Month: February 2017

3 Ways to Keep Mercury and Arsenic Out of Your Gluten-Free Diet

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You've probably seen some scary headlines recently about how a gluten-free diet may expose your body to more arsenic and mercury—toxic metals that have been linked to a higher risk of heart disease, cancer, and neurological problems.

These reports were initiated by a study conducted at the University of Illinois. Gluten-free diets tends to include a higher intake of rice as a replacement for wheat products, and since rice may accumulate arsenic and mercury from fertilizers, soil, and water, the researchers set out to investigate the potential health implications of going G-free.

For their study, they identified 73 people (ranging in age from 6 to 80) who reported eating a gluten-free diet between 2009 and 2014, and tested their blood and urine. The researchers found that on average, those people had almost twice the concentration of arsenic in their urine and 70% higher mercury levels in their blood, compared to people who were not gluten-free.

The researchers concluded that there may be unintended consequences of the diet. But it's worth pointing out that their study was relatively small. It also did not look at whether rice was the main source of the metals in people's diets. What's more, we don't know the specific risks of having the levels of arsenic and mercury detected. The amounts of arsenic and mercury in both the gluten-free and non gluten-free eaters were much lower than those associated with arsenic toxicity or mercury poisoning,    

The way I see it, this research doesn’t mean that going gluten-free will automatically increase your intake of the heavy metals. However it's an important reminder that how you eat gluten-free matters, both in terms of arsenic and mercury, and your overall nutrient intake. Here are three key ways you can optimize your health if you follow the diet.

RELATED: 6 Myths About Gluten-Free Diets You Shouldn't Believe

Eat more whole, fresh foods

You can find gluten-free versions of nearly any food these days, including bagels, bread, wraps, baked goods, and crackers. Many are made with rice flour, but what they also have in common is that they’re all highly processed. If you need to follow a gluten-free diet, yes, it’s nice to be able to eat pizza or a cookie if you really want it. But these foods should be occasional treats, not daily staples. And it’s important to note that simply being gluten-free does not make a product healthy. Many processed gluten-free foods are made with refined flour (stripped of fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants), as well as added sugar, sodium, or other unwanted additives. Make whole, fresh, and minimally-processed foods your go-tos, not gluten-free versions of packaged, multi-ingredient products. 

Vary your diet

Rice is just one of many gluten-free grains. Others include quinoa, buckwheat, millet, oats, sorghum, teff, corn, and amaranth. Pulses (the umbrella term for beans, lentils, peas, and chickpeas) are also gluten-free, as are starchy vegetables, including sweet potato, yams, fingerling potatoes, and squash. When planning meals, include a wide variety of these whole foods that are naturally gluten-free.

For example, instead of whole wheat toast at breakfast with your veggie and avocado omelet, opt for sweet potato toast, or a side of black beans. In place of a sandwich or wrap for lunch, make a salad and add a small scoop of quinoa or lentils for a healthy source of carbs. At dinner, replace pasta with spaghetti squash. And snack on roasted chickpeas or hummus with veggies rather than chips, pretzels, or crackers.  

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Consume low-mercury seafood

We don’t know the precise source of the mercury that caused the elevated levels detected in this study, but seafood can be a significant contributor in people's diets. One resource to help you figure out which seafood to avoid is the Environmental Working Group’s Consumer Guide to Seafood. Generally, low-mercury options include wild Alaskan salmon, Atlantic mackerel, rainbow trout, shrimp, and clams. Varieties with moderate mercury levels include cod, crab, canned tuna, lobster, mahi mahi, and sea bass. High levels of mercury are found in shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and grouper.

As with any diet, this simple motto can help you strike a healthy balance: Keep it real, mix it up, and don’t overdo it.           

Cynthia Sass is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and consultant for the New York Yankees. See her full bio here.

Source: Nutrition

Angelina Jolie and Her Kids Eat Bugs. Here's Why That's Not a Bad Idea

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Curious about Angelina Jolie's snack preferences? We now know bugs are on the list. (Yep, you read that right.) In a segment that aired on BBC News this week, the Oscar-winning actress and her children noshed on tarantulas and scorpions while they were in Cambodia to promote her passion project First They Killed My Father.

"See the hard part where you have the teeth?" Jolie asked her 8-year-old twins, Knox and Vivienne, as she showed them how to prep the spiders for the skillet. "Take the fangs out."  

It's clear the 41-year-old mom of six is no stranger to eating bugs: "I first had them when I was first in country," she says. "Crickets, you start with crickets. Crickets and a beer and then you kind of move up to tarantulas." (Apparently her children were big fans of the starter bugs too: “They can eat a bag of crickets like a bag of chips,” Jolie said in an interview on Good Morning America Tuesday.)

