Turkey Bacon, Good or Bad?

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:

Ingredients

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!

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{ 28 comments… add one }

  • ScreenScreams July 3, 2014, 10:53 pm

    Cheli and Admin, the chart above says that Morningstar Farms Bacon Strips has the same calories and nearly the same amount of fat as regular pork bacon.

  • Carlena Saunders January 13, 2014, 6:02 am

    I believe portion control and quality foods from farmer markets or specialty markets. More flavor- so you use less.

  • Maddie March 29, 2013, 9:02 am

    This stuff has been eaten in the United kingdom for years, yet they call it canadian bacon? This stuff tastes EXACTLY like bacon, so delicious.

  • Jorge Reyes March 22, 2013, 11:59 am

    Great review :)

    I really do question the human race. Taste really shouldn’t be top priority when eating for health purposes. I honestly don’t care how tasty a food is, so long as I get the required nutrients for the day, I can eat anything that’s defined as “tasteless” or “disgusting”, which in my opinion, is an unreasonable excuse.
    Of course I do have limits. I personally, don’t eat pork due to religious reason, and not to mention how disgusting the actual meat is. If you googled Pork right now, you’ll probably find a wiki page describing its risks and its tendencies to carry parasites. (Googles…. Confirms.) Yup, and that’s really only tapping the subject likely.
    Turkey Bacon is the best alternative, but as mentioned, that ‘best alternative’ stuff goes to hell when you over eat it. But the best advice I could give to anybody, whether they eat Pork or not, is “Too much of a good thing is always bad.”
    And also (the second best advice I could give is) to do try to stay away from Pork Bacon, because there are people who can’t fight the temptation of taste; a slice is enough to convince them that “7 more” won’t hurt.

  • CharRhonda March 8, 2013, 10:09 am

    Love the article! Moderation is always key, no matter what it is. I love love love bacon however I only buy it once every other month or so. It’s more natural than turkey bacon. I have also researched making my own bacon-excited about that! I also like Canadian bacon (learned about that when I did weight watchers). The sodium in turkey bacon is usually higher so people should still beware!

  • Tina February 1, 2013, 4:31 am

    Interesting info, thanks. I just bought turkey bacon for the first time and I found it very salty. I may try peameal bacon (Canadian) bacon instead, as I’ve always enjoyed it more over pork bacon, and it’s good to know it’s a healthier alternative. Oh, and by the way to Jerry in case you didn’t know, Canada is a free country as well… haha, with free health care, and stricter gun laws (thank god), which we are so proud of.

  • Laurie January 28, 2013, 5:32 am

    Thanks. I am enjoying my Canadian bacon as an alternative to recommended turkey bacon in the five-day “Inferno Plan.” I sat down to compare the two, but stumbled upon far more than that with your information. I enjoyed and appreciated the info.

  • nancy September 5, 2012, 1:21 pm

    Jennie-o is no longer making their extra lean turkey bacon. I phoned customer service just to verify.

  • jerry July 19, 2012, 5:27 am

    Why do people stress so hard about the name of something? Who cares why we call it Canadian bacon…. call it what you want to. Here, it’s a free country as long as we’re not offending anyone. It’s written on the package, afterall. Guess you could sue all the labelers for that one. I like all pork products, of all types no matter what they call it! Thanks for the info! Go bacon!

  • brian May 31, 2012, 7:42 am

    why do americans call it canadian bacon? it is back bacon and was eaten in UK beofre canada even discovered!

  • camisa watson May 1, 2012, 4:46 pm

    hello my name is Camisa i love bacon and i needed to know if it was good for my diet and i know to eat canadian bacon thank you so much love bacon and love yourself :)

  • admin March 21, 2012, 7:55 pm

    I don’t think you have any reason to worry about Morning Star products, Cheli

  • Cheli March 18, 2012, 2:17 pm

    Is “Morning Star Bacon Strips” harmful to consume?

  • Judy February 18, 2012, 10:01 am

    I say anything mechaniacally seperated is BAD so I always go for the real thing.

  • Gene January 10, 2012, 11:39 am

    The Jenny-o Turkey bacon is the worst tasting bacon I have ever tried. Trying to eat it reminded me of an old Laurel and Hardy comedy in which Laurel had to eat Hardy’s hat. Maybe it would be good as a salad topping. Nothing else.

  • Rachel Assuncao January 5, 2012, 11:11 am

    Thanks for the great post. I was looking for info on the difference between turkey bacon and real bacon, and you hit every point I was curious about.

    I do also have to say that the name ‘Canadian Bacon’ makes me giggle. As a Canadian, I can say that in this country we call it peameal bacon (due to the original use of ground dried yellow peas on the outside, which has been replaced by cornmeal) or back bacon (if it doesn’t have the cornmeal coating). I was surprised years ago to learn that it’s called Canadian Bacon by our friends to the South :-), and the name still causes me to chuckle.

