Is Bacon Actually BETTER For You?

This post also appears at Steve’s Original, where I serve as Nutrition Advisor!

You may be interested to know that before I could begin this post, I had to run to the kitchen and fry up some bacon for a snack. When it comes to well-being, I’m not at 100% until I’ve had a bit of cured pork belly.

Bacon seems to be an item that Paleo/Primal folk regard as a bit of an indulgence. A won’t-make-me-healthier, won’t-make-me-less-healthy, tastes-so-good kind of indulgence. I’ve heard it described as Meat Candy. I’ve wrapped 10 things in it.

I also think most of us are sick of talking about it. We’re tired of debating the relative merits and downfalls of bacon and all the hand-wringing and artificial debate that surrounds it. I get it.

But I ran across a very interesting study in my quarterly journal from the Weston A. Price foundation, and I just had to share.

In the pilot study, the Foundation designed a live-blood analysis intended to evaluate the effects on live blood after consuming various forms of pork (with the addition of lamb as a sort of evaluative control).

Quote: “The blood is the tissue most easily monitored…that shows rapid changes in response to nutrients.” Translation: The blood’ll tell ya if you’re doin’ it right.

The goal: to understand whether “traditional” methods of processing pork – methods like marinating, salt-processing and smoking (read: BACON-izing) were actually affecting the human blood, and how. Traditional cultures have often regarded pork differently than other meats – in some belief systems, it has been considered “taboo” to eat pork. Many cultures who did eat pork employed techniques of marinating and salt processing. Is there some ancient wisdom behind these ideas? To paraphrase Chris Masterjohn, PhD candidate in Nutritional Sciences with a concentration in Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition at the University of Connecticut: when we don’t know something, or if the science is debatable, it’s wise to learn from the wisdom of traditional peoples.

The study used unmarinated pastured pork chop (no salt processing); vinegar-marinated pork chop (no salt processing), uncured pastured prosciutto (marinated, also using the added technique of salt processing); uncured pastured bacon (marinated, also using the added technique of salt processing); and unmarinated pastured lamb chop.

The result: Blood showed marked platelet aggregation (considered an adverse change) in unmarinated, unsalted pork. While I cannot reproduce the images contained in the journal, the blood change looks something like this

(on the left, prior to eating unmarinated pork; on the right, platelet aggregation 5 hours after eating unmarinated pork). Left is normal, right is definitely NOT.

Blood showed virtually NO aggregation after eating marinated, salt-processed pork (prociutto and bacon). The study’s conclusions as they appear in the Fall 2011 issue of the Wise Traditions quarterly journal (Volume 12, Number 3):

“The results suggest that unmarinated cooked pastured pork may be unique in producing these coagulation effects on the blood, which also appeared quite rapidly, in less than ten minutes after blood draw, and did not clear up during an hour of observing the blood under the microscope.

“The early blood coagulation and clotting observed after consuming cooked unmarinated pork are adverse changes in the blood…associated with increased systemic biochemical inflammation as well as the possible formation of blood clots in the body…

“The processing of pork in customary ways by salts and acidic marinades makes pork safe for consumption…traditional processing of pork also seems to prevent the inflammatory and blood clotting effects as observed here through live blood analysis, although we do not know why. We speculate that raw pork contains a toxin, unidentified to date, and that heat alone from cooking cannot destroy it, but that fermentation with salt, and also acid plus heat, do so.

The lesson? Bacon is probably the best type of pork you could eat. I’d call that a MAJOR win.

The caveat? It’s got to be good bacon, from pastured pigs raised humanely in a natural environment. There’s really no getting around the fact that meats are healthier when raised under these ethics, but based on the speculated “toxin” in pork, it may be most important to prioritize the purchase of quality pork products. You can find a farmer at EatWild.com.

And while you’re buying your pastured pork, you may want to sport a t-shirt that proclaims what we already knew: Bacon is the new Black.

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14 Responses to “Is Bacon Actually BETTER For You?”

  1. Either you love Bacon, or you’re wrong. (For some reason, I always capitalize Bacon)

  2. Bacon = happiness!

  3. Reblogged this on barefootandprimal and commented:
    Great article on bacon!

  4. I eat bacon, so I was interested in this study. You didn’t mention the issue of nitrites/nitrates, whether derived from the laboratory or celery. What’s your take on the consumption of nitrites?

    Also, for the sake of clarity and comparison, and to tell me something definitive, the study you describe would need to be done on non-pork products as well, like beef and chicken, at the very least, in their various processing incarnations. Where are the controls in this study? How large is the sample? This is an interesting study, but not exactly a eureka moment.

    • Nope, not a eureka moment – not definitive by any means. It was an extremely small study with few controls that would impress the scientific community and the article itself made no claim to be definitive or earth-shattering. It was more an interest piece – and this stuff definitely interests me, and it’s food-for-thought for the ancestral wellness community! The study used uncured products, meaning no nitrites. They also used pastured lamb as a sort of “control” (no blood changes with the lamb, salt-treated/marinated bacon, or salt-treated/marinated prosciutto).

      I really like MDA’s article on bacon, and this is approximately where I land with things as well: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/a-quick-guide-to-bacon/

      I don’t tend to worry so much about nitrites (probably because I don’t eat them much – I never eat conventional, processed meats and I rarely eat cured meats other than bacon – Although I act like I consume bacon on a daily basis, I’d say I eat it about once or twice per week. When we can’t find pastured bacon at our farm, we go without for extended periods of time!) When I DO eat quality cured meats, I generally *appreciate* those nitrites from celery more than the conventional ones. My food intake is quite varied, which FOR ME tends to alleviate many “exposure”-related concerns.

  5. Hi Liz! thanks for this, however . . . im slow 😦 is it the “cured” or “uncured” baon that is superior??
    thanks for the clarification!
    happy days 🙂

    • Sorry for the confusion there! The bacon is uncured, but it is still processed with an acidic marinade AND salt. I hope that makes sense. Often we think of a “salt cure” but when we refer to cured/uncured meats it’s actually the nitrites we’re talking about – nitrites give a distinctive flavor and color to meats.

      SO in this study, as there was NO cured meat, they are referring to UNCURED pork processed with salt, acid, and then cooked (eg bacon, prosciutto) as superior to pork that is simply cooked (like a pork chop) based on blood markers.

      The speculation is that pork contains an as-yet-unidentified toxin that is ONLY destroyed by salt and acidic marinades, followed by cooking; and NOT destroyed by cooking alone. Make sense? 🙂

      • got it! thanks so much for that clarification!! …any suggestions on what brands/where you buy such lovely bacon??

      • I live in New Jersey, and my bacon people are Cherry Grove Farm and Birchwood Farm/Dairy in PA! (Both are a drive, so when we go we stock up!) When their bacon isn’t available, we’ll get some from US WEllness Meats (grasslandbeef.com) Their beef bacon is also AMAZING when you prep it under the broiler. Hayley and Bill from http://www.Primal-Palate.com taught me that.

  6. Awesome, Thanks again!!

  7. Hi! I was wondering… is it really possible to find that bacon shirt somewhere? Its kind of awesome haha

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