It looks like it’s bacon week here at Tuit Nutrition. (And there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that!) As a follow-up to Monday’s post about bacon from “100% vegetarian fed” pigs, with no added nitrates, let’s dive a little deeper into this salty, smoky, sweet, and darn near intoxicating food.
Generally speaking, I like to think I'm a pretty intelligent gal. I recognize, however, that there are some subjects that render me a complete eejit. All mathematics beyond your basic algebra comes immediately to mind, as does anything you might find in a high school physics textbook. I am not at all above admitting that I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer. However, on subjects about which I am truly passionate, I’d like to think what I know exceeds that which I do not know. Until recently, I had thought this was true regarding my knowledge of bacon. But I was wrong! I had a revelation about bacon a few days ago, and at the risk of exposing what a total moron I am, I thought I’d share it here on the blog, in case anyone out there is even slower than I am, and hasn’t yet had this epiphany. (Good thing there are only four people reading. Chances are, all four of you learned this long ago, and the only useful thing you’ll gain from this post is a hearty guffaw, at my expense.)
Okay. Maybe I’m late to this party, and if so, I’ll just don my dunce cap and head off to go sit in the corner. But really, if it’s taken me this long to realize something pretty neat about bacon, then I have to figure there are others wandering around out there, ignorant of this very cool thing.
Like I mentioned in the previous post, I hadn’t been eating much bacon. But now that it’s reclaimed its proper place of prominence in my diet, I’ve had the opportunity to really look at bacon. Now, we all know bacon is fatty. That’s part of what makes it delicious. And you’ll recall from some of my very first blog posts (back even before I had my cherished four readers), that bacon—and pork fat, in general—is high in lovely, chemically stable, saturated fat, but it is even higher in monounsaturated fat. To be specific, the particular monounsaturated fatty acid it is high in is oleic acid. That’s right, the same one the conventional wisdom “diet dictocrats” are always encouraging us to consume in the form of olive oil. (So yeah: move over, heart-healthy Mediterranean diet. Make room for heart-healthy bacon!)
But you know what else bacon has a lot of? Connective tissue! Seriously! I can’t believe I never realized this before, but bacon is a great source of some of the amino acids that tend to be lower in muscle meats, such as glycine. In fact, until now, I had always mistaken this beautiful, nourishing, important connective “stuff” to be fat. It is not.
Here’s what I’m talking about.
It's the "stuff" that isn't meat, but
clearly isn't fat, either, 'cuz
it didn't render off.
Here’s how this finally dawned on me. See, I was cooking bacon, and when it was done, I removed the fat to a glass container, which I keep in the fridge to use for cooking. (After spending two weeks helping out at her farm, I can tell you that Sally Fallon, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, stores hers the traditional, time-honored way: in an old metal coffee can!) But left on the bacon strips I was about to eat, along with what was clearly pork belly meat, there was this soft, rubbery, chewy, clear-ish stuff. Like I said, I had always thought this was fat. But after a lifetime of eating bacon, it occurred to me, for the very first time, that if that stuff were fat, it would have melted/rendered off with the rest of the fat. But it didn’t. It wasn’t sitting in the pan, liquefied, as was the rest of the fat. It remained in solid form, if a little rubbery and gelatinous in texture. And this reminded me of what I pointed out waaay down at the bottom of this post about beef shanks: the clear, rubbery stuff we think is fat, is actually super-nourishing connective tissue. (Picture here, with arrows indicating to the stuff I’m talking about.) Again, if it were fat, it would have rendered out with the rest of the tallow.
And this got me thinking even more.
We all know bacon is absolutely and utterly delicious. Except possibly for pregnant women with temporary food aversions, the smell of bacon cooking entices just about every single human being on the planet. (‘Cuz science, folks!) And while I reject a great deal of the theories surrounding “palatability” and “food reward” in the etiology of obesity, there’s no denying that bacon is one of the most rewarding and highly palatable foods there is. It’s salty, sweet, fatty, smoky, and sometimes crispy. It’s delicious hot or cold. It hits all the gustatory bells & whistles, lighting up the mouth and brain like a 1980’s pinball machine.
