“Can I have bacon?” is one of the most commonly asked questions from folks doing their first Whole30, so we’ve decided to add this topic to our series of manifestos. We did have another post on bacon here on the 9 Blog, but in retrospect, we’re not really proud of what we wrote there. Our tone was confrontative, and our position was a bit alarmist – and for that we apologize. (We don’t always get it right on the first try.) So today, we’re tackling the “What about bacon?” question in a more helpful manner. Yes, we’ve softened our tone. No, we’re still not encouraging folks to eat more bacon. But for the record, we’ve never said you couldn’t have any.
We’re Killjoys. Sorry.
We are probably not the first nutrition educators to rain on your parade. At some point, someone probably told you that your whole wheat toast and low-fat yogurt, while delicious, were not very good for you. So you shifted towards Paleo nutrition – whereby someone even meaner told you that fruit came with some caveats, coffee isn’t a free-for-all and Sunbutter wasn’t your best fat choice, either. (If you’ve been to one of our seminars or read our 9 Blog for any length of time, we might have been those killjoys. Sorry.) We say these things not because we’re Paleo extremists, nor because (as some have suggested) we’re out to ruin your life. We share our knowledge and experience with you because we feel compelled to do the best we can to help you make your lives healthier, simpler and happier. And like fruit, coffee or Sunbutter, bacon is one of those “technically Paleo” foods that deserves some words of caution.
Back in our collective (conventional) diet days, bacon was seen as the epitome of unhealthy eating, a sort of hedonistic culinary irresponsibility. After all, it was full of saturated fat, loaded with sodium, and infused with questionable preservatives – a solid red light. But as many of us have since learned, saturated fat is not, in fact, the enemy. (In fact, some types of saturated fat actually have health-promoting properties!) And in the context of eliminating most packaged, processed food from our diet, we’ve also eliminated three quarters of our sodium, which means we can afford to shake the shaker and eat some salty foods on occasion. Some folks even say that nitrates and nitrites are totally fine – an issue we don’t care to debate, as nitrates don’t really factor into our bacon decision-making. So… green light on bacon? Not quite. It may not be the devil’s creation, but despite the insane number of nutrition blogs devoted to the stuff (Googling “Paleo + bacon” brings up more than 1 million results), nobody is suggesting bacon is a free-for-all.
Not all bacon is created equal. The vast majority (more than 90%, based on 2007 data) of the pork sold in the U.S. today comes from the factory farming system. This is the stuff you’ll find at your typical grocery store, from producers like Smithfield, Oscar Mayer, Hormel and Tyson. Pigs are arguably the most abused, poorly fed, sickly animals in the factory farming system. (Visit the Humane Society factory farming page for details on the inhumane treatment of pigs in our industrial food system.) And fatty cuts of pork from this system are perhaps the least healthy form of meat. Residues that accumulate as a result of the factory farming system (such as those from pesticides, feed additives and antibiotics) are often fat-soluble. This means these compounds are stored in the animal’s fatty tissues – and when we consume the fat from these animals, we are also ingesting these toxins. These residues can be hazardous to humans, and is dose-dependent (the more you consume, the greater the potential risk). Bacon is one of the fattiest cut of pork – which means bacon from the factory farming system contains a large potential “dose” of these unhealthy residues.
Summary: We cannot recommend consumption – even in “moderation” – of bacon from the factory farming system. If you want to enjoy bacon as part of your healthy, varied Paleo diet, please take the time to seek out a pastured, organic source.
If you’re on the Whole30, your bacon must be sugar-free. This means no added sugar in any form in the ingredient list – no honey, cane syrup, or xylitol, even if sugar is listed as “0 grams” on the label. (Nitrates don’t factor into our Whole30 rules, even though we prefer all processed foods have as few additives as possible.) Sugar-free bacon is not easy to find, but it’s out there. You probably won’t find it at your local health food store – you’ll likely have to search producers in your local farming community, or buy it online from U.S. Wellness Meats. We still encourage you to source pastured, organic bacon, but that’s also not an official rule.
