5-MINUTE EXPERT:

Joy by the strip: The nation’s bacon obsession just won’t quit

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Sun, Jul 16, 2017 (2 a.m.)

Healthier alternatives

Turkey bacon and center-cut pork bacon are lower in fat and saturated fat than regular bacon.

But sometimes bacon is better: Two links of sausage have more calories and fat than three strips of bacon.

Its own religion

The Church of Bacon is actually a collective of skeptics and atheists. While it doesn’t claim tax-exempt status or accept donations, it does perform weddings and funerals (and the occasional protest). In the past, they have purchased local billboards declaring: “Bacon is our God. Because bacon is real.”

Savory, smoky, salty, slightly sweet. Bacon makes everything better!

The average American eats 18 pounds annually — in salads, on burgers, swirled in ice cream and straight up. Just under 5.8 billion strips of bacon are consumed each year in the United States.

What makes it so delicious? How did it transform from a menu item into a pop culture phenomenon? Just how guilty is this pleasure?

We give you the skinny on this fatty favorite.

Why we love it

Yes, bacon is delicious. But it also can be addictive. A 2010 study published in Nature Neuroscience found that bacon and other high-fat foods affect the brain in similar ways as cocaine and heroin. Rats that binged on bacon overloaded the pleasure centers of their brains and needed increasing amounts of bacon to later achieve the same high.

Is it unhealthy? Yes.

• A whopping 68 percent of bacon’s calories come from fat, almost half of which is saturated. Just 1 ounce of bacon can contain up to 30 milligrams of cholesterol. The recommended daily intake of dietary cholesterol for the average healthy person is about 300 milligrams per day.

• Eating foods rich in saturated fats, especially those high in dietary cholesterol, can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

• In addition, not only is bacon considered a red meat, it’s also a processed meat, and no amount of processed meat is considered safe to eat, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research.

• The good news? A little bacon goes a long way. By eating the meat in moderation, you can enjoy the flavor and texture of bacon without heaping on the fat and cholesterol. Instead of a pile of strips, sprinkle 1 ounce of crumbled bacon on your eggs, salad or baked potato.

How it's made

Bacon is made from cured pork belly (1). The raw belly meat is injected with a mixture of water, salt, sugar and sodium nitrate (2), which preserves the pink color of the meat and protects against bacteria. The pork is hung on a large rack to cure for about a week (3), then the bellies are smoked and sliced (4). The flavor of bacon can vary widely depending on how it is cured, processed and cut. The fat in the bacon provides the most flavor and allows the meat to crisp when cooked (5).

Bacon’s rise to riches

• 1400s - 1900s: Bacon has been eaten since Europeans settled in America. For most of its history, however, it had only two primary uses in the home: as a breakfast side for eggs and as a summer staple for BLTs, Cobb salads and the like. The bacon industry was seasonal and predictable.

• 1980s: During this fitness-crazed decade, bacon’s popularity plummeted. Producers scrambled to produce leaner pigs and healthier cuts to rival the new trend of lean, skinless poultry. Pork bellies were sold overseas for pennies per pound in an effort to move them out of producers’ freezers.

• Early 1990s: Enter fast-food: Consumers had grown tired of lean, tasteless burgers. Producers embraced a new approach and marketed their meat commercially as a flavor enhancer. In 1992, Hardee’s introduced a line of bacon-topped hamburgers, and America was hooked. Competitors quickly followed.

• Late 2000s: Top-shelf chefs began adding bacon to their menus and extolling the virtues of pork bellies, and as the foodie movement grew with the help of televised cooking shows, so too did the country’s zeal. Bacon had become not only a prized ingredient but, thanks to the internet, a full-fledged cultural phenomenon, with spin-off products, fan websites

Some local favorites

    • Apple-cured Kurobuta bone-in bacon. Order it and thank us later.

      Apple-cured Kurobuta bone-in bacon. Order it and thank us later.

      Apple-cured Kurobuta bone-in bacon

      • Delmonico Steakhouse, Grand Canal Shoppes

    • Sugarcane's bacon-wrapped dates.

      Sugarcane's bacon-wrapped dates.

      Bacon-wrapped dates

      • Sugarcane, Venetian

    • Rx's bacon-wrapped Bacon-N-Egg. Your mind is blown.

      Rx's bacon-wrapped Bacon-N-Egg. Your mind is blown.

      Bacon-wrapped bacon-n-egg

      • Rx’s Boiler Room, Mandalay Bay

    • Carson Kitchen's bacon jam is a fast favorite.

      Carson Kitchen's bacon jam is a fast favorite.

      Bacon jam

      • Carson Kitchen, 124 S. Sixth St.

    • The TNB Signature Burger at Truffles N Bacon Cafe restaurant located in Henderson, NV, includes an angus patty, grilled mac'n'cheese square, and their award winning bacon jam Thursday, July 17, 2015.

      The TNB Signature Burger at Truffles N Bacon Cafe restaurant located in Henderson, NV, includes an angus patty, grilled mac'n'cheese square, and their award winning bacon jam Thursday, July 17, 2015.

      More bacon jam

      • Truffles N Bacon Cafe, 8872 S. Eastern Ave., Suite 100

    • A maple bar topped with bacon at Pink Box Doughnuts in Henderson.

      A maple bar topped with bacon at Pink Box Doughnuts in Henderson.

      Maple bacon doughnut

      • Pink Box Doughnuts, multiple locations

    • The BBBLT (bacon, bacon, bacon, lettuce and tomato) sandwich at the Kitchen at Atomic in downtown Las Vegas Thursday, July 13, 2017.

      The BBBLT (bacon, bacon, bacon, lettuce and tomato) sandwich at the Kitchen at Atomic in downtown Las Vegas Thursday, July 13, 2017.

      BBBLT (pork, turkey and duck bacon with the trimmings)

      • The Kitchen at Atomic, 917 Fremont St.

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