Q&A: Is Bacon Paleo?

Below is a question we get often about bacon and other processed foods. I’ve been doing these “Is x food Paleo” posts lately because it seems there’s still a lot of confusion about what is and what is not Paleo. Our ebook and our Complete Idiot’s Guide to Eating Paleo book both go into more detail about other debatable foods, in case you want more info. Ok, here goes bacon… and a couple other foods.

Q: I just finished reading The Paleo Diet book by Loren Cordain, and perhaps I jumped the gun on joining this site and paying for the meal plans? The meal plan has coconut oil, almond flour, bacon and ham. In his book, the Dr suggests these shouldn’t be used (bacon and ham) and there is no mention of almond flour. 
Should I be following the meal plans in his book at the beginning of my journey? I will also add that I don’t know if I can as he talks about crab legs and some fish that I just don’t have access to or the budget for.

I’d appreciate any insight you have. Thanks much!




Hi Michele,

Since Cordain’s first book came out, things have changed a bit. The diet has evolved, just as it has been doing for millions of years. He was against coconut oil because of the saturated fat, but it turns out saturated fat isn’t bad and especially not when you’re eating a Paleo diet along with it. He’s since rescinded his statements about coconut oil and his previous thoughts on saturated fat for the most part. He still isn’t a big fan of bacon or processed meats, and it’s mostly because he doesn’t like the fatty acid profile of conventional meats (meats that aren’t grass-fed or pasture raised) and he assumes that most people are going to be buying conventional meats. I don’t like those meats, either, and always encourage people to buy their meat from a health food store with reputable meat or from a local rancher. The fatty acid profile, as well as the overall nutritional value of the meat is superior that way.

He also doesn’t like bacon because it doesn’t fit in with his macronutrient ratio he’d like us all to follow, which I don’t agree with. Hunter gatherers have been eating a variety of macronutrient ratios throughout time, and I think that higher fat/moderate protein/low carb can work just as well as moderate fat/moderate protein/moderate carb or whatever. You just have to be eating the right foods – not necessarily in the proper amounts, and everyone’s needs are different. He also doesn’t like bacon and ham because when they’re conventional they usually have added nitrates/nitrites, preservatives, corn syrup, and other crappy ingredients in them. I agree with him there and again, I always suggest that people buy high quality meats that just contain meat and spices.

As for the nitrate/nitrite exposure, all smoked meats will contain them, even the ones that don’t have “nitrite” written in the ingredient list. It’s a natural byproduct of the smoking process. The problem with nitrates and nitrites is that they’ve been linked with stomach cancer. But Chris Kresser pointed out recently that we consume more nitrites from our own saliva than we would from a whole stand full of hotdogs. Chew on that for a minute.

So are bacon and other processed meats like ham Paleo? I think if the meat is from an animal that was raised naturally and it contains very few other ingredients – no added nitrates/nitrites, no corn or wheat products, and no unnatural preservatives – it’s Paleo.

As for almond flour, Cordain does recommend eating almonds and almond flour is simply ground up almonds. I don’t suggest that people eat too much of the stuff – or too many nuts in general – because when they’re not properly prepared (soaked, etc.), they contain a lot of the anti-nutrients we’re trying to avoid by not eating grains and legumes. So we don’t use almond flour very often in the meal plan.

Should you follow his meal plans or ours? Ours! Just kidding. That’s totally up to you. We try to make our meal plans do-able by everyone, which involves using affordable, seasonal ingredients and using leftovers almost every day so you never waste food and you’re not always in the kitchen. Maybe give our meal plans a shot and see how you feel. Good luck!


  1. I don’t like “Cordain’s Paleo” or “Robb Wolf’s Paleo.” Sure, these guys are the well known voices, but they are not the end all be all to what “is paleo.”

    As far as I’m concerned, the scientific evidence is what I base my decisions on, and not on what Cordain, Wolf, or Sisson have to say.

  2. By quoting Chris Kressler, I think you are misleading people. Not only does bacon have a high concentration of nitrites, it’s high in salt, which contributes towards hypertension. Is Chris Kressler a physician? He may not understand the link of nitrites, nitrates and salt to many health issues.

    1. Bev Jutras – Chris Kresser (not Kressler) is an acupuncturist who practices functional medicine and an astute researcher who regularly debunks myths such as the one about hypertension you just cited. For SOME people, sodium contributes to high blood pressure, but not many. I think Chris Kresser understands the links between food and health a lot better than most conventional doctors – that’s why I linked to him.

  3. I have to say one of the major issues I find with “dieting” is the massive amount of misinformation spewed out by people. ” but it turns out saturated fat isn’t bad and especially not when you’re eating a Paleo diet along with it”. I’m sorry but where are you getting your sources?

