Increased bacon sales amplify health concerns


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Bacon sales rose to $4 billion in 2013

By Assistant Sports & Health Editor

The boom of bacon sales in the U.S. may benefit the meat industry but could be bad for the nation’s health.

Bacon sales among top meat vendors reached nearly $4 billion last year, a 9.5 percent increase from the previous year, according to a Jan. 26 report by market research company Information Resources, Inc. Vendors such as Hormel Foods and Wright Brand showed increases of up to 24 percent, the report showed.

The increase may have a negative effect on the overall health of Americans, though, according to Francene Steinberg, professor of nutrition at the University of California, Davis.

Bacon is high in sodium, Steinberg said, which is problematic for people with high blood pressure who need to watch their salt intake or weight. Bacon is also high in saturated, animal-based fat, which is more harmful compared to unsaturated fats, Steinberg said.

“It’s high in fat, which means it’s high in calories,” Steinberg said. “If people are trying to watch their weight, [bacon consumption] could be an issue.”

But bacon is not always as nutrionally harmful as it may seem depending on how it is cooked, said Andy Hanacek, editor-in-chief of The National Provisioner Magazine, a trade publication that follows the meat industry. Frying bacon in a pan allows it to sit in its own grease and fat and absorb those compounds, but when bacon is cooked on something with a drain such as a griddle, the grease runs off, Hanacek said.

However, Steinberg and Hanacek both said bacon should be consumed in moderation regardless of how it is prepared. Frequent consumption can contribute to high sodium, caloric and saturated fat intake, which could lead to cardiovascular disease, Steinberg said.

“Based on bacon’s nutritional information, it’s not as bad as it seems as long as you’re not eating a pound at one sitting,” Hanacek said.

When bacon is consumed frequently and in large quantities, it can contribute to obesity, high blood pressure and other chronic diseases that are rampant in the U.S., Steinberg said.

“Bacon is not necessarily the cause of all of these health problems, but it can make associated symptoms worse,” Steinberg said.

The increase of bacon sales could be attributed to the meat’s versatility, Hanacek said, adding it is a protein that can easily balance or enhance the flavor of dishes.

“It’s far from a silver bullet in product development, but it sure has become a popular solution to a lot of the needs and desires of products … and chefs,” Hanacek said.

The convenience of bacon production may have also contributed to the increase in sales, according to Scott Carlson, chief executive officer of Westin Packaged Meats. Twenty-five years ago, bacon was only sold raw, but now it is cooked for consumers in various flavors and thicknesses so it can be used in various recipes, he said.

But it is not just the meat that is being marketed. It is the flavor, too. There are a number of bacon products such as bacon vodka and chocolate-covered bacon that play into the recent bacon trend, Hanacek said. The number of festivals and celebrations of all things bacon have multiplied across the country, but the food’s popularity is just a trend, Steinberg said.

Baconfest Chicago is scheduled for April 25–26 and tickets, priced at $200, will be on sale Feb. 24, according to the Baconfest website. Steinberg urges consumers to remember moderation.

“If people only eat it occasionally and in small amounts, it’s not necessarily seen as a major problem,” Steinberg said. “It really goes back to moderation—how much and how frequently.”