How do you feel about turkey bacon in a clean diet? Some people say it good, some say its bad. Should we be avoiding this? I have some Jennie-O extra lean turkey bacon and am wondering if mixing this with my breakfast is a good option? Thanks! – Diego
Hi Diego. You are certainly not alone in your affinity for bacon. The reasons traditional pork bacon has earned itself a bad rap are primarily for the fat content, and to a lesser extent, because like many other processed and cured meats, it tends to contain nitrites. But does turkey bacon really provide a better alternative?
First, lets talk fat. One ounce of raw bacon contains 128 calories and 13 grams of fat (4 g saturated), no carbohydrate and just 3 grams protein. That’s 89% of the calories from fat. Of course, some of the fat cooks off, but even after cooking in a pan those flavorful strips provide 68% of their calories from fat. We’re not talking healthy fat either, like the “good fats” found in olive oil, seafood, or nuts.
So is turkey bacon lower in fat? Well, it depends which type and brand you buy. The Jennie-O extra lean turkey bacon you mentioned is one of their two turkey bacon products: one is Extra Lean and the other is just Turkey Bacon. There are a lot of other brands though. Check out this chart.
|Calories||Fat (g)||Saturated fat (g)|
|Regular Pork Bacon (12 g)||60||5||1.5|
|Jennie-O Turkey Bacon (15 g)||35||3.0||1.0|
|Jennie-O Extra Lean turkey bacon (15 g)||20||0.5||0|
|Louis Rich Turkey Bacon (14 g)||35||2.8||0.7|
|Perdue Turkey Bacon (12 g)||50||3.0||1.0|
|Butterball Turkey Bacon (14 g)||25||1.5||0.5|
|Oscar Meyer Turkey Bacon (15 g)||35||3.0||1.0|
|Morningstar Farms Bacon Strips (vegetarian) (16 g)||60||4.5||0.5|
|Canadian Bacon (per 15 g)||18||0.5||0.0|
As you can see, you can buy some types of turkey bacon that do save you a lot of calories and fat, but you can buy some that aren’t all that much better nutritionally than the real thing. And personally, I think the taste loss is more dramatic than the calorie/fat savings. I love Canadian bacon, which you’ll see I listed on the last line of the chart. It’s much richer in protein and lower in fat than either turkey or pork bacon. But it has a different flavor, it’s more like ham than a smoky bacon flavor.
How about nitrites and nitrates though? They are another reason we hear to avoid bacon. Nitrite and nitrate added to meats are metabolized in your body to form nitrosamines, known carcinogens. While I don’t mean to send you running in fear – the less nitrates and nitrites you consume, the better. Typically, you’ll find sodium nitrite listed in the ingredients for both pork bacon and turkey bacon. Something like this listing from one package of Turkey Bacon:
Mechanically Separated Turkey, Turkey, Dark Turkey, Potassium Lactate, Sugar, Salt, White Turkey, Water, Natural Bacon Flavor (Maltodextrin, Rendered Bacon Fat and Bacon Bits (contains Natural Smoke Flavor, Water, Salt, Sugar, Sodium Phosphate, Sodium Erythorbate, Sodium Nitrite) Salt, Natural ( Natural Smoke Flavor) Hydrolyzed Corn Gluten and Soy Protein and Wheat Gluten, Silicon Dioxide, Disodium Inosinate, Smoked Pork Fat)Natural Smoke Flavor, Sodium Erythorbate, Sodium Nitrite.
You can also find uncured bacon – both pork and turkey. Whole Foods and other natural stores that carry meat will often have uncured pork products, including bacon. Hormel Natural Choice is a national line which is made without nitrites/nitrates. You can buy that at many large grocery stores. They make pork bacon, turkey bacon and Canadian bacon.
Just an aside – if your definition of a “clean diet” means unprocessed foods only, you get the idea from that ingredient listing that turkey bacon is pretty man-made. (But I’ll add in that I dislike the trend to describe one’s diet as “clean”. It’s emotionally weighty and almost religious sounding.) My advice centers around health and performance-building eating, so call it whatever you want.
One last option I’ll mention while on the bacon topic is that a little can go a long way. If you truly want bacon flavor in a meal but want to keep calories and fat in check – you don’t necessarily have to try swapping it for a turkey product. You may choose to simply use a small amount of the real thing. But the key is portion control. I consider it in the same boat as full fat cheeses. You have to be very careful not to overdo it, but knowing that they are so rich in flavor, sometimes it’s worth it to use just a small amount. For example, one ounce of blue cheese (a high fat food) can be crumbled over a huge salad to add lots of flavor and still be balanced into the overall diet. That doesn’t mean go ahead and eat a quarter pound of blue cheese a day, but sky won’t fall if you use a bit here and there. Same with bacon. A strip or two of crumbled bacon can flavor a quiche to serve a lot of people, or jazz up a big pot of soup with smoky flavor.
The bottom line: If you like bacon, you have options:
1. Learn strict portion control and discover ways to use a small amount of the real thing, infrequently.
2. Read labels to find products (like turkey bacon or Canadian Bacon) that have less fat and may still be acceptable taste-wise.
3. Look for products without nitrate/nitrites in them.
Hope this helps! For all the readers, what’s your pick? Real bacon, turkey bacon, or something else? Leave a comment!