Ready to eat
It seems we just can’t resist bacon. Sales for bacon have held steady in spite of the fact that most people believe it is the most dangerous of all foods. It is a guilty pleasure that borders on addiction and the Kryptonite that has weakened the resolve of many a vegetarian.
The basis for our fear of cured meats rests on some misconceptions about the nature of nitrites/nitrates. Did you know that one serving of arugula, two servings of butterhead lettuce, or four servings of celery contain the same amount of nitrites as 468 servings of bacon? Or that the saliva in your mouth contains more than any of them?
Our own saliva provides 80 percent of our total exposure to nitrites and vegetables are our main source of nitrites from foods. This is not surprising considering that nitrites occur naturally in plants as a result of the nitrogen cycle where nitrogen is fixed by bacteria. The soil and everything that grows in it is full of nitrogen and the air we breath is 78% nitrogen.
To see if people could be getting too many nitrites from vegetables, the Scientific Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain of the EFSA (European Safety Authority) compiled the results from 20 its member states and Norway on the nitrite levels in produce. The report was published in the June 5, 2008, EFSA Journal. Here are some of the average levels they found: arugula, 4,677 ppm (parts per million); butter head lettuce, 2,026 ppm; beets, 1,279 ppm; celery, 1,103 ppm; hot dogs or processed meat, 10 ppm. (1)
So why the bad rap for bacon? Back in the ’50s, some babies were sickened by formula made with contaminated well water. The effect was blamed on the high concentration of nitrites in the wells and the EPA set its Maximum Contaminant Level for nitrate in water at 44 mg/L based on the findings. The nitrate in the offending wells came from fecal contamination. It is now thought that the problem was not caused by nitrates but by the fecal bacteria that infected the infants. (2)
In the 1970s, a small study of rats done at MIT started the nitrites-cause-cancer scare. The National Academy of Sciences reviewed the scientific data in 1981 and found no link between nitrates or nitrites and human cancers. Since then, more than 50 studies have investigated a possible link and found no association. Even more surprising, scientific evidence is building that nitrates are actually good for us. They are produced in our bodies in greater amounts than we eat in food and nitrate is important for maintaining healthy immune and cardiovascular systems. It is being studied as a treatment for high blood pressure, heart attacks, sickle cell disease, and circulatory problems. Some researchers argue that the strength of the evidence linking the consumption of nitrates/nitrites to health benefits supports the consideration of these compounds as nutrients. (3)
“The public perception is that nitrite/nitrate are carcinogens, but they are not. …If nitrite and nitrate were harmful to us, then we would not be advised to eat green leafy vegetables or swallow our own saliva….”~~Dr. Nathan Bryan, Ph.D., the University of Texas, Houston, whose research has unveiled many beneficial effects of nitrite
“It is undisputed that nitrate ingestion widens arteries. Bacteria in the mouth and gut reduce nitrate to nitrite, which is then converted by nitric oxide synthase into the endothelium-derived relaxing factor nitric oxide. That is why sublingual nitrate can resolve an episode of angina pectoris. There is also some evidence that nitrate reduces blood pressure.” (4)
So what about those expensive nitrite-free, uncured hot dogs, bacon, and hams being sold as healthful alternatives? They use natural sources like celery, beets, and sea salt for the same chemical and some of them have more of it than conventionally cured meats. A chemical is still the same chemical no matter where it comes from.
So if you are convinced that bacon is not evil, here’s a new way to cook it. America’s Test Kitchen deserves the credit for the idea for cooking it under water so that it is evenly cooked and tender, but a few slices in a skillet doesn’t do it for me. We can polish off a whole pound in a day. And doing it my way makes bacon that is straight and flat and not a bumpy tangle. (ATK’s video is at the end of this post.)
Like anyone from the South, I have fond memories of the red Folger’s coffee can that sat on the back of every stove for catching the bacon drippin’s. The grease was as valuable as the bacon; it was a good stable fat used for frying and making red eye gravy and for seasoning beans and greens.
My mother would heat a generous amount of bacon grease in an iron skillet when she made cornbread. I remember how the batter sizzled when it hit the hot pan and how the bread came out all crusty and smoky.* When she made biscuits, she heated bacon fat in the pan and turned each one over to coat it before she put them in the oven. Then we buttered them while they were hot~no skimping on good, natural fats! (Mom always worried that her kids were too skinny.)
1 pound good quality, thick-sliced bacon
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a sheet pan with sides at least 1/2-inch high or line it with parchment paper. (Don’t overload the pan or the grease may overflow.)
Lay bacon strips flat in pan. Pour water over bacon to almost cover. Place pan in oven and cook for 10 minutes. The water should be boiling at this point. Turn heat down to 350 degrees F and continue to cook for another 10 to 20 minutes or until the water has boiled off and the bacon starts to sizzle. Turn bacon and cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes or until crisped to your liking. Cooking time will vary according to oven, thickness of bacon, altitude, and other factors, but it should take a total of about 35 to 45 minutes.
You can take the bacon out of the oven a little early and refrigerate or freeze some for later, if you like. Place it between parchment-lined pieces of foil and crimp the edges tightly. When ready to use, remove the desired number of strips and heat them in a skillet or in the microwave until crisp.
2 strips contain: Fat: 6g, Carbs: 0, Protein: 6, Fiber: 0g
*A low-carb version of my mother’s cornbread is in Carb Wars; Sugar is the New Fat. My gluten-free Yogurt Biscuits taste a lot like her buttermilk biscuits. The recipe is here.
“I love bacon. I eat it every day. I don’t feel as old as I am. That’s all I can say.” ~ Pearl Cantrell, age 105
1. Scientific Documents Nitrite in vegetables-Scientific Opinion of the Panel on Contaminants in the Food chain, 5 June 2008.
2. Martijn B Katan. Nitrate in foods: harmful or healthy? Am J of Clin Nutr, July 2009 vol. 90 no. 1 11-12. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/90/1/11.full
3. Hord NG, Tang Y, Bryan NS. Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits. Am J Clin Nutr 2009;90:1–10. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/90/1/1.abstract?ijkey=9b532a623bec492c38586e268e355998986bb95a&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha
4. Reshma S. Baliga, PhD, et al. Dietary Nitrate Ameliorates Pulmonary Hypertension; Cytoprotective Role for Endothelieal Nitric Oxide Synthase and Xanthine Oxidoreductase. Circulation (American Heart Association) http://circ.ahajournals.org/search?author1=Suborno+M.+Ghosh&sortspec=date&submit=Submit
(c) 2013, Judy Barnes Baker, www.carbwarsblog.comhttp://www.carbwarsblog.com