Maybe it is the INTJ in me, but I can't seem to get beyond one sticking point with bacon: it is processed. I know I should be looking for minimally processed bacon, but where I live that is actually quite hard.
My question: Why do people feel it is ok to eat bacon even though it is processed? And what do people look for in a bacon that is ok to eat? Low sodium? Low nitrates (how do you figure that out, anyway)?
Thanks, Jason/Aka confused about bacon
If you want to avoid processed food, stick with fruit or stop eating. Most, if not all, other food is processed--cut up, ground, cooked, whatever. I wish that anti-processed-food meme would fricking die, it's not even close to accurate about what's wrong with our modern food supply.
Bacon came to be part of our cuisine in the first place because the process of its creation developed out of a need to preserve meat in a world in which refrigeration did not exist. Civilization did not invent preserved meat. Foragers were doing it long before then. We should all be familiar with the idea of making jerky out of bison, something the Lakota did for generations. I wouldn't be surprised if the Pacific tribes were doing the same thing with salmon AND using salt since the ocean was right there within reach.
Having access to fresh meat all the time is not a normal part of the human experience. It is entirely an artifact of industrial civilization and the fossil fuel infrastructure. If we were doing without industrial appliances and fossil fuel we might indeed have fresh meat with dinner immediately after a hunt or slaughter, but the rest of the kill would have to be preserved in some way if we didn't want to have to hunt or slaughter an animal each and every day. Dried, pickled, cured, doesn't matter--whatever would make it last long enough to still be edible later when needed.
I would actually prefer that all bacon were salt-cured. We've come to using nitrates and MSG in our industrial food supply because of this erroneous belief that sodium is unhealthy. But there is a dietary requirement for sodium, while there is none for nitrates or MSG--and the only people who demonstrably have an adverse health response to sodium are people whose health is already damaged. It turns out sodium/potassium balance is more important to health than whether you eat sodium at all.
Personally I'm more interested in whether the bacon in question has a large amount of sugar in it. There is such a thing as no-sugar-added bacon but you really have to search for it sometimes.
The local butcher here doesn't add anything (nitrates, salt, etc) to the bacon--it's totally fresh. Although I wouldn't make it the centerpiece of every meal, I don't think there is anything wrong with cooking with good, fresh, preservative-free bacon.
Getting uncured vs. cured bacon doesn't really matter. In fact a good number of uncured bacons use celery powder or something of the sort, and, when cooked, have tested to have MORE nitrates than cured bacon. I wouldn't worry about the nitrates. They naturally occur at much higher levels in some vegetables. In terms of sodium, I usually buy niman ranch uncured bacon (not for the fact that it is uncured, but simply that I think it tastes better). The sodium in it is of very little worry to me. Some people do better with more sodium or less. That kind of needs to be an n=1 experiment. I remember reading something that healthy individuals blood pressure and other health markers weren't negatively affected by increasing salt intake, say from 2500 mg/ day to 3500 mg/ day. Honestly, I wouldn't be too worried about the fact that it's conventionally raised. Obviously, if you can get pastured bacon, that would be amazing! If not eating/ choosing bacon forces you to choose something non-primal or even less tasty, then you are missing out. Buy the bacon!
Even if you could buy bacon that is sugar and nitrate/ite free, vegetarian-fed etc. you're still looking at what is almost certainly a corn-fed animal whose fatty acid profile is inferior to that of a grass-fed ruminant.
That being said, if you are a bacon-enthusiast whose life is empty without it, then by all means try to find the "clean" type of bacon and go whole hog.
I suppose the bacon nutritional apogee would involve some wild boar or javelina or something, but I'm not sure that the product itself would be sufficiently fatty to even mesh with our conception of what bacon is.
Bacon is not "processed" in the normal sense of the word. Salami, bologna, hot dogs, etc., are indeed processed: they are ground up, chemicals added, and formed into the required shape by forcing them into a machine.
Bacon is, for the purposes of this little discussion, minimally processed. It is cut off the hog, brined, etc., then packaged. (That's simplistic I know but compared to a hot dog, it's minimal.)
For those worried about the nitrites, they're not as bad as one has been told. (Remember, Conventional Wisdom and The Government are always wrong.) Another ingredient usually found in such meats is a chemical whose name I cannot remember but it is Vitamin C, or a form of it, and it reduces or eliminates the harmful effects of the nitrites. (Besides, with the advent of the FDA, the amount of nitrites added to foods have been drastically reduced from what was historically used.) If one is still worried about the nitrites but still love bacon, just take a couple of tabs of Vitamin C before you eat it.
Now, I am NOT saying all these added chemicals are paleo but there is no harm in having a handful of bacon every now and then. (I'm not even sure pork, in the mainstream of evolution, is paleo.) Our bodies are too efficient at protecting us from ourselves to let a bit of extraneous additives harm us.
I cannot profess to know much about nitrates, curing, etc., but I do consider bacon to be quite tasty. Here's a facebook post (typos and all) from Mathieu Lalonde who is just a darned sharp guy about such matters:
"Barry, there is no problem with nitrates. The whole thing was based on in vitro studies. Turns out that in vivo, nitrate is reduced to nitrite, which is then reduced ti nitric oxide (a.k.a NO). NO is a potent vasodilator and responsible fo...r the blood pressure lowering effect of vegetable consumption. Do you have any idea how much nitrate is in celery? If nitrates and nitrites were really that bad, vegetables consumption would have been condemned a long time ago.
Here is a reference for you:
Inorganic Nitrate Supplementation Lowers Blood Pressure in Humans: Role of Nitrite-Derived NO. Hypertension 2010, 56, 274-281
Dietary Inorganic Nitrate Improves Mitochondrial Efficiency in Humans. Cell Metabolism 2011, 13, 149-159"
I buy uncured/low sodium bacon at Trader Joes. I usually make a pound for the week and eat it over that time, sharing with my kid, husband and the cat. ;) The grease is good for cooking my eggs in on weekends or my zucchini/squash/veggies for dinner. I watch my sodium pretty closely and it's really not an issue.
Me either. And its hard to get non grain fed pigs, even organic. I just bought some meat from a wool pig. Its a old race. Even this is winter fed with hay and grains.
To get good pig meat. bacon or anything is very hard. Its so important to get good meat in the fat are all the toxins.