This feature has been prompted from a comment on my latest recipe that includes bacon, that bacon couldn't be included in a ‘healthy' Paleo recipe, it's processed right and full of bad stuff?!
Now, bacon comes from pork (or turkey for the turkey bacon fans out there), both of which are Paleo. However, a lot of shop bought bacon contains additives, nitrates and preservatives, so can it really be classed as Paleo?
Add to that the fact pigs didn't even exist in Paleo times, and should we be striking bacon and all pork products off our list?! Well, in my opinion, no. If we tried to eat exactly what our Paleolithic ancestors tried to eat, we'd starve as most of it no longer exists! It's about taking themes and ideals from that age and applying it to what we have available in our modern day. Ultimately, if our bodies digest it well and it does good in your body (in terms of the saturated fat and protein levels), then include it as part of your diet.
So how is bacon made? A traditional bacon producer will:
1. Add salt and spices to pork belly – low levels of salt are needed in our diets and spices have an abundance of good stuff in them for us.
2. Cure the pork belly (by adding curing salts).
3. Smoke the pork joint (if smoked bacon)
4. Slice it
But look it's processed I hear (some of) you cry, it can't be Paleo!! Yes it is processed, but unless you only eat raw, unwashed veg, fruit ad meat, everything you eat is processed to a degree: chopping, bagging, shredding, cooking – all processes. And the difference between a traditionally hand cured joint versus the mass produced joints you'll see in supermarkets will have VERY differing degrees of process.
Ideally, you'd always buy more natural bacon, without nitrates, fillers, lower salt, no sugar and not cured. I'd say question where the bacon comes from, what were the pigs fed, how were they raised (indoor/outdoor), how is the bacon processed, cured, smoked?
There's been a lot of debate particularly around nitrates in bacon, having been linked to high blood pressure and even cancer rates. However, the jury is firmly out on this one and whether there is a direct relationship (some research shows nitrates occur naturally in the body anyway) , so it's a judgement call whether you eat bacon that includes nitrates or not.
Is smoked bacon worse?
The unsmoked/smoked debate also rages on. Some research shows a link between smoked bacon and the level of carcinogens in it (and therefore linked to cancer), a lot of research shows the levels of carcinogens involved are not high enough to cause any issue at all. It's not clear cut though, so again, use your judgement to make an informed decision and if you're worried, choose unsmoked.
There are also a lot of brands (often found in supermarkets) that are very high in salt to give them a longer shelf life, so do check those packets for the nutritional information, look at salt levels and any other nasties they may have added to the ingredients list!
Finding bacon that is as natural as possibl
e (with minimal added ingredients) and as cleanly processed as possible
isn't easy but worth it to know you're respecting your body as much as possible – farmers markets, food festivals and your local quality butcher are good places to start (we also have a cracking list of online Paleo meat suppliers in our directory)
You could also make your own bacon
, Paleo Leap
has a cracking recipe for it if you're up for a culinary challenge!
Bacon and Omega 6
One thing to note: bacon can have relatively high levels of Omega 6 (which can lead to inflammation) and on a Paleo diet you're looking to increase Omega 3 levels and decrease Omega 6, so worth bearing in mind in terms of the quantity you eat but not a reason to avoid it altogether. It's worth knowing that barn-raised pigs have higher Omega 6 levels than pasture-raised pigs, so again think about asking the right questions from your meat supplier.
Finally, ultimately it's your body and your interpretation of Paleo that matters (and others should respect that, if they don't, ‘on yer bike' is my stock response!). And it tastes blinking awesome too ;-) It contains great amounts of saturated fat which we now know is GOOD, not bad for you. And the protein hit is great for building lean muscle and repairing and building new cells.
Do I eat bacon every day? Heck no, I don't eat any meat every day. Will I have it 1 or 2 times a week as part of a balanced predominantly Paleo diet. Heck yes, and proud :-)