there are now more options than ever when it comes to these meat treats.

To help you figure out the best bacon to buy, chef Roblé Ali and scientist and author Taylor Wallace came on The Dr. Oz Show on November 18, 2020, to share how to get the best bacon for your buck. Here’s what they say to look for the next time you’re at the grocery store.

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Raw vs. Precooked

Buying pre-cooked bacon might save you time and energy in the kitchen, however, what you save in time, you lose in flavor. Chef Roblé recommends choosing raw bacon over precooked options because you have more control over the final product. You can season raw bacon, cook it however you like, and save the fat drippings to cook other foods, like grilled cheese, in.

Cured vs. Uncured

Bacon gets its pink hue thanks to nitrates used during the curing process. Curing bacon preserves bacon by using a combination of salt, sodium, and nitrates. Though the name is confusing, uncured bacon doesn’t mean bacon that hasn’t been cured. “Simply put, uncured bacon is bacon that has not been cured with synthetically-sourced nitrates,” Wallace explains. “Instead, uncured bacon is cured with natural nitrates, found in celery, beets, and other veggies.”

Though it may sound healthier, nitrates derived from vegetables aren’t necessarily better for you. Nitrates are found naturally in foods and the human body, however, eating a diet high in foods preserved with sodium nitrate can increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes.

The FDA requires meats cured with naturally-derived nitrates to be labeled “uncured,” which means your uncured bacon could have more nitrates in it than cured bacon. According to Wallace, one test showed that a popular brand of uncured bacon contained almost three times more nitrite than conventionally-cured bacon. Don’t pay more for uncured bacon if you’re concerned about nitrates — it may not pay off.

Smoked vs. Not Smoked

Walking down the aisle, you’ve probably seen labels like “mesquite-smoked,” “applewood-smoked” and “hickory-smoked.” Traditionally, after pork belly, the meat used to make bacon, is cured, it’s smoked and heated to 130 degrees. Smoking bacon adds flavor, color and makes it easier to slice. To cut costs though, some bacon makers apply a concentrated smoke liquid and then heat the bacon.

To get the real authentic stuff, opt for bacon that is “hardwood-smoked” or “naturally-smoked.” Flavors like apple or mesquite simply refer to the kind of wood used to generate the smoke.

Sugar vs. Sugar-Free

You wouldn’t think of bacon as a sugary food but many brands of bacon contain sugar to balance out the large quantities of salt added during the curing process. In the past, it was hard to find sugar-free bacon but thanks to the growing popularity of low-sugar diets like the keto diet, sugar-free versions are much easier to find.

While these tips make going ham a little healthier, you’ll want to be mindful of how much bacon you eat once you get home. Two slices of bacon will raise your sodium intake by an average of 330 milligrams, fat intake by 9 grams, and add on an extra 100 calories. Even though bacon is on everything nowadays, think of it more as a treat than an everyday food.

A guide to buying bacon.

Article written by Ashley Vogt Davids