What’s Healthier? Pork Bacon or Turkey Bacon?

Bacon, bacon, bacon! Everybody loves bacon! These days, you can find bacon everywhere, it seems. It’s not just a breakfast food anymore! Recently, a reader asked about center-cut bacon, whether it had less fat and if pork bacon or turkey bacon was healthier. To find out about all things bacon, we reached out to Janeal Yancey, PhD, Meat Science, Animal Science Department, Divison of Agriculture, University of Arkansas.

What is center-cut bacon? Does it have less fat than regular bacon?

Dr. Janeal Yancey: “Center-cut bacon doesn’t have a standard of identity defined by USDA. According to the North American Meat Processor’s Guide, center-cut bellies (bacon comes from the belly of a pig) have had the fatty portions from the very top and very bottom removed. The general understanding in the industry is that center-cut slices of bacon are usually the highest quality slices. The term center cut is used to tell the consumer that these are the leaner and more uniform slices.

We’ve done some research on the leanness and fattiness of different sections of the belly, and we’ve found that generally, there’s more variation from top to bottom than there is from front to back. If you slice the belly from the front to the back, you’re actually going to have more variation within each slice than between slices.

Because consumers want lean, uniform bacon, meat processors visually appraise the slices. When they’re packaging center-cut bacon, they’re more discriminatory against those fattier, less uniform slices. They pull in leaner slices. It results in a higher protein level in the Nutrition Facts.”

Is center-cut bacon healthier?

Dr. Janeal Yancey: “Center-cut bacon is leaner. It has more protein and less fat. When you compare it to regular bacon from the same company, it has about 10 fewer calories per serving, and 15 fewer calories from fat.”

Is pork bacon or turkey bacon healthier?

Dr. Janeal Yancey: “When it comes to turkey bacon vs. pork bacon, we can compare nutrition facts. When comparing products from the same company, a serving of pork center-cut bacon has 60 calories, 35 calories from fat, 210 mg of sodium, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 3.5 grams of total fat, 15 mg of cholesterol and 6 grams of protein.

Turkey bacon from the same company has 35 calories, 25 calories from fat, 180 mg of sodium, 1 gram of saturated fat, 3 grams of total fat, 15 mg cholesterol, but only 2 grams of protein.

It’s important to note that turkeys don’t have a belly to slice bacon from (well, turkeys do have a belly, but you aren’t going to get very big slices). Meat processors make turkey bacon from ground up turkey and flavor it to taste like bacon. Ground up dark meat is layered on ground up light meat, and the product is kind of like turkey sausage. These layers of different shades of meat, using ground turkey, allow the processors to add in as little or as much fat as they like. In pork bacon, the amount of fat is dictated by how fat the pig belly was.

The difference between servings of pork bacon and turkey bacon is only about 25 calories. Turkey bacon is leaner, but it has less protein.”

Are there ways to cook bacon to make it healthier?

Dr. Janeal Yancey: “Not really. Bacon is what it is. When you cook it, the fat is going to stay there. Whether it is microwaved, baked in the oven, or fried, there isn’t a way to cook it to make it healthier.”

Is bacon as bad for you as we are led to believe?

Dr. Janeal Yancey: “Bacon is not a lean cut of meat. But it’s really tasty and people enjoy it. It’s not inherently bad for you, but don’t fool yourself into believing that it’s all protein, either.”

Should we be worried about nitrates or nitrites in bacon?

Dr. Janeal Yancey: “Bacon contains nitrates and nitrites, which, in meat, become nitric oxide. Nitric oxide reacts with the muscle and creates the pretty pink color and cured flavor that we associate with processed meats. It helps make the meat safer because it inhibits microorganism growth and spoilage. Nitrates have been given a bad rap, but the old studies that showed a correlation between nitrates and cancer have been largely debunked by today’s scientists. Research from the University of Texas shows that nitrates and nitrites are actually healthy for you and part of a healthy lifestyle. We consume a lot of them in green leafy vegetables, actually.”

For more information about nitrates and nitrites, Dr. Yancey referenced this Meat Myth Crushers video with expert Nathan Bryan, PhD, Assistant Professor, Institute of Molecular Medicine, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

Bacon” by cyclonebillmizo is licensed under CC BY-SA.