So what about pastured, organic, family-farmed bacon? For some (insulin sensitive, non-inflamed, healthy folks), this may be an acceptable addition to an already healthy, varied diet. Variety is the key – bacon for breakfast every day means you’re missing 6 opportunities a week to get different micronutrients. In addition, bacon isn’t a dense protein source compared to chicken, seafood or other cuts of pork – which means you may be getting more calories and fat than you need when you try to get a meal’s worth of protein from bacon. This is especially problematic if you have any degree of lingering metabolic derangement. For this population, a high-fat diet on top of an already existing health conditions (leptin resistance and insulin resistance) may not help their efforts to get healthy, or lose weight. If you’re new to Paleo, and still working through leptin and insulin resistance (where the body is less good at properly managing energy balance), know that it’s not a smart idea to provide lots of fuel for an already out of control metabolic fire – so eating copious amounts of bacon probably isn’t the smartest strategy for your health. As always, context matters. A pound of pastured, organic bacon every Saturday may be okay for you – but it’s probably not okay for your overweight, sedentary Mom, even if she is fully invested in switching to Paleo.
Summary: Know your context. Where and when appropriate, include bacon in the rotation with your other healthy protein sources. Consider using it as a condiment or in conjunction with other, more dense protein sources.
Finally, one last observational point. Much like snack foods and junk foods are easy to overconsume, us Paleo folks have a few of those in our “technically approved” list as well. Dried fruits, nuts and seeds, nut butters and, yes, bacon fit that list, in our experience. These are foods at the fringe; “approved” for Paleo consumption, but about as sweet/salty/fatty as you can get within the constructs of “real food.” Which, for those of you still struggling with overconsumption and a drive for supernormally stimulating foods, bacon may prove tough to eat in moderation. Of course, all that fat and protein do provide satiation signals, and we bet most folks can handle their bacon just fine… but that doesn’t mean the potential for an unhealthy psychological response isn’t there. (Couple this with leptin resistance, where your satiety mechanisms aren’t working right, and it’s a recipe for disaster.) All we’re saying is think about what you’re eating, and why – and don’t let your food (any food!) control you.
Summary: Bacon may be one of those “technically approved” foods that is all too easy to overconsume – and ongoing overconsumption is never healthy. Pay attention to what you’re eating and why, especially when it comes to sweet, salty and/or fatty foods (even if they are “Paleo”).
For those of you who read our last post (which we have since “retired”), it may appear as though we’ve relaxed our stance on bacon. To be clear, we’ve never said, “Don’t eat (pastured, organic) bacon,” but we agree that our old stance was more divisive than helpful, and we’ve learned that an aggressive approach isn’t the best way to influence change. As we learn and grow, our perspectives evolves too. And we always want to share that perspective here with you, even if it means eating our words and publicly revising our position. So read, keep an open mind and evaluate your own context and motives critically. As with everything we do, we just want people to think. As always, your comments are always welcome.
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Sarah K says
I just posted yesterday about finding bacon that I think you guys would approve of! It was delicious – YAY farmer’s market!
Chuck Charbeneau says
Our freezer is currently home to several pounds of local, organic, Berkshire hog bacon. Nitrite and nitrate free… Talk to your local farmers, butchers and meat markets. The good stuff is out there.
Casey Head says
A much needed clarification of your previous position.
One needs higher quality standards with Bacon and other borderline foods, that until you’ve gone through a few months of Whole 30 it’s best to stay away from it.
But once you’re dialed in overall, have a little bacon.
Sean Carroll says
I question whether or not the authors have ever taken the time to create their own bacon from a nice slab of delicious pork belly. Their recommendation against any sugar in your bacon whatsoever is foolish, and misses the forest for the trees. Salt, sugar, and some kind of curing salt are the main ingredients to any bacon (or any meat, for that matter) cure and have been utilized by many artisan charcuterie producers for a long time. If you are overly concerned with the quality of your bacon, just make your own and you will slowly loosen your neurotic grip on the imaginary perfection you attempt to hold in your hand.
Great post guys.
Anybody in the Toronto Area looking for a great organic farmer for bacon, GF Beef and gluten and sugar free sausage, check out Scott Lee Farms. He’ll take you around his property and answer any questions you have. Tell him Robbie sent you.
