With the growing interest in living a healthier lifestyle, many people are looking for lower-fat alternatives to their favorite foods. Bacon is a staple breakfast food for many, but it is also high in fat and calories. Turkey bacon has emerged as a popular alternative, but is it actually healthier?
There are some clear nutritional differences between pork bacon and turkey bacon. Let’s look at the numbers (based on 2 slices):
|Saturated Fat (g)
As you can see, turkey bacon is lower in total fat, saturated fat, and calories. A serving of turkey bacon contains roughly 70 fewer calories and 3 fewer grams of fat compared to regular pork bacon. If you eat bacon frequently, these small differences could add up to meaningful calorie and fat savings over time.
Lower Saturated Fat
One of the biggest health concerns with bacon is its high saturated fat content. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to no more than 5-6% of total daily calories. Eating too much saturated fat raises LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels in the blood, increasing risk of heart disease.
Turkey bacon contains roughly half the saturated fat of pork bacon, making it a better choice for heart health. The white meat from poultry also tends to be lower in saturated fat compared to red meats like pork.
Higher Sodium Content
On the flip side, turkey bacon contains significantly more sodium. Per slice, turkey bacon has about 130 mg more sodium than regular pork bacon. For someone watching their salt intake, this is an important consideration.
The high sodium content of turkey bacon is not surprising. Like many processed meats, sodium is added during manufacturing for flavor and as a preservative. If minimizing sodium is a priority, fresh meats like pork loin or chicken breast would be healthier choices.
Nutritional Value Depends on Ingredients
It’s important to read ingredient labels, because nutritional content can vary significantly between brands of turkey bacon. While turkey meat is naturally lean, manufacturers add other ingredients like oils, sweeteners, and preservatives during processing. For example:
- Some turkey bacons are injected with broths or turkey fats, increasing the fat and calorie content.
- Sweeteners like sugar, honey, or maple syrup are added to some brands, but not others.
- Preservatives like sodium nitrite are commonly used in processed meats like bacon and linked to health risks.
When comparing brands, look for turkey bacon with the fewest additives and lowest sodium content. Minimal processing will provide the greatest nutritional benefits.
Other Differences in Nutrition
Here are some other nutritional factors to consider when comparing turkey bacon versus pork bacon:
The protein content is similar. Both turkey and pork bacon have about 5 grams of protein per slice.
Vitamins and Minerals
Pork contains more B vitamins like niacin, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12. It also contains more minerals like zinc and iron compared to poultry.
Turkey contains zero dietary cholesterol while pork contains about 15-20 mg per slice. However, dietary cholesterol has less of an impact on blood cholesterol levels compared to saturated fat.
Calories from Fat
About 93% of calories in pork bacon come from fat, versus about 45% of calories in turkey bacon. The extra lean turkey meat is the reason for the lower fat calorie percentage.
Is Turkey Bacon Processed?
Yes, turkey bacon undergoes significant processing to give it a similar look and taste to pork bacon:
- The raw turkey meat is ground and molded to resemble pork bacon strips.
- Preservatives like sodium nitrite are added.
- Smoking and added flavorings replicate the taste.
- Turkey skin may be added for fat to mimic fatty pork bacon.
Even without pork, the amount of processing means it is not a “natural” fresh meat like turkey breast. However, it is less processed than “imitation” turkey bacon made from soy proteins rather than actual turkey meat.
Health Concerns Over Processed Meats
Heavy processing is concerning, because research consistently links consumption of processed meats with health risks:
- Increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
- Higher risk of death from all causes.
Possible reasons for the negative health impact of processed meats include:
- Cancer-causing compounds formed during high heat cooking.
- High sodium content may increase blood pressure.
- Preservatives like sodium nitrite can convert into carcinogenic compounds in the body.
- High amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol.
Turkey bacon may be somewhat healthier than pork bacon due to its lower fat content. However, the high amount of processing is still a nutritional concern.
Taste, Texture, and Cooking Differences
For many people, health impacts aside, taste and texture also factor into their bacon preferences.
Turkey bacon has a stronger poultry flavor compared to the rich, smoky taste of pork bacon. Whether this is positive or negative comes down to personal taste preferences.
Pork bacon is fattier with a tender, chewy texture. Turkey bacon is leaner with a firm, snappy texture similar to deli turkey meat. Some people dislike the drier texture of turkey bacon.
Due to its leanness, turkey bacon needs lower heat and less cooking time to avoid becoming too crispy or dried out. Turkey bacon tends to shrink more during cooking as well.
Ounce for ounce, turkey bacon costs at least twice as much as pork bacon on average. However, because turkey bacon is so much lower in fat, you may need less to feel satiated.
Research shows that pork production has a greater negative environmental impact compared to poultry:
- 5-10 times more land use needed for pork versus poultry.
- 2 times the water consumption for pork.
- 5 times higher water pollution from pork.
- 3 times more fossil fuels required for pork.
Therefore, turkey bacon may be a better choice for the environment compared to standard pork bacon.
Is turkey bacon healthier than normal bacon?
Compared to pork bacon, turkey bacon is lower in calories, total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. However, it contains far more sodium. Whether turkey bacon is ultimately healthier depends on your priorities – heart health, sodium intake, cancer risk from processed meats, etc.
For maximum health, minimize consumption of all processed meats including turkey bacon. But if you indulge in bacon occasionally, turkey bacon has some advantages nutritionally over pork. Just be sure to compare brands and choose turkey bacon made with minimal additives and processing.