Bacon means many things to many people.To foodies, it's the height of gastronomy; to others, there's no more satisfying comfort food than a few of those sizzling strips. But for anyone who worries about the potential complications of diabetes—like high blood pressure and heart disease—bacon is on that list of forbidden foods that contain as much fat and salt as it does flavor.
Ah, bacon. That perfectly processed fat-streaked strip of salty, smoky meat can be just so hard to resist. How can something that tastes this good be that bad for you? The jury’s still out on how animal fat affects your overall health, but when it comes to highly processed and fatty meat products like bacon, it’s fair to say less (or none) is better.
In fact, a 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association confirmed that some very specific foods and eating styles—including processed meats like bacon and an overall high-sodium diet—contribute to close to half of all deaths in this country due to heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. At the same time, this study also found a protective effect against these health complications from diets abundant in vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, and omega-3 fats from seafood.
So what’s a bacon lover to do? One way to get a healthier fix is to buy bacon made with less fatty cuts of meat or poultry that is lower in saturated fat, uncured, and processed with the least amount of sodium and other additives.Don't be fooled into thinking that turkey bacon is a healthier alternative though. It's still highly processed and high in sodium. Canadian bacon however does have less fat.
If you’re a die-hard, traditional pork bacon fan who will never say never, try looking at bacon as a condiment, or seasoning, rather than as slabs of meat you like to eat for breakfast (and sometimes lunch and dinner). Salty seasonings (like crumbled bacon bits) are only necessary in small amounts in order to add big flavor to otherwise bland foods. One broiled or pan-fried slice of bacon has approximately 46 calories with most of them—32 grams—coming from fat. But the good news is that a little goes a long way. Try using one or two strips of crisp-cooked bacon to season at least four servings’ worth of baked (or mashed) potatoes, pasta, rice, salads or salad dressings, soups, casseroles and whole-grain, bean, or vegetable side dishes. You’ll add plenty of bacon flavor to these foods with very little extra salt and fat.
To reduce fat, microwave (on top of a few layers of paper towels to absorb the grease) or bake it on a pan with a slotted rack rather than fry it on the top of the stove.
Bacon is delicious because of its umami, a word borrowed from the Japanese language that describes a savory, concentrated, super-flavor that leaves a deeply satisfying aftertaste in your mouth. Although added salt and salt products, like monosodium glutamate and soy sauce, can enhance the flavor of all foods, umami is found naturally in many foods, without adding excess sodium. You may find you miss bacon less by substituting healthier sources of umami. Other umami-rich foods include shiitake and other mushrooms, concentrated meat broths, smoked fish, ripe tomatoes and even some condiments like ketchup. Some cooking techniques, like roasting and slow grilling, raise the umami levels in meats and vegetables.
If you want to wean yourself off bacon (and other processed meats) altogether but still long for the taste, you can fake bacon flavor by adding one of several smoked, umami-rich seasonings to healthier foods. One of our favorites is smoked sweet paprika, which you can sprinkle (with a little salt) onto just about anything for satisfying and intense bacon-like flavor. Try it on roast chicken parts, deviled eggs, garbanzo or white bean salad, grilled cheese sandwiches, corn on the cob, or broiled tomatoes, chilies and stews, seafood chowders, and casserole-style dishes like paella and beans and rice.
Some chefs sprinkle long, thin slices of tofu or eggplant with smoked paprika before roasting and serve just like strips of bacon alongside eggs and toast for breakfast. Cooking with smoked paprika brings out its sweet-smoky flavor, but be careful not to cook at very high direct heats or the seasoning can burn. Other seasonings that lend unique smoky and satisfying flavor to these and other foods include smoked salt, or a drop of all-natural hickory-flavor liquid smoke seasoning, such as Lazy Kettle brand. For smoky flavor with a little spicy heat, try hot smoked paprika or a pinch of chipotle powder.