Does it raise cholesterol levels?

A slice of uncooked bacon contains 18.5 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol. However, while researchers used to say that cholesterol from food directly raised cholesterol levels in the blood, they now believe the relationship is more complicated.

The above nutritional information comes from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Dietary cholesterol does not directly raise cholesterol levels in the blood. Instead, experts believe that saturated fat may be a more important factor. High cholesterol foods, including bacon, are usually also high in saturated fat.

For most people, it is safe to eat a variety of foods in moderation. But eating lots of bacon and other high fat, high sodium foods increases the risk of heart disease.

Read on to learn more about bacon cholesterol and its role in blood cholesterol.

According to the USDA, a 28-gram (g) serving of raw bacon contains about 18.5 mg of cholesterol. The exact amount depends on the brand, the amount a person eats, and how a person prepares the bacon. For example, cooking bacon in butter or oil will typically increase the cholesterol content.

Previously, scientists thought that eating dietary cholesterol in food resulted in higher blood cholesterol levels. Newer research suggests this is not the case.

According to a 2022 paper, dietary cholesterol does not significantly raise levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol. Its precise influence on blood cholesterol levels, if any, remains the subject of scientific debate.

However, saturated fat does raise LDL cholesterol levels. The saturated fat in bacon can raise cholesterol even if its cholesterol content does not.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that no more than 6–7% of calories come from saturated fat. For a person consuming 2,000 calories per day, this is equivalent to 120 calories, or around 13 g of saturated fat.

Bacon contains about 3.53 g of saturated fat per slice. This means that, for many adults, the amount of saturated fat in two slices of bacon would contribute significantly to the recommended daily limit.

In addition to its saturated fat content, there are several other ways bacon may impact cholesterol levels and cardiovascular health:

  • Sodium: Bacon is high in sodium. High levels of sodium in the diet can raise blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease.
  • Nitrites: Inorganic nitrites are a type of preservative that many companies use in pork products, including ham, sausages, and bacon. A 2019 review also shows an association between high consumption of nitrites and gastric cancer.
  • Calories: Although bacon typically comes in thin slices, it is calorie dense, containing 110 calories per uncooked slice. It is important to be aware of this when determining a serving size.

In moderation, most foods can be a part of a heart-healthy diet. However, as bacon contains a high amount of saturated fat and sodium, people should limit their intake.

People with no conditions should consider eating bacon health occasionally and in small quantities. For example, they can put shredded bacon in a sandwich or salad to add flavor. Grilling bacon with no additional cooking oils also reduces the amount of fat per serving.

Additionally, people may wish to look for nitrite-free bacon or choose nitrite-free alternatives. For example, some traditionally cured hams do not contain nitrites.

Otherwise, it is best to only exceed the daily recommendations for saturated fat occasionally. Doing so regularly raises the risk of cardiovascular disease.

People who have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or who are at risk of cardiovascular disease may need to avoid bacon entirely. A person should speak with a doctor or dietitian for more advice.

Bacon is high in cholesterol and saturated fat. While dietary cholesterol may not raise blood cholesterol levels, saturated fat can.

There are also other concerns with eating bacon. It is high in sodium, calorie-dense, and often contains nitrite preservatives. Research has found links between these preservatives and cancer.

People with no health conditions or who are at low risk for cardiovascular disease may wish to enjoy bacon in moderation on occasion. However, anyone who is concerned about their cholesterol levels should consult a doctor or dietitian.

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