    Saturated fats (with few exceptions) have been without a doubt proven to increase your risk of heart disease and it’s recommended that you eat any foods containing them sparingly.

    That being said I think addressing coconut oil accurately and responsibly is something this article needs to do.
    It’s a fact that Coconut oil is composed of almost 90% saturated fats but they happen to be (in the case of virgin coconut oil) a different type of triglyceride that raises HDL and LDL lipid profiles. While raising HDL is great it’s not fully understood if coconut oil has a propensity to increase your risk for atherosclerosis through other mechanisms.

  4. Paul, not one study since, and including Keys’ study in the 60’s ever “proved” anything of the sort. Heart disease is also, “without a doubt” linked to the carb-insulin-triglyceride train.

    Miss Quinn, nice article. The saliva bit is something I’ll have to look into. I eat a high fat diet with meats from the chain stores. However, I take a big dose of quality fish oil every morning to try and offset the omega-6s.

  5. Seems that some people are still listening to Dr. Ancel Keys’ paper from 1953 that demonized saturated fats by ignoring most of the information (some people just look for the preconceived conclusion, ignoring anything that would dismiss it). Since then, real science has continuously proven that saturated fats do not cause heart disease. Just wanted to throw this correction at Paul before too many people end up believing him without looking up the information for themselves. I urge anyone to look into it.

  6. Long before i ever heard of Paleo, I researched heart disease. A common task for my hospital job. i was shocked to learn that there are no studies linking elevated cholesterol to heart disease. Instead, all the data pointed to inflammation. I further learned that in Massachusetts where such research took place, studies for non-cholesterol theories (such as the homocystien (spelling?)) went unfunded because they did not offer an opportunity for consumerism (as does statins – the most prescribed drug in the United States). Greed fuels “coomon knowledge” medicine…. even our nation’s recommended diet.

  7. Thanks so much for this post! I do have one other question (newbie paleo here) about bacon though, even at our health food stores bacon seems to have a sweetener added in. It is my understanding that sugar is not allowed in the paleo diet yet so many recipes call for bacon. Are most paleo people finding sugar free bacon or is it just seen as such a minute amount that every now and again it is ok. Help! Thanks so much

    1. Amelia – No, I think people just make an exception for bacon. The big take-home is to reduce your sugar consumption. No need to go crazy and avoid all things that contain any amount of sugar whatsoever (in my opinion, anyway) :) Enjoy your bacon!

  8. all this talk about bacon, I am also a paleo fanatic but unless you MAKE BACON, and know the science that goes into it you are all speaking of nothing that you have a solid knowledge base on!!!

    As for the nitrite & nitrate question it’s quite simple, there are nitrites in all leafy greens, however the bacons are made with chemical nitrite or “pink salt” instacure #1……..this is BAD STUFF…….. when making bacon naturally we just use celery seed or celery juice, about a tablespoon of it in 10 lbs of bacon………almost nothing………the big deal is the pork, is it industrially raised or farm raised & organic……..MINE IS!!!!!

    That having been said I MAKE BACON AND AM ABOUT TO LAUNCH A BRAND INTO THE MARKET MAKING PALEO FRIENDLY BACON!!!!! that’s right, a true paleo friendly product, we have 4 flavors coming to market in the next 60-90 days, there will be a savory garlic & herb w/ NO SUGAR, a true double smoked w/ NO SUGAR, an applewood smoked maple bacon w natural maple syrup as it’s only sugar, and a black pepper w/ NO SUGAR!!!! It’s not difficult to make, as long as you follow the rules:

    That having been stated, we use only hand harvested sea salt, organic herbs & spices, all natural maple syrup as our only sweetener which IS PALEO FRIENDLY, celery juice which we make from organic celery, and 100% all wood smoke…..THE END!! Bacon doesn’t need all of that other crap they put in it to make it “shelf stable” for your local grocery store…….smoked meat lasts months when done right & packed right, and can be frozen for over a year & stay just as tasty as the day it was made!

  9. Dan the bacon man – Regarding your PALEO FRIENDLY BACON – you said you “have 4 flavors coming to market in the next 60-90 days”. What is the brand name and which markets will it be sold at?

  10. Dan the bacon man
    I would love to know the brand name of the bacon you make. Where are you located?
    It will be sold only in your area?
    Waiting for your answer. Thanks!

  11. My trainer told me today absolutely NO bacon. She said it’s all heavily processed. When I asked about nitrite free bacon, she said, “Do you really want to eat pig anyway? You know how gross pigs are?” I said, “Well, Paleo claims that bacon is…..” didn’t get to finish and she said, “I do Paleo too and I don’t eat bacon!!!” Now I don’t know what to do because I love bacon. I was going to start buying the Applegate Farms brand. What do you guys think about what my trainer said?

