So, what’s the truth with bacon and diabetes? Most of the issues with bacon center around the fact that it’s processed meat and its impact on long-term health. Red meat, of which bacon is a part, also gets bad reviews because of its saturated fat content and association with heart disease risk and high cholesterol. So, can diabetics eat bacon?
Some Facts About Diabetes
Before getting into whether or not diabetics can eat bacon, we need to cover diabetes first. Diabetes is a condition that affects blood sugar control. Carbohydrates (carbs) called glucose (sugar) in the body are a form of energy stored in our muscle and liver cells.
If your sugar levels are low, your liver will use stored glucose to stabilize your levels. If your blood sugar is too high (like after eating), insulin (a hormone that helps control blood sugar) takes it from the bloodstream and puts it into your cells.
Lastly, there are two types of diabetes. Let’s take a look at the difference between them.
Type 1 Diabetes (T1D)
Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is when the pancreas doesn’t create enough insulin. Beta cells in the pancreas make insulin, allowing the body to take sugar from the bloodstream and store it (glucose) in cells.
However, in Type 1 diabetics, the immune system attacks the beta cells, which causes them to make little-to-no insulin. If a person can’t make insulin, blood sugar will be high; it is dangerous and life-threatening.
As a result, Type 1 diabetics must inject insulin to lower blood sugar after eating carbohydrates.
Type 1 diabetes is more common in children but can also develop later in life for adults too. Since it’s an autoimmune disease, which means your immune system attacks your body’s own cells, Type 1 diabetics must take insulin forever to regulate blood sugar.
Type 2 Diabetes (T2D)
Type 2 diabetes differs from Type 1 because it’s not an autoimmune disease, but type 2 diabetics also have high blood sugar.
In both types of diabetes, sugar builds up in your bloodstream, and insulin has difficulty putting it into your cells. So, the pancreas makes more insulin to keep up with the blood sugar levels. The problem is that the cells become damaged and can’t keep up, so insulin production slows down. The cells become resistant to glucose.
In some cases, type 2 diabetics may produce less insulin over time and have to inject it too. Although the exact cause of T2D is unknown, most contributing factors are lifestyle conditions like being inactive and carrying excess weight.
In extreme cases, managing type 2 diabetes requires diet and medication to regulate high blood sugar.
Another characteristic of type 2 diabetes is increased fat levels in the blood because of insulin resistance. Although the exact mechanism isn’t entirely understood, more fats are circulating in the bloodstream, which explains why bacon might not be the best choice for diabetics to eat.
Why Is Bacon Bad For People With Diabetes?
In a nutshell, bacon is:
- high in saturated fat – associated with weight gain, heart disease, and high cholesterol
- processed meat of inferior quality
Most processed food like bacon is also high in calories, which is the leading cause of weight gain. In addition, processed meat undergoes processing such as salting, curing, smoking, and fermentation.
Since bacon contains saturated fat, it increases cholesterol markers such as LDL, which is considered the “bad” cholesterol. However, it is worth noting that evidence on limiting saturated fat intake is conflicting in current research. It doesn’t help though that bacon is low-quality processed meat, depending on how it’s manufactured. In addition, it’s connected to increased disease risk.
It also doesn’t help that cooking methods and other processing methods are linked to increased cancer rates. Other processes included flavor enhancement and mixing other meats in the final product. Bacon is primarily fat too (as you’ll see from my nutrition breakdown in the next section). Many health professionals advise against increased dietary fat and sodium consumption in people with diabetes, especially saturated fat from processed meat, which raises cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease risk.
It might be better to consume unprocessed red meat with these facts in mind. The IARC Working Group explains that red meat is unprocessed muscle meat in animals like beef, lamb, and pork rich in B vitamins (for healthy cells & energy), iron (which carries oxygen in blood cells), and zinc (a mineral that works with enzymes). In addition, this meat contains valuable proteins that contribute to a healthy diet and body.
As a young girl, I didn’t realize that diabetes risk increases with different conditions or that diabetes is connected to various diseases. I always thought it had to do with blood sugar, but I soon figured out diabetes is a complicated disease.
Can Diabetics Eat Bacon?