Ann Wendel says
Yea bacon! And, also yea to all of us learning over time that an aggressive approach isn’t the best way to influence change. The thing about Tough Love is that it has to contain both Tough and Love. I like Robb’s approach of “this is the way it is, buttercup.” It lets people know that it is just a fact, and we may not like it, but it’s nothing personal. Or as my mom used to say to me when I protested going to bed, “I love you and it’s for your better welfare.” Keep spreading the (tough) love!
Mike Hollister says
Sean, the recommendation for no sugar in bacon is for folks doing a whole 30. It’s not designed to be a lifestyle but more a reset button for health, metabolism, and sensitivities to certain foods. Given most people’s struggles with sugar, it’s pretty reasonable for that kind of protocol. Context is key.
If you possess a healthy metabolism, just eat the bacon. I raised and butchered two of my own pigs last year. Almost out. Doing 3 three this year. I should probably do four.
I think you guys must not have kids if you think that Moms are “sedentary”. I AM overweight (day 20and working hard to change that) and a mom and I am in NO way sedentary.
I really limit my bacon because of the sodium (I have meniere’s disease). But if you’re going to eat it in moderation, I highly suggest cutting a little chunk of beef liver, fitting it into 1/2 a hollowed out jalapeño, wrap that sucker in bacon and throw it on the grill. Amazing!
Is there a similar manifesto on NUTS??
I could use some straight-talk and rational thought on this addictive little food group right now.
Day 21 and over-eating nuts
Thanks for giving me the confidence the speak up about bacon to folks that ask. That food is such an “obsession” with some, it’s really amazing. However, you gave me a great boost to just say it like it is.
Alphabet Pam says
@Chelsea, I have a mom, and she’s most definitely sedentary. :) Also, there’s a pretty strict definition of sedentary. Even when I was a young mom with small children, there were times when, though certainly active with my children, I was by the standard definition sedentary.
We make our own bacon from the pork belly of locally raised heritage, pastured, organic pigs. We don’t use any nitrites/nitrates (aka pink salt).
While we do use a maple syrup, brown sugar and salt cure, after a week that cure is thoroughly rinsed off. So, I’m wondering how much of the sugar is actually absorbed into the meat? I suspect very little.
Here’s what we do. After the initial cooking, we thick cut slices and freeze. It is a thing of beauty:
Not sure about factory bacon, but I wouldn’t recommend eating that on any account.
If possible, I would like to make a statement about “nitrate-free” bacon. Now I may just not have found the right bacon, but all of the “nitrate-free” bacon I have found has celery salt in it. This is not just by coincidence. If you look carefully, at, say, Niman ranch all natural bacon without any nitrates added, they claim nothing more than is true, that their bacon is free of ADDED nitrates. There are plenty of nitrates in it. The reason is that nitrates are plentiful in plants. So, the reason for the celery salt is that IT CONTAINS NITRATES.
So what? It’s natural, right? Well, to some extent, that is true (the natural part, not the so what part). The big issue comes in terms of quantities of nitrates and appropriately preserving the meat, or way overshooting. So just by saying no nitrates added does not mean there are no nitrates in the meat. (The whole idea of nitrates causing many bad things has been well established, but what in interesting is how ascorbic acid, aka Vitamin C, completely renders those compounds harmless. Who’d a thunk it?)
One final thing (sorry about the rant, but I like to encourage dialogue)…bacon is cured meat. Curing meat involves salt. Bacon itself is cured pork belly, cured with salt and sugar, some spices, sometimes smoked. It tastes great, in small doses, and if you can, make it yourself. But eating something without sugar would be hard to call bacon. I would call it salted pork belly, aka Salted pork, which is actually quite delicious in the right context. But make sure you get it from good quality pigs, tastes MUCH better!
PS If anyone has found truly nitrate free bacon, I’d be interested in hearing them out!
PPS. This is not meant to slander the Whole9 group at all. Badier is a friend, and my fiance and I are currently on a whole30 and feel great!
Melissa @Whole9 says
@Sarah K: I’m not sure of the laws in the UK but hormones cannot legally be given to hogs in the US system – so anyone here who says their bacon is “hormone-free” is making it sound like their product is more conscientious than it is. Look for pastured + organic (and antibiotic free is good, too).
