Bacon 101: Your Guide to Diet-Friendly Cuts

bacon strips

Bacon: Notoriously known as an enemy to our waistline but best friend to our taste buds. Carnivores and foodies go wild over the distinct flavor of this culinary item and will even go through creative means to find excuses to sneak them into dishes whenever possible. Dieters, on the other hand, struggle to find the willpower to keep their hands off of a fresh, hot plate of glistening bacon strips due to the unfortunate lack of high nutritional benefit. Through this brief guide to bacon, you will be able to find a happy medium between recognizing what to love and what to avoid in enjoying this tasty swine.

Photo Credit: Fynedesigns
(Photo: Fyne Designs)

Bacon is a meat product that comes from pigs and is usually cured prior to purchasing and consuming. For those who don't know, curing is food preservation and flavoring process for meats, fish and vegetables that involves adding a combination of salt, nitrate and/or sugar. Further preparation involves smoking, spicing or cooking for a specific taste. The different cuts of bacon from a pig have their own flavor profile, texture, color and nutritional characteristics and are often used for different cooking purposes.

Let's talk about cuts.

Side bacon: Fatty slabs of bacon come from cuts from the underside/belly of a pig. It is characterized with long layers of fat running parallel to the rind, and is also the most common form of bacon in the United States.

Photo Credit: Crumbly Cookie
(Photo: Crumbly Cookie)

Middle bacon: This comes from the side of the animal. Overall, middle bacon is intermediate in cost, fat content and flavor between side bacon and back bacon.
(Photo: Butler And Bently)

Back bacon: Also called Irish bacon, rashers, or Canadian bacon. This comes from the loin near the middle of the back of the pig. Back bacon cuts are very lean, have a ham-like texture and have less fat compared to other cuts.

Photo Credit:
(Photo: Muscle Meat)

Cottage bacon: These cuts are thinly sliced from a lean shoulder cut that form an oval shape and have a meaty texture. Cottage bacon cuts are cured and sliced into round pieces for baking and frying.

Photo Credit: Bacon Unwrapped
(Photo: Bacon Unwrapped)

Jowl bacon: Cuts from the cheek are often cured and smoked for bacon.

Photo Credit: Nutrition Healthgrove
(Photo: Nutrition Healthgrove)

Slab bacon: This comes from the belly, side and fatback of the pig and is not sliced, meaning that it usually has the rind still intact. Slab bacon usually has a medium to very high fraction of fat.

Photo Credit:
(Photo: Wild Purveyor's Market)

>> Click here to read our guide for nose-to-tail eating (the weird parts of the animal you should try)!

Bacon lingo:

  • Center-cut (reduced-fat): This indicates slightly leaner belly bacon. These short strips have trimmed ends with less fat.
  • Double-smoked: Extra smoke is added for a deeper and more robust flavor.
  • Nitrates: The basic cure for bacon that keeps the meat pink, even when cooked. This is added to preserve the meat and to forestall bacterial growth.
  • Peppered: A thick coating of cracked peppercorns are added to belly bacon for added flavor.
  • Thick-sliced: Belly bacon that is cut into thick slices. This is best for oven-roasting and cut into cubes to be added into soups and stews for more flavor. (via Weight Watchers)
  • Pancetta: Italian-styled bacon cured with peppercorns, salt and cloves. This is usually packaged in a roll and sold by the slice (via The Bacon Page)

How to make bacon a part of your diet? Aim for uncured, reduced-sodium center-cut bacon. Uncured bacon means that no industrial nitrates were added to the meat, but naturally occurring nitrates may have been used to cure it. Celery-juice powder acts similarly to aggressive chemicals but it dissipates more quickly after curing. A reduced-sodium option is intended to help minimize the burden of high-sodium content in your diet, and center cut is the leanest cut from the pig.


If you are a vegetarian, vegan or don't include any kind of pork in your diet but want to enjoy something similar to bacon, try out these alternatives:

Turkey bacon: This is one of the most alternatives to bacon. Many chose this over real bacon because it has greater health benefits (i.e., lower in fat and calories). Turkey bacon comes from the whole turkey and can be prepared in similar ways that bacon is prepared. Cured turkey bacon from dark meat can be up to 90 percent fat free. Click here to check out our delicious turkey bacon, egg white, spinach breakfast sandwich. 

Vegetarian bacon: Often called fakon, veggie bacon, or vacon. Vegetarian bacon comes from marinated strips of tofu, tempeh and typically has no cholesterol, is low in fat and contains large amounts of protein and fiber.