  • John M December 8, 2011, 7:18 am

    From the European Food Safety Authority, “Evidence that high intake of nitrite might be associated with increased cancer risk is equivocal.”

    From the University of Minnesota, “It has been reported that people normally consume more nitrates from their vegetable intake than from the cured meat products. Spinach, beets, radishes, celery, and cabbages are among the vegetables that generally contain very high concentrations of nitrates (J. Food Sci., 52:1632). It has been estimated that 10 percent of the human exposure to nitrite in the digestive tract comes from cured meats and 90 percent comes from vegetables and other sources.”

    From the University of Iowa, “…consumers remain wary of nitrite-cured meats. And United States Department of Agriculture regulations forbid the use of pure nitrate or nitrite in foods labeled “natural” or “organic.” So ingenious manufacturers figured out how to replace the pure chemicals with a mix of nitrate-rich vegetable extracts and bacterial cultures that convert the nitrate into nitrite. (Celery-juice powder, for one, is especially rich in nitrate and has little flavor of its own.) According to a review from the American Meat Science Association, recent studies at Iowa State University show that careful formulation and processing can produce vegetable-cured hot dogs and hams that are quite similar to their nitrite-cured models in color and flavor. They are not, however, free of nitrites or nitrates, no matter what the label suggests.”

    Bottomline is this, all things in moderation is a safe plan.

  • jessie October 25, 2011, 1:26 pm

    turkey bacon i actully is healthy because it doesnt have fat, and less gress
    I LOVE BACON

  • Marianne Taylor July 9, 2011, 8:17 am

    Im still unsure weather its good or bad, whats the verdict?

  • Amanda July 8, 2011, 9:21 am

    I love Butterball turkey bacon! I stopped eating pork altogether about a year ago, so no ham, pork chops, and my beloved bacon! However, turkey bacon IMO is VERY similar to pork bacon, without the fat. Also, my kids love it and couldn’t tell the difference. So I can still indulge without the unhealthy effects of a pork diet. I would recommend it to anyone.

  • TomCat May 27, 2011, 3:24 pm

    I changed my diet about six years ago (“diet” as in “the natual diet of the platypus consists of…” At first it was a struggle, but over time I became more fond of whole grains, low/no fat dairy products, and things sweetened with sucralose or honey. I alternate my breakfasts between ceral/fruit/yogurt, just fruit/yogurt, and an Egg McMuffin knockoff made from a low-carb/sugar English muffin, an egg (Eggland’s Best), Canadian bacon, and 2% fat swiss cheese. I love it! As far as regular bacon, I haven’t had any in years, and don’t really miss it, but sometimes I cook breakfast burritos for company, so the leanest bacon would be my preference. I’m going to my local Whole Foods to see about the nitrate/nitrite-free version. Thanks!

  • stevo May 24, 2011, 6:33 pm

    One trick I’ve learned is that whenever a recipe calls for bacon, cut the bacon quantity in half, and add a teaspoon of Liquid Smoke for every 5 ounces of bacon that you got rid of.

  • Jason of Newborn Baby Clothes April 12, 2011, 7:28 pm

    Why is it that everything that tastes so good is bad for you? In all seriousness, I think it’s just about enjoying some items (such as bacon) as treats. Everything in moderation!

  • Michelle R. July 18, 2010, 12:40 am

    Canandian bacon is not BACON!, it’s ham people, looks, nor taste anything like bacon, therefore is not a proper substitute.

    thanks you :o)

  • Marizona June 25, 2010, 10:46 am

    Beware of canadian bacon, the post above makes it seem like canadian bacon has very few calories and almost no fat because of the size mentioned. Beware that 5 grams only equals 0.17637 ounces, and most canadian bacon is about 2 oz, making a serving of cb around 70 – 80 calories with 2.5 grams of fat!

  • Tish June 3, 2010, 4:37 pm

    Good to see those nutrition summaries out there to compare. Canadian bacon it is–and I like it, too.

  • Nicole, RD May 11, 2010, 12:47 pm

    Thank you for posting this, Georgie! It is so important for people to learn of the dangers surrounding nitrites and nitrates. Scary stuff! Even my husband who fights me on Whole Foods trips concedes that buying the right turkey bacon is really important!

  • Melinda Neely May 10, 2010, 11:14 am

    This is a wonderful overview. Whenever I put a tasty Southern dish on a ‘diet,’ I tend to reduce the amount of bacon a recipe suggests without necessarily losing the flavor.

    That said, I still like a piece or two on weekend morning breakfasts (as does my little boy!). The Canadian bacon alternative is a great one.

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