@Chuck: You’ve got it! (We know how you feel about your bacon.)
@Casey: While our overall message hasn’t changed, we agree that our last post was a bit abrasive. We’re not afraid to say we got the message wrong, and we’re happy you like the revised version.
@Sean: As someone already mentioned, the “no sugar” rule is specifically for those in the middle of our Whole30 program. (I think we made that pretty clear in the article.)
@Robbie: Great resource, thanks!
@Ann: We struggle with our tone sometimes. We’re passionate about certain topics, but that often comes off as bossypants or confrontational. We’re trying to do better – but we’ll never drop the tough love. It’s what we do!
@Mike H: You’ve got it – context is always key. Raising and butchering your own pigs is one step above – well done!
@Chelsea: Come on, now – you’re being silly. We in no way implied all Moms were sedentary. Sheesh.
@JJ: Good point – for those who need to be careful about sodium, a plateful of bacon may not be your best choice. But you can certainly use it to add flavor to meals or vegetables – use it as a condiment, as our friend Amy Kubal says!
@Imogene: We don’t have a post specifically on nuts and seeds, but we talk about them at every workshop. The potential for overconsumption is ripe with that food group too, so if you find you are no longer in control of your food, it’s time to take control. Get them out of your house and choose other fat sources until you get your cravings under control
@Deanna: We’re not at all concerned about a little maple syrup or brown sugar as part of the curing process – but for the Whole30, our rules have to be very clear, and consistent. (But outside of the program, your bacon sounds fabulous!)
Once again – AWESOME and SPOT ON!!! Bacon is my favorite condiment and it ain’t Oscar Mayer!! ;) Great post!
Beeler’s bacon is the best! Check it out at beelerspurepork.com
charles grashow says
Have you seen these on Perfect Health Diet
There is a strong association between pork consumption and liver cirrhosis mortality, liver cancer, and multiple sclerosis.
It seems likely that the association, if it is real, is mediated by a pathogen. The most likely pathogen in the case of the liver diseases is hepatitis E virus. In MS, the pathogen remains unknown, but is likely to be a virus.
Hepatitis E virus is not destroyed by casual cooking, smoking, or curing. It appears that meat must reach temperatures of 70ºC (160ºF) before viruses are inactivated; and it is possible that meat must remain at that temperature for some time, perhaps as long as an hour. Rare or medium cooked pork could contain active viruses.
Hepatitis E viruses are most abundant in liver, intestine, and blood. Pork products containing these parts, such as sausage, may be best avoided.
Meat from parts of the pig with low viral titers, such as pork ribs or pork bellies, are likely to be safe to eat as long as they are well cooked. Be sure to wash the meat of all blood before cooking, and to cook thoroughly.
Thanks for the clarification. Although I don’t think the apology is necessary. One reason I stalk… I mean follow you guys is because you are open minded life long learners who aren’t shoving your discoveries down anyone’s throats. If I was to be articulate enough to write what I thought the Whole 9 stance on bacon would be, it would look exactly like what I just read above. No surprises really. It reminds me of what my Movnat trainer and friend Clifton would say – “Eat it. Just don’t be an asshole about it.” :) Awesome post!
Great post guys! Amy K has been working with me and her take on it is great- “it’s a fine food (when pastured, etc. of course), but try using it as a condiment or fat source, not so much as a protein.”
@danimal do you have a bacon recommendation? I agree with you on the celery salt nitrate thing. I just want sugar free organic pastured bacon. http://www.westonaprice.org/blogs/kdaniel/2012/03/29/save-your-bacon-sizzling-bits-about-nitrites-dirty-little-secrets-about-celery-salt-and-other-aporkalyptic-news/
Melissa @Whole9 says
@Stella: We like the bacon from US Wellness Meats – sugar-free, Whole30 approved, pastured and from animals raised in a humane and ethical fashion. http://bit.ly/grasslandbeef
My husband and I have essentially unlimited access to wild pork (it’s all over our neck of the woods), which is completely awesome! We usually butcher it ourselves and then use different bits for pork roast, etc. My question is…how might we make our own Whole30 friendly bacon from the pork bellies? Is there a web source we can use?
