Is Turkey Bacon Healthy? A Nutritionist's Advice

This is how turkey bacon compares to its pork counterpart.

As a nutritionist, some of my clients ask me if turkey bacon is a better alternative to traditional pork-based bacon. Many are concerned about health issues related to conventional bacon—including the increased risk of cancer that's associated with processed red meat. People often assume turkey bacon is a healthier choice because it isn't red meat. Here's the lowdown on what turkey bacon is and whether it's a healthier option.

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What Is Turkey Bacon?

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines turkey bacon as a product made by combining minced or chopped smoked turkey with seasonings, coloring, and preservatives. The mixture is then formed into bacon-like strips.

Some turkey bacon products may also contain other meats, like pork, according to the USDA. Therefore, if you're looking for gobbler-only strips, be sure to check the ingredients list.

Turkey Bacon Nutrition

Turkey bacon isn't all that different from conventional bacon when it comes to nutritional content. The USDA lists the nutrients in one slice of microwave turkey bacon:

Calories 29.80 calories
Fat 2.10 grams
Cholesterol 12.40 milligrams
Sodium 164 milligrams
Carbohydrates <1 gram
Fiber 0 grams
Protein 2.39 grams

One slice of turkey bacon also has 164 milligrams (mg) of sodium—which is about 7% of the maximum recommended daily intake for healthy adults.

Comparatively, the same-size portion of pork bacon provides roughly 40 calories, 3 g of fat, 3.5 g of protein, no carbs or fiber, and 162 mg of sodium. The real health difference between the two is that pork is red meat and turkey is not.

Processed Meat and Cancer Risk

Red meat and processed meat increase the risk of cancer, primarily colorectal cancer. In fact, the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that everyone limit or avoid eating red meat and processed meats due to their association with cancer. While turkey bacon is not red meat, it is processed meat—so it's best to limit your consumption of turkey bacon too.

Researchers aren't completely sure why processed meats and red meats increase cancer risk, but there are some theories, according to the World Health Organization:

  • The addition of nitrates/nitrites: Research has found that these can form cancer-causing compounds in humans.
  • Smoking the meat: The smoking process produces a carcinogen (cancer-causing chemical) called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
  • Cooking the meat at high temperatures: This can trigger the production of substances called heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which can harm DNA, thereby increasing the risk of cancerous mutations.
  • The presence of heme iron: Found in high amounts in red meat, it may damage cells that line the colon, increasing the risk that these cells become cancerous.

Most turkey bacon is made with added nitrates, smoked and cooked at a high temperature, and contains some heme iron—although in smaller amounts than pork.

Healthy Tips for Eating Bacon

No one food can make or break the healthfulness of your diet. If you just can't forego bacon, here are tips for eating this meat in healthier ways:

  • Opt for nitrate-free turkey bacon: For those who don't want to give up meat-based bacon, look for brands without added nitrates, such as Applegate Farms uncured turkey bacon. It's also leaner, packs more protein, and has slightly less sodium.
  • Choose plant-based bacon: If you want to further reduce potential health risks associated with processed meats, try plant-based bacon alternatives, like those from the brand Hooray Foods. However, plant-based bacon does contain almost 12% of your daily value of sodium, so stick to just a few strips.
  • Enjoy bacon in moderation: Regardless of which type of bacon you choose, reserve it for special occasions like holidays or birthday brunches.
  • Eat whole foods: Pair bacon with nutrient-rich foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Serve BLTs on whole grain bread with fresh tomatoes, lettuce, and avocado in place of mayo, for example.
  • Stay hydrated: All bacon, including turkey bacon, is high in sodium, and a high sodium intake over time increases blood pressure and raises heart disease and stroke risk, according to the American Heart Association. Drink plenty of water when eating bacon to offset sodium's effects on blood pressure.
  • Consume potassium: Potassium-rich foods, like avocados or bananas, will also help manage the effects of sodium, according to the American Heart Association. Aim for 4,200 mg of this mineral a day.

The Takeaway on Turkey Bacon

If you can't give up meat-based bacon, turkey bacon is likely healthier for you than conventional bacon because it is not red meat. However, it's still processed meat. If you love turkey bacon and want to keep eating it, stick to small portions, pair it with nutrient-rich foods, and choose nitrate-free versions.

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