Turkey bacon is sometimes touted as a healthier option than pork bacon. But is it actually healthier?

There aren't many foods out there that are as satisfying as bacon. From its craveable saltiness to the unique richness that it offers, it is no wonder so many people are absolutely bonkers for bacon.

Unfortunately, with all of the good flavor that bacon offers, it does come with some downsides, one being that it is a rich source of saturated fat and sodium. And as more expert panels like the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association recommend that people limit their intake of these two nutrients, people are turning to alternative foods that satisfy their bacon craving while helping them comply with expert guidelines.

Sure, you could completely eschew all kinds of bacon and live a bacon-free life. But once you have tried that cured and salty pork belly, it is understandably hard to cut that taste out of your life cold-turkey (pun intended). Therefore, many people turn to turkey bacon as an alternative to traditional pork bacon. But is turkey bacon actually healthy?

Turkey Bacon Nutrition

When you are enjoying a piece of bacon, you are eating a slice of pork belly or back that has been salted and cured. Turkey bacon, on the other hand, is made from seasoned pieces of turkey that have been flavored and seasoned to taste like cured bacon. And while turkey can be lower in saturated fat than pork belly or pork fat, once the meat is processed into bacon form, the resulting nutritional composition may not be as superior as people may believe.

Two slices of turkey bacon cooked in the microwave provide:

  • 60 calories
  • 4.2 g fat
  • 1 g saturated fat
  • 0.7 g carbohydrates
  • 0 g fiber
  • 4.8 g protein
  • 328 mg sodium
  • 14 mg choline
  • 0.30 mcg vitamin B12
  • 24 mg cholesterol

Traditional pork bacon is slightly higher in some nutrients like saturated fat (2 grams per 2 slices), but has almost exactly the same amount of sodium (324 mg per 2 slices). Other important nutrients, like protein, carbohydrates and even calories, are provided in very similar quantities when comparing pork and turkey bacon.

Is Turkey Bacon Healthy?

Turkey bacon is found in many "better for you" recipes and is touted as a healthy swap for traditional bacon. But before you hop on the turkey bacon train, there are a few factors that you should consider.

Most varieties of turkey bacon are preserved with synthetic nitrates or nitrites, which help make this food achieve the desired taste and slow the spoilage process. When nitrates or nitrites are cooked at high heat, nitrosamides, a known cancer-causing compound, can form. Regardless of whether the nitrates or nitrites are added to pork bacon or turkey bacon, eating excessive amounts of these ingredients is linked to an increased risk of certain cancers.

3 pieces of turkey bacon cooking in a pan with question marks in the background
Credit: Getty Images / Brian Yarvin

"Natural" varieties of turkey bacon use natural sources of nitrates, like celery powder, to preserve the meat and extend its shelf life. And while the term "natural" may sound like a better choice, unfortunately, the nitrates present in food sources like celery juice or spinach extract are reduced to nitrites by the addition of starter bacterial cultures and contribute to nitrosamine formation just as synthetic versions do. In other words, when it comes to reducing cancer risk, choosing meats that are processed with natural nitrates does not appear to offer a notable benefit when compared with options processed with synthetic versions.

It is also noteworthy that, unlike a slice of freshly roasted turkey cut off the bone, turkey bacon is considered processed meat, as is any meat that is preserved by processes like curing and salting. Eating processed meat, regardless of whether the meat is pork-based, turkey-based or other-animal-protein-based, is linked to an increased risk of outcomes like heart disease, certain cancers, and hypertension.

Bottom Line

If you are trying to reduce your saturated fat intake and you just can't do without the taste of bacon, a small quantity of turkey bacon may be a reasonable swap for your traditional cured pork bacon. And for people who avoid pork products due to religious or cultural practices, it is nice to have a turkey alternative.

But when it comes to whether turkey bacon is a good-for-you choice, the answer is less clear. Just like pork bacon, turkey bacon contains a hefty amount of saturated fat and sodium–two nutrients that, when consumed in excess, can potentially result in some unsavory health outcomes. And just like with any processed meat, eating turkey bacon in excess is not a smart move for your overall health.

Turkey bacon can be enjoyed in small amounts when combined with an overall healthy diet, but generally, it should not be consumed in large amounts every day. To get the satisfying taste of turkey bacon without overdoing it, instead of eating a plateful, try using it as a garnish in dishes like Broccoli Salad with Bacon or Loaded Cauliflower Bites. Or, if you are feeling ambitious, try your hand at making Vegan Bacon from shiitake mushrooms and umami-rich spices.