Bacon recipes that won't wreck your diet

Published on April 05 2012 - 2:52 PM
Bacon Recipes That Won't Wreck Your Diet

While I do not eat bacon often, I happily enjoy it every once in a while with a stack of pancakes or in a Cobb salad. Unfortunately a recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that eating red meat, including processed meats like bacon, can lead to increased risk of cancer and heart disease. Processed meats, in particular, were called out in the study for their high levels of saturated fat, sodium and nitrites.

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While I won't be giving up bacon for good (sorry, Harvard), I will definitely be eating it smarter. Here are my tips for healthier ways to cook with bacon that won't wreck your diet-and are better for your heart health.

1. Only Use a Little: Since bacon packs a lot of flavor, a little goes a long way. With this in mind, I add a little bit of bacon (about two ounces for every four people I am feeding) to dishes where you want something a little salty and smoky. Along those lines, a smidge of bacon is a great addition to soups, stews, braises and quick sauces. I typically add it right at the beginning of cooking, along with my aromatic vegetables (onions, carrots, celery, garlic).

Another trick, which is especially useful when making meatloaf, is to finely chop a moderate amount of bacon (again, about 2 ounces for every four people) and knead it, raw, into my meat mix instead of covering the meatloaf with overlapping strips of bacon.

Healthy Bacon Recipe to Try: In our hearty Wine & Tomato Braised Chicken recipe you cook 4 slices of bacon (about half an ounce of bacon per person) until crisp. Then, you drain all but 2 tablespoons of the rendered fat to sauté your aromatic vegetables-onions and garlic-creating a delicious base for the chicken, wine and tomatoes to stew in. With just that bit of bacon, you will infuse the finished dish with a hint of deliciously meaty-salty bacon flavor without adding too much sodium or saturated fat.

2. Cook Bacon Until It's Crispy: Some folks like their bacon super-crispy. Others like it chewy. Going forward, remember that crispy bacon is healthier than chewy bacon. Here's why: the more fat you cook out of each strip of bacon-by rendering the fat slowly away with heat-the less fat you will consume.

Healthy Bacon Recipe to Try: This BLT Salad combines cubes of oven-toasted country wheat bread with tomatoes, crunchy romaine lettuce and a scattering of crispy bacon bits.

3. Drain Bacon to Remove Extra Fat: Cool cooked bacon on a plate lined with fat-absorbing paper towels or flattened-out paper grocery bags. The more fat that is absorbed by the paper towels or paper, the less fat you will consume.

Healthy Bacon Recipe to Try: In our Warm Potato Salad with Bacon-Mustard Dressing, bacon cools on a paper-towel-lined plate while mustard and vinegar are whisked together with a tiny bit of the bacon fat to make an amazing dressing.

4. Microwave Bacon Instead of Frying It: My mother never cooked bacon in a skillet on the stovetop. Instead, she cooked it in the microwave using her "bacon plate"-a large square platter with deep grooves and a well around the perimeter. Turns out she was onto something: The bacon rests on the grooves, which catch all the fat that drains from the bacon as it cooks. A bonus of this method-less mess to clean up. If you don't have one of these, just sandwich your bacon between layers of paper towels before microwaving.

Related: 7 Unexpected Uses for Your Microwave

Healthy Bacon Recipe to Try: Try out this technique in any of our recipes, such as our Seven-Layer Salad, which calls for cooked bacon as one of the ingredients. In this Southwest-inspired salad, layers of lettuce, peas and bell peppers are topped with a creamy, garlicky dressing, reduced-fat Cheddar cheese and crumbled, cooked bacon.

Emily McKenna has been a recipe tester and developer in the EatingWell Test Kitchen and has worked at Food & Wine Magazine, food52.com and Real Simple Magazine. She is a recent convert to the glories of kale and has a weakness for doughnuts, strawberry licorice and anything her Italian-American grandmother makes, especially pizza.