One slice of uncooked pork bacon (28 grams or 28g) is roughly 110 calories; this depends on the brand but here’s what it contains:
- 3.8g protein
- 10g fat
- 0g carbs
- 210mg sodium
This is why bacon is a sought-after food in the carnivore, keto, and low-carb community. This is because it has almost zero carbohydrates and is a protein source. As a low-carbohydrate food, bacon can also be suitable food for people with diabetes because it has no sugar. Some bacon brands may contain added sugar though.
Bacon also contains vitamins such as A, Bs, D, and choline. See below for how they improve our health:
- Vitamin A is important for skin health, sight, and the immune system.
- Vitamin D also helps with the immune system, making hormones, and bone strength.
- B-vitamins each have their own function like creating new blood cells, making energy from food, and maintaining healthy cells in the skin, brain, and other tissues.
- Choline is important for memory, and liver health.
Unfortunately, none of this undoes the fact that bacon is high in sodium, can have flavor enhancers, added sugar, is high in saturated fat, and is easy to overeat. Still, the recommended daily salt intake in adults is about 2.3g per day, so technically bacon should be able to fit into your daily sodium intake because it will depend on how many slices you eat and if you eat it with other salty foods.
Some Related Questions About Bacon And Diabetes
The questions below are other questions people like you might have about bacon and diabetes. We’ll start with whether or not diabetics can eat bacon for breakfast.
Can Diabetics Eat Bacon For Breakfast?
My short answer is, of course! You can eat bacon any time of day. But, indeed, how often and how much bacon you eat is different.
Best Type Of Bacon To Eat
Truthfully there isn’t a “best” bacon option to eat, but in moderation, you should be able to enjoy bacon as much as I do. Bacon just makes everything taste better.
Best Ways To Consume Bacon
I like to consume bacon as part of my healthy diet with fruit and vegetables at a meal. For example, I like BLT sandwiches with tomato and lettuce or bacon at breakfast with eggs and berries on the side.
Consuming bacon with fruit or veggies does a few things. For one, it improves cholesterol levels and increases antioxidants in the body. In addition, fruit and vegetables have fiber and phytosterols. Fiber, in particular, has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels.
Also, if you want to consume bacon, consider low salt options and keep your processed meat consumption to a minimum.
Cooking methods for bacon are also important. For example, pan-frying bacon and overcooking it releases nitrosamines linked to increased cancer risk.
Can Diabetics Eat Turkey Bacon?
Turkey bacon is a common substitute for pork bacon. Since turkey bacon has reduced fat, it might be a better option, depending on personal taste. But, again, this really depends on the product itself and how much bacon you consume.
Are There Healthier Alternatives To Bacon That Diabetics And Others Can Eat?
There are some better quality brands of bacon that small producers are making, so depending on your budget and convenience, you can indeed find them. When you shop online or head to the supermarket, here are a few steps you can take when purchasing bacon to eat whether as a diabetic or someone else.
Step 1 is to look for bacon with better preservatives. Nitrates, which are used to preserve bacon and give it is pink color, are an example of a preservative that can cause health issues, namely an increased cancer risk. In your body, nitrates turn into nitrites. However, as I previously mentioned, pan-frying bacon releases nitrosamines converted from nitrites, increasing cancer risk. So look for bacon that is made with natural preservatives.
Step 2 is to read food labels. Look for high salt content, and keep in mind that no more than 2.3g of salt should be consumed per day. Look for labels such as “No Nitrates Or Nitrites Added” or “Gluten-, MSG-, or Lactose-Free.”
Step 3 is to be realistic about bacon. It’s full of fat, so getting less fat and sodium means choosing a thinner cut. Choosing a thicker cut means the opposite.
Step 4 is to be aware of what the label, “uncured bacon” means. All bacon is cured in some way or another. Cured bacon just means it uses salt, sodium, and nitrates to preserve it. Uncured bacon uses celery and beets, so it might also have the label, “Sodium- or Nitrate-Free.”
Step 5 is to listen to the advice from the American Diabetes Association (ADA), which suggests substituting processed meat like bacon for higher-quality protein rich in omega-3s like fish, food lower in saturated fat such as nuts, seeds, avocados, and improving cooking methods.
