The popularity of bacon is indisputable. The salty pork can be found on just about anything at any time of the day – from the traditional breakfast plate to salads to pizza to desserts. In fact, it isn’t hard to find a bacon milkshake.

In the wake of the recent elections, a popular meme on social media demanded, “Less Politics. More Bacon.” In 2015, the New Hampshire Lottery launched a bacon-scented scratch-n-sniff game ticket called “I Heart Bacon,” leveraging the tempting aroma to boost sales.

But no matter how you slice it, bacon has an ugly side – especially for advocates of healthy eating.

“As a dietitian, I don’t like to color food in terms of good and bad,” says University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center registered dietitian Lisa Cimperman, MS, RDN, LD. “But the bottom line on bacon is that it is about 68 percent fat, and about half of that is saturated fat, which is the kind of fat that raises cholesterol levels, clogs your arteries and contributes to heart disease. So in that sense, it’s not the best choice of meat.”

Along with bacon’s high saturated fat content, Cimperman warns, it’s also a processed meat.

“The International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization has classified processed meat as a carcinogen,” she says. “You can increase your risk of developing colon cancer by 18 percent by eating 50 grams of processed meat per day. That’s the equivalent of four strips of bacon.”

The message to bring home, Cimperman cautions, is that bacon and other processed meats are foods that you may not want to consume on a daily basis.

“Like most things, moderation is the key,” she says. “If you’re using bacon as an occasional garnish – and limiting yourself to two strips maybe once a week – that’s different from loading up your plate on a regular basis.”

If you can’t resist more frequent servings, Cimperman says there are some ways to mitigate the health risks of bacon – at least a little:

Try preparing it with a method that allows for removal of some fat, such as cooking it in a microwave, on a paper towel that absorbs some of the grease. Or try baking it in the oven on a rack that allows some fat to drip off.

Substitute other less fatty cuts of pork. They may not taste exactly like bacon, Cimperman says, but lean cuts of pork can be excellent sources of protein.

Canadian bacon – which actually looks more like ham than bacon – is another option for people who want to have a breakfast meat on their plate.

Be careful of imitation bacon made from turkey, Cimperman says.

“Turkey bacon is also a processed meat that is high in sodium, and because of the perception that it’s healthier, people tend to eat more of it,” she says.

“Having two strips of real bacon may be better than eating larger portions of turkey bacon.”

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