    1. Joanne – Well, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, right? And that’s all she gave you – her opinion. Does she not eat pig for religious reasons, by any chance? She seems to have a fundamental problem with pigs, so that may be clouding her opinion? However, I do not EVER eat conventional pig because it is so abhorrent how they’re treated, their physical health, and what they’re fed. It’s disgusting, and I literally would rather not eat than eat that shit. Plus, conventional bacon is usually processed with some ingredients with similar low standards as the quality of the meat – preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, and wheat/corn products. So again, I would never eat conventional pig, including bacon, no matter how delicious it might taste. Applegate is a really good option in my opinion. They’re a co-op of small farms where their animals are purportedly treated and fed well. “Well” is very relative, though, because there are plenty of farms you could probably find locally that treat their animals even better, give them more time outside, and feed them more appropriately. So I’d search out the best bacon you can find.

      As for the nitrates and nitrites, that may not be as much of a concern as we once thought, and I wrote a little bit about that in this article: http://www.paleoplan.com/2012/07-19/qa-is-bacon-paleo/

      As for it being processed, I’m not sure what she means by that. All cooked food is “processed” technically, some more than others. Bacon’s processing includes brining (with or without the nitrites and nitrates or celery, which acts as a curing agent like the nitrites/nitrates) in salt and sugar and then smoking. I’ve done this at home with a local pig that I bought. We just put the raw slices of meat in a solution of salt and honey for a couple of days in the fridge, and then smoked it on our wood smoker and it was… delicious. It’s really not that big of a deal to make bacon.

      Anyway, you should do your own research to figure out what you believe, but in short, I love bacon, but I’ll only eat it if the pig was treated and fed extremely well, and it doesn’t have any weird ingredients in it (including the nitrates and nitrites, despite what the new research may say). Does that help?

  12. Actually, Bacon is Paleo and they even made a specific brand of bacon at Trader Joes that has no nitrates, not preserved etc… The bacon actually has a leaner value from calories to calories of fat. Non of it is Trans.

    Obviously you want to stick to the leaner meats…. but bacon is a type of mean. Do you think Paleo man did not eat that fat of anything pork?? You have to use common sense. Don’t read into too much. I am also not saying to stick 30 pieces of bacon down your throat. All Meat is considered Paleo, that is the entire idea of the diet and I’ve read wolf’s book and cordains book. They go over the scientific break down but the paleo diet is how you make it. Why the hell do you think people lose weight on the atkins diet eating bacon and other meats. It’s almost the same concept but you need to make sure you portion your veggies correctly… other than that the amount of meat you is up to you.

    Make sure you don’t eat red meat every day. Get variety. Meat, Fish, Chicken Red meat takes 18 hours to digest. Also, if you want you body to trigger faster digestive results drink green tea.

  13. I haven’t had any luck finding ham fat, but I did find bacon grease. You actually can order it from amazon.com. Type in hot belly bacon grease, or you can just google it and order from their site. Less messy, and more convenient.

  14. Hi,

    I bought Gluten-free bacon the other day. Is there even gluten in bacon? It’s organic too but the Gluten-free got me.

  15. While i’ve known about the paleo diet for a long time. ( since reading Eatons article about it ten years ago). I’ve only recently decided to be paleo. but i’m a bit confused about what is allowed. I thought the aim of the lifestyle change was to eat, exercise and sleep like our paleo ancestors did?.

    1. Hi Astral_Ids,

      Yes, those are a few of the aims of the Paleo lifestyle! There are many reasons why universal agreement is lacking regarding which foods are Paleo however, there is strong evidence for a common foundation and this is what the Paleo diet is built upon, http://www.marksdailyapple.com/how-hunter-gatherer-diets-varied/#axzz3NzAd2uo0. Furthermore, everyone has different tolerances to foods including Paleo foods (one person’s elixir is another’s poison!) and finding those specific lifestyle and diet solutions for optimal health is a Paleo priority. Here’s a post from the website that reveals the Paleo Plan philosophy and provides an extensive Paleo food list, https://www.paleoplan.com/resources/paleo-plan-food-guide/.

      Wishing you the best on your Paleo journey! Sally.

  16. Hi, I’m a farmer raising pigs naturally and we make bacon not using any nitrates. The meat is soaked in a maple syrup and a salt brine solution for two weeks than placed in the smoker (wood chips) for 24 hours.
    The meat looks slightly darker, than when we first start the process, but the flavour is fabulous..

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