So it’s no surprise that bacon is frequently the “gateway food” (drug?) that brings vegans back to eating animal foods. But what if there’s more to this oft-observed phenomenon than just how insanely tasty cured pork belly is? See, if my revelation is correct, and bacon does contain a fair bit of connective tissue, then maybe vegetarians and vegans start with bacon because it’s a good source of some of the specific amino acids plant-heavy (and plant only) diets are low in?
I'm reading Nourishing Broth, and learning more about the importance (and darn near magical healing properties) of the myriad components of old school broth, or, more specifically, the parts & pieces that go into broth: bones, skin, joints, hooves, and other pieces of animals that are rich in collagen and cartilage. These parts & pieces contain amino acids, glycoproteins, and sulfurous compounds that are building blocks for maintaining, repairing, and strengthening our own bones, skin, joints, and connective tissue. They’re good for what ails ya’. It’s not for nothing that my beloved ancestors called gelatin-rich chicken soup “Jewish penicillin.” (And remember, whether we’re talking chicken stock or stock made from beef, pork, seafood, or any other animal, we’re talking about a long-simmered concoction made from all those gnarly bits & pieces, and not the crap you get in bouillon cubes, which are basically nothing but salt, fat, and mystery “seasonings.” These do not contain the healing elements. Chinese people who love eating chicken feet know what they’re doing.)
But it’s not just vegans & vegetarians who might benefit from these compounds. The amino acids and other substances connective tissues provide tend to be low in the modern diet overall, even among omnivores. This might not be as true of people engaging in nose-to-tail cooking, where eating organ meat, skin, and making authentic bone stock is encouraged. But for the average person, who buys only boneless & skinless chicken, and who eschews gelatinous cuts, such as beef shanks, beef tongue, oxtails, and ham hocks, and who avoids pork rinds like the plague (mostly because we think of them as a “low class” snack, rather than appreciating them for what they actually are—pure pigskin protein gems loaded with glycine), they could probably use a little extra connective tissue love, too.
And maybe this is some of the reason for bacon’s popularity, even among those not following low-carb, Paleo, or Primal diets. I mean, I don’t know anyone, regardless of dietary preferences (save for vegans, vegetarians, and folks who keep kosher or halal), who doesn’t love bacon. So, if bacon is one of the few (if not only) foods people regularly consume that supplies these critical elements, then maybe, somehow, our bodies instinctively sense that we need them. (Not that I buy into the “cravings are a sign of what your body needs” thing. If this were true, then about 20 years ago, I would have had a raging sour cream & onion potato chip deficiency.)
So you can buy powdered gelatin and collagen supplements, and add them to your food or protein shake, or you can EAT MOAR BACON. I’m not kidding. If bacon really is high in these valuable components, then it is not an exaggeration to call bacon both a health food and a beauty food. That connective “stuff” is good for our insides and our outsides. I’ve already mentioned bones, joints, tendons, and ligaments. But let’s not forget blood vessels, which are also made from collagen, plus hair, skin, and nails. Ladies, want a cheap beauty remedy? Gelatin.
For the full details on the nutrition & beauty benefits of foods rich in connective-tissue, and how these foods have disappeared from the modern food supply, revisit this post and scroll down to the paragraph that starts with, “But here’s the REAL bang for your buck with beef shanks.”
In closing, do me a favor, everyone. Next time you cook bacon, take a look at a few strips and tell me if I’m crazy and completely wrong, or if I’m correct, and just very late to this party for an otherwise smart person.
When you look at a pork belly, it becomes more obvious that
there’s more than just the muscle meat and fat.
Remember: Amy Berger, M.S., NTP, is not a physician and Tuit Nutrition, LLC, is not a medical practice. The information contained on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical condition.