While munching on insects may not be the most appetizing idea, the crunchy critters can be quite nutritious. A study published last year in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry found that insects can provide as much magnesium, iron, and other nutrients as steak.

The researchers reported that when compared to beef, crickets actually had higher iron solubility (the property that allows a mineral to be used by the body). And grasshoppers, mealworms, and crickets all had higher concentrations of chemically available magnesium, calcium, copper, and zinc than the sirloin. 

RELATED: 17 High-Protein Snacks You Can Eat on the Go

According to nutritionist Vandana Sheth, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, bugs can be a healthy addition to your diet. "In general, insects can be high in protein (about 60 to 70%), low in carbohydrates, and provide vitamins, minerals, and fat," she wrote in an email to Health. 

But that said, there are more than a thousand species of edible bugs, and not all of them are superfoods. "Because of the wide variety of edible insect species, their nutritional value is highly variable," Sheth explained. What's more, she added, some bugs come into contact with pesticides and other chemicals, so it's important to purchase them from reliable sources.

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If you're interested in the nutritional benefits of bugs but aren't quite ready to swallow a spider, consider trying a product made from insect flour, like cricket chips or cricket protein bars, suggests Sheth. As a judge in our cricket-flour taste test put it, when you compare ground up crickets to what's in a hot dog, they don't seem so bad.


Source: Nutrition

Got a Craving? Here's What Your Body Actually Wants You to Eat 

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Stop cravings in their tracks by decoding what they really mean. 
Source: Nutrition

5 All-Natural Sweeteners That Are (Somewhat) Healthier Than Sugar

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Have you noticed just how many foods at your local market are now labeled “natural”? According to a recent Consumer Reports survey, 73% of shoppers seek out labels with this term (despite the fact that there’s no FDA standard to define it). All of this means that artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup are out—and a whole slew of natural alternatives have popped up in their place. Some are old-school favorites, like maple syrup; while others, like coconut sugar, are derived from familiar foods. Here’s the lowdown on five such sweeteners—including what’s unique about each one, and the best ways to use them in your kitchen.

Maple syrup

Maple syrup is still made the same way it has been for decades: by boiling sap from maple trees. The syrup can then be dried, powdered, and sold as maple sugar.

While maple syrup does contain some vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, the amounts in a typical serving are quite small. For example, one tablespoon provides about 1% of your daily needs for calcium, potassium, and iron. However, it does pack a solid amount of magnesium—a mineral that helps produce collagen and promote skin and bone health—with 25% of your Daily Value.

When it comes to choosing a syrup, you might want to consider the color. Generally, syrup made earlier in the season tends to be lighter; while syrup produced at the end of the season, when sap flow slows, is darker. (That said, in some years, nearly all of a season's crop may be light.) Dark syrups may have higher mineral and antioxidant levels.

Plus, darker syrups tend to have the strongest maple taste, which may help you use less. In fact, that’s another benefit of swapping maple syrup for white sugar: In recipes, you can use three-fourths as much. For example, if a recipe calls for a quarter cup of sugar (or four tablespoons), you can use three tablespoons of maple syrup instead.

Another trick I use is diluting syrup. I’ll swirl together a teaspoon each of maple syrup and water, add spices, like ginger and cinnamon; then drizzle it over foods like oatmeal, yams, baked fruit, or roasted carrots. You still get the distinct flavor and sweetness, but with just 4 grams of sugar and less than 20 calories.      

RELTATED: 5 Ways to Eat Less Sugar


Honey has been called the nectar of the gods, and used topically for centuries to heal wounds and fight infections. It also offers a number of other health benefits when ingested, as long as you don’t overdo it. This natural sweetener has been shown to possess small amounts of nutrients, antioxidants, and antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory compounds.

A University of Illinois study that analyzed honey samples from 14 different floral sources found that honey from buckwheat flowers packed 20 times the antioxidant punch as the kind produced from sage. While clover honey (which is probably the most commonly available type) scored in the middle of the antioxidant rankings.

Other research, from the University of California, Davis, found that daily consumption of buckwheat honey raised blood antioxidants levels. And a study from the University of Memphis found that athletes who ate honey had steadier blood sugar and insulin levels for a longer period of time, compared to consuming other carb sources.

I recommend buying raw, USDA Certified Organic honey whenever possible, to get the highest quality honey with minimal processing. It can also be sold in dried, powdered form.

