This one is a real doozy.
Sarah Wilson (well, one of her underlings named Meg Yonson) has decided that bacon is the new superfood. Yeah. Bacon. You heard me. I heard me, and it still sounds just as ridiculous as when I first read the post.
The idea that bacon is a health food - let alone a superfood - is utter rubbish. Not that the word 'superfood' even has a scientific definition (which I've discussed before in a previous post), but I think we can safely say that bacon is not on par with the likes of broccoli and blueberries.
Anyway, in common usage, the word 'superfood' seems to be reserved for plant foods, which are naturally jam-packed with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants, not saturated fat and nitrates, as per cured meat products.
Anyway, let me debunk the following '7 reasons why bacon 'may just be the new acai berry', according to Meg:
1. 'Bacon contains monounsaturated fats. This is the kind of fat that has been shown to lower cholesterol levels.'
→ Yes, a percentage of the fat in bacon is monounsaturated, but a decent percentage is saturated fat, which is known to increase cholesterol levels. You can get your monounsaturated fats (without the dose of saturated fats and cholesterol) in whole plant foods, such as avocados and nuts. Crisis averted.
2. 'It’s high in protein. Providing several grams of protein per serve and all the essential amino acids.'
→ My favourite part of this point is 'several grams of protein per serve'. How many grams would we say 'several' refers to? I'd say it's a step up from 'a couple' (which is obviously 2), so my guess is that several is 3g. Well, by this logic, MOST foods contain several grams of protein. But I digress.
ALL plant foods contain 'all the essential amino acids' in varying levels, so there's nothing special about bacon there. Getting all the essential amino acids our bodies require in a single food (or even in a single meal) is completely unnecessary - our body has a short-term storage pool of amino acids, which means as long as we're having a wide variety of plant-based proteins throughout the course of a day, we can easily meet our amino acid requirements.
3. 'It curbs your sugar cravings. Thanks to the saturated fats in bacon, it fills you up for longer and stops blood sugar crashes.'
→ This is amazing. Maybe all these sugar cravings that I Quit Sugar devotees are experiencing are relating to not getting enough carbohydrates (glucose) to their brains?
Including low GI carbs such as whole grains, fruit and vegetables in each meal is the best way to combat sugar cravings. Why the fixation on saturated fat? My diet would contain close to zero grams of saturated fat, yet I don't experience any 'sugar crashes', as I eat lots of low GI carbohydrates and plant-based proteins.
4. 'It’s good for your brain. Bacon is filled with the nutrient choline, which helps boost brain function and memory.'
→ Choline isn't an essential nutrient in the diet, as we can make it in our body (provided we have are getting enough lysine and methionine). Choline in meat, poultry, fish and eggs is actually thought to contribute to the production of TMAO, which increases the risk of heart disease (you can watch a video about this connection here).
5. 'Bacon is a natural mood enhancer. And not just because it tastes so damn good! The umami taste of bacon is said to improve mood and satisfaction.'
→ This link is tenuous at best. The taste of umami is found in many plant foods, such as mushrooms, nutritional yeast, sun-dried tomatoes, miso, tamari and sea vegetables. No bacon required - sorry Meg.
6. 'It’s very nutritious compared with other meats. It’s high in B vitamins, iron, magnesium and zinc.'
This is where Meg should have really done her homework, instead of blindly taking information from India's Largest Online Men's Lifestyle magazine, MensXP (I'm serious. She linked to it in the post). A 100g serve of bacon contains a meagre 17mg of magnesium, which is 5% of the RDI for a woman. Not exactly 'good source' material, is it? It also only contains 11% of the RDI for B2 (riboflavin) and 17% of the RDI for niacin.
7. 'It’s high in the mineral selenium. This nutrient is essential to regenerating glutathione, an important antioxidant in your body.'
→ I couldn't find any data on selenium in bacon, but I can tell you that the best dietary source of selenium are brazil nuts, which contain 920mcg selenium per 100g . Just 2 brazil nuts will provide you with 92mcg of selenium, which is 130% of the RDI of 70mcg per day.
Okay, so not much credible information there. Perhaps Meg should have quit health reporting instead of sugar?
So, what do we (i.e. the scientific community) know about bacon?
- The cocktail of haem iron, nitrites, heterocyclic amines and saturated fat are believed to contribute to cancerous cell growth in the body. The World Cancer Research Fund advises people to limit or avoid processed meats (such as bacon) altogether.
- Each 50g serving of processed meats per day has been shown to increase risk of colorectal cancer by 21 percent.
- Bacon is also one of the highest dietary sources of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which contribute to oxidative stress and inflammation, and are thought to accelerate ageing and contribute to the development of chronic disease.
- Bacon is high in heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are toxic compounds formed when muscle meats are cooked at high temperatures. HCAs and PAHs have been shown to cause cancer in animals, and are probably carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) in humans.
- Pigs are highly-intelligent and sociable creatures, and their treatment by the meat industry is abhorrent (yes, even in 'free-range' establishments) breaks my heart.