Look, I’m really frustrated here with the US-centric language employed without discretion. Bacon isn’t automatically pork. Maybe where you live, but not by everyone! I keep kosher, and would never think of eating pork products, but in a very long article and series of replies about ‘BACON’, it was ASSUMED that one could ONLY POSSIBLY be referring to PORK bacon, whereas there is beef bacon, lamb bacon, turkey bacon, and while those may seem to only be Alternative Bacons to YOU, they are the only sorts of bacon to me, as pork bacon is right up there with cockroaches, rats, babies, and other things I would never eat.
Nevertheless, ‘Bacon’ was discussed within the narrow confines of pork-only, and no other bacons were discussed. The article title should be revised to mean pork bacon, or the article should be inclusive of all bacons.
I don’t want to be misunderstood as a whingeing madman, but this is worse than the usual amerocentric vocabulary problems: a cut of meat has here been restricted to ONE kind of cut of meat for one kind of animal. I’m as disappointed as if the article was about ‘cutlets’ and only spoke of pork chops, not veal, not beef, etc.
TLDR; WHAT ABOUT ALL THE OTHER KINDS OF BACON THAT ARE NOT PORK?!
Mike Hollister says
Frustrated, I think you know the answer. Turkey bacon (or any other type of bacon) is made in an attempt to taste like pork bacon yet not contain pork. If it’s not an attempt at copying pork bacon, it is simply referred to as smoked meat.
Like Kleenex or Band-Aid, the “brand” [of meat in this case] has become ubiquitous with the product itself.
That said, I’m personally a fan of all types of smoked meats. And to keep it international, I always have all my pork chops made into Canadian bacon… far superior in utility to a pork chop in my opinion. The lame thing about buying a whole pig is that you really don’t get all that much bacon; loading up the Canadian bacon helps to fix that.
Melissa @Whole9 says
@Frustrated: As for the US-centric language used in our articles, but we live here, as do most of our readers, so our perspective is naturally based on our experience here. As for other forms of “bacon,” we don’t consider anything other than pork true bacon, and neither do the vast majority our readers. However, if you choose to purchase bacon-like cuts of meat from other animals, the same principles apply – grass-fed/finished, pastured, organically-raised animals are the healthiest for you, and the less processed, the better.
Christie Davis says
I just was wondering how much would be a safe amount a week. Any help with this would be great.
I am trying really hard to find this answer on my own, but can’t in clear cut form (or I missed it!) . Is Canadian bacon allowed on Whole30 if it meets the no sugar, no nitrite rules? I am not a big egg eater, and being new to Whole30, its going to take me a bit to adjust to chicken or fish or steak for breakfast : ). I have faith I will get there though! (Oatmeal or almonds were my previous staple/breakfast go-to). Just wondering if Canadian bacon is an okay protein source, maybe once a week.
I’m concerned that there is no discussion about Transfats and Carcinogens in this bacon discussion, given that bacon is usually fried in its own very hot grease until browned or crunchy.
As I evaluate whether to follow the Whole30 plan, this is giving me the most cause for concern, especially that I’m unable to find where this is addressed. It would lend much credibility to this diet approach if someone could address this issue convincingly for me.
If I have a choice between a legume and fried bacon (or fried anything, for that matter), can it be scientifically explained that a legume is worse for my health than fried food, like bacon?
Any input would be greatly appreciated. Maybe I’m just missing something here.
What would a serving of bacon be? Would it go by palm thickness as well as the usual measurement of size?
Having 4 kids I would disagree with the comment that bacon is easy to over consume. In fact it’s hard to get 2 slices with this house. If everyone get’s two slices (including my husband) the bacon doesn’t even make a full two breakfast. I know I can’t afford to buy 3 packs of good quality bacon a week. It’s a treat for us.
Smoke your own bacon, you get to control what goes in it. Its not that difficult.
Heidi Jo says
I just wanted to take a second to say how very much I respect the way you’ve handled your old post and your revisit on the subject of bacon. your message is clear, but more importantly your tone is humble while confident. I appreciate the kind of humility you’ve displayed in this writing. Nicely done!