As with maple syrup, you can use less liquid honey in recipes than sugar: Generally you can replace every tablespoon of sugar with a teaspoon of honey. (You may also need to adjust the amount of the other liquids, as well as the baking or cooking temperature.)

Just don’t adopt a "honey is good for me, so I can drizzle it on everything" mentality. One teaspoon provides about 20 calories and 5 to 6 grams of sugar.

I think honey is ideal for adding just a touch of sweetness to plain versions of foods, like yogurt and nut butter. It's also great for jazzing up homemade dressings or marinades. For a simple stir-fry sauce, I like to whisk together a tablespoon each of brown rice vinegar and low sodium vegetable broth, a teaspoon of honey, a half teaspoon each of fresh grated ginger and minced garlic, and a pinch of crushed red pepper.

RELATED: 7 Super-Moisturizing Honey Beauty Products for Your Skin and Hair

Date sugar

If you’ve ever eaten a date, you know they’re incredibly sweet and a bit sticky—which is why they’re used as a main ingredient in so many energy bars. Whole dates are a good source of several key nutrients, including potassium, manganese, magnesium, copper, calcium, iron, B vitamins, vitamin K, and antioxidants. However, the nutrient amounts in a teaspoon of date sugar (made from dried, ground dates) are minimal. And that one teaspoon contains 15 calories and about 3 grams of sugar.

Date sugar can replace white sugar in equal amounts, but using two-thirds also works well in most recipes, especially if you add cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, and cloves. These “sweet” spices help enhance existing sweetness. It's also important to note that date sugar doesn’t dissolve well, so it’s not the best choice for smoothies or coffee. And like brown sugar, it tends to clump. To soften it before use, try placing some date sugar in a glass or ceramic bowl with a moist paper towel and cover it with a lid or plate overnight.   

Coconut sugar

Coconut sugar is made from sap extracted from the buds of coconut palms. Like table sugar, it has about 15 calories and four grams of sugar per teaspoon.

Coconut sugar does provide small amounts of nutrients, including thiamin, iron, copper, zinc, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, calcium, and antioxidants. This sweetener also contains inulin, a naturally-occurring, indigestible carbohydrate that acts as a prebiotic, or “food” for beneficial gut bacteria.

Coconut palm sugar is also considered eco-friendly. Growing coconut trees requires minimal amounts of water and fuel (especially compared to sugar cane production); and the trees produce sap for two to four decades. Coconut sugar’s consistency and flavor is similar to brown sugar, so many people use it as an equal replacement in recipes that call for brown sugar (like baked beans and cookies).

RELATED: 9 Ways to Quit Sugar for Good

Blackstrap molasses

This thick, dark syrup is the byproduct of processing sugar cane. In other words, it’s the liquid left over after the sugar has crystallized. The sweetener retains some of the nutrients naturally found in sugar cane, including potassium, magnesium, vitamin B6, copper, selenium, and manganese. One teaspoon provides about 15 calories and 4 grams of sugar. It also contains a notable 6% of the Daily Value for iron and calcium. Plus, it has been shown to have higher antioxidant levels than any other sweetener, according to research from Virginia Tech.

However, the rich, intense flavor and aroma of blackstrap molasses can narrow its use. I’ve used it in coffee and tea recipes, gingerbread cookies, energy balls, overnight oats, pumpkin pie and pumpkin smoothies, baked beans, and yam dishes.

One final note

While all of the sweeteners above are natural, and less processed and more nutritious than white table sugar, it's important to note they still count as added sugar. So you should consume them within the recommended limits for added sugar. That's no more than six teaspoons (or about 25 grams) per day for women, and nine teaspoons (or about 37.5 grams) for men.

Some of my clients don’t even come close to these limits. But I’ve seen others overindulge in treats, smoothie bowls, and drinks made with these sweeteners, thinking it was fine because they’re natural.

So, yes, stir maple syrup in your coffee instead of sugar or an artificial sweetener. And opt for one of the sweeteners above when cooking or baking. But be sure to moderate your total sugar intake from every source, and don’t fall into the trap of thinking that better-for-you means it's okay to eat an unlimited amount.

Cynthia Sass is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and consultant for the New York Yankees. See her full bio here.

Source: Nutrition

How to Tell If You Have a Zinc Deficiency

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If you eat a restricted diet—especially one that eschews meat and grains—zinc deficiency should be on your radar.
Source: Nutrition

How Common Is Magnesium Deficiency—and Could You Have It?

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Magnesium is an important mineral that aids in energy production, the immune system, heart health, and more. But are you getting enough of it through diