Bacon can be good for you (and that's not an April fool)



11:34 GMT, 2 April 2012

The Saturday morning staple of a bacon or sausage sandwich has received a bashing of late. In January, researchers from Sweden claimed that eating just 50g (1.7oz) of processed meat a day – the equivalent of one sausage or two rashers of bacon – raises the risk of pancreatic cancer by a fifth.

And another study claimed that a diet high in these processed meats may also lead to bowel cancer and heart disease.

But, as nutritional experts attest, pork is the most unfairly maligned of meats and a few good-quality rashers or bangers could do us good, if eaten in moderation.

A few good quality rashers of bacon could do some good if eaten in moderation

A few good quality rashers of bacon could do some good if eaten in moderation

‘Pork has a bad reputation, mainly because it’s associated with cheap processed sausages, whose contents are largely unknown, or fatty bits of bacon and flavourings. But that reputation should not apply to products from outdoor-reared, well-nourished animals,’ says Kumud Gandhi, a food scientist and founder of The Cooking Academy.

Catherine Collins, principal dietician at St George’s Hospital London, says: ‘Bacon, sausages and other processed pork products have sodium nitrite added as a preservative and flavour-enhancer, giving them their salty flavour.

‘But this chemical can form a carcinogenic substance called nitrosamine in the digestive system, which may be the reason the Swedish study found a small cancer risk, although it’s far from conclusive.

‘The people in the Swedish study wouldn’t have just been eating a sausage once a day – they will have been eating a whole fry-up. Someone with this kind of lifestyle may well be obese or smoke, which are big known risk factors for pancreatic cancer,’ says Collins.

‘There is no evidence that eating processed meats once or twice a week as part of a balanced diet will do any harm whatsoever.’

Department of Health guidelines suggest that red-meat consumption of more than 70g (2 oz) per day, the equivalent of two portions a week, may raise the risk of bowel cancer.

Collins says: ‘As a red meat, pork contains haem iron, which is thought to be potentially carcinogenic. Two portions a week – bacon with eggs, or a meal with sausages – has not been found to pose any risk. Studies have also shown that if you blacken any meat, the charred substance could be cancer-causing, but if you eat ‘barbecued’ sausages with yogurt, the bacteria it contains renders these carcinogens less harmful.’

Nutritionally, pork ranks highly among meats. It is rich in essential vitamins and minerals, including B6, B12, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc, and it’s high in protein, contains carbohydrates and a lean cut is low in fat and calories.

Knowing where your meat comes from and what has been done to is key to its quality and nutritional value

Knowing where your meat comes from and what has been done to is key to its quality and nutritional value

If you don’t eat fish or nuts, pork is a useful alternative source of omega 3 fatty acids, says Gandhi. ‘A piece of loin pork, the size of a deck of cards (100g, 3oz), will give half your daily protein intake and 15 per cent of your daily iron intake. Protein is important for children, so if you give them two good-quality sausages made from outdoor-reared, toxin-free pork and which contain 90 per cent pork meat, that’s a good, nutritious meal.’

Pork is also a source of zinc and Vitamin D. ‘If you are worried about nitrites, choose a sausage with a higher meat content – more than 80 per cent – or a brand of bacon without added water, as these will need fewer flavour enhancers,’ says dietician Anna Raymond.

Rachel Green, of BBC3’s Kill It, Cook It, Eat It, says: ‘Buy free-range pork sausages from butchers or farm shops. I like to use more mature, flavoursome rare-breed porks such as Gloucestershire Old Spot or Tamworth. With bacon, look for British dry-cured for the healthiest cuts.’

Knowing where your meat comes from and what has been done to it is key to its quality and nutritional value. Michael Jones, owner of Drings butchers in Greenwich, London, says: ‘If you get a good piece of bacon, which hasn’t been cloaked in sugar and fat, it’s just a good piece of meat that is tasty, nutritious and ethical too.’