Some Top Bacon Brands You Can Trust
Not all bacon brands are as good as others. Below are some that you can rely on:
- Nature’s Rancher Applewood Smoked Uncured Bacon – you can find this bacon at Whole Foods
- Vande Rose Farms Applewood Smoked Artisan Dry Cured Bacon – find it online or order from Instacart.
- Applegate Naturals Hickory Smoked Uncured Sunday Bacon – Walmart sells this brand.
- Market Pantry Hardwood Smoked Classic Cut Bacon – also found online and on Instacart from Sprout’s supermarket.
- Smithfield All Natural Uncured Hickory Smoked Bacon – Target and Safeway carry this, and it can be purchased online.
Searching for a quality brand might be more expensive than regular supermarket brands. How often and the amount of processed meat you consume makes the difference to your health and wallet. Ultimately, buy a brand that fits your budget.
What About Vegan Meat Substitutes For Bacon?
The food industry has made it significantly easier for plant-based eaters to find options that replace meat. However, before switching to plant-based substitutes, consider the type of protein and its ingredients.
If you’re looking at vegan meat to replace a protein source, you need to read the labels and understand what’s inside the product. It’s always best to consume the whole food source or homemade. Still, for convenience’s sake, some products could be okay occasionally.
Significant sources of plant proteins include:
- Beans and legumes
Plant protein does not contain all of the amino acids that animal proteins do. So vegans and vegetarians often combine various plant proteins to meet their body’s needs.
Other reasons to eat more plant proteins are:
- environmental sustainability
- increased fiber in plants which reduces cardiovascular disease, cholesterol, and diabetes
Keep in mind that you’ll still need to get enough protein each day.
An excellent way to meet your personal protein needs is to have protein at each meal.
The recommended daily allowance or RDA is 0.8g of protein per kilogram (1 kilogram equals 2.2 pounds) of body weight. This is a minimum just to sustain muscle in underactive and older populations.
If you exercise, you might need more protein. One study suggests that 1.2g – 1.6g of protein per kilogram is adequate, especially as you age. Protein also helps in appetite regulation, weight management, and athletic goals.
A 2018 review concluded that the RDA for protein might be insufficient though. So, on the one hand, the review suggests getting sufficient protein from plant-based sources is possible. But on the other hand, the study also suggests that plant protein isn’t as digestible as animal proteins.
These aren’t the only aspects of plant-based products to take into consideration though.
What To Pay Attention To In Plant-Based Products
If you’re on a specialized diet, you want to look out for plant-based products with gluten, dairy, corn, and soy. Avoid them, especially if you have a food allergy or intolerance.
Also, some meat substitutes might not be as meatless as you think, much less vegan. Some contain eggs, dairy, and natural flavors from animal enzymes like animal rennet.
Rennet is an enzyme that comes from a calf. This enzyme is used to coagulate milk during the process of making cheese. Nowadays, there are vegetarian rennet options.
Research Facts On Bacon And Type 2 Diabetes
According to the book, Diabetes in America, 3rd Edition, the average age of people with diabetes is 43 years old, and those diagnosed are mostly males.
Lead researcher, Renata Micha, from Harvard School of Public Health, in a 2010 study, found increased cases of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes in people who ate processed meats.
However, her team also found that heart disease and diabetes were not associated with unprocessed red meat consumption.
That is excellent news, especially if you love a grilled steak or burger. Keep in mind though that this is just one study.
Eating too many processed foods and too little fiber from plants increases instances of chronic diseases like diabetes. Fiber is important to control blood sugar, it helps reduce blood sugar spikes.
It’s also been noted that Type 2 diabetes is associated with:
According to the Diabetes Altas, it’s predicted that 537 million adults worldwide have diabetes. Unfortunately, this means higher health costs for diabetes management and millions of deaths.
In all honesty, I love bacon and include it as part of my diet once in a while. If you choose to eat bacon, my final recommendations for diabetics and others are to choose the best quality you can and eat some vegetables with it. Diabetics can eat bacon if they’re careful about it, but that doesn’t mean all bacon is created the same or that bacon is the healthiest protein choice.
Remember that fiber is important to reduce future disease risk as is eating less unprocessed foods. Also, continue to read food labels and identify the amount of salt, fat, and sugar a product has. Lastly, choose to cook bacon at lower temperatures and possibly in the oven to reduce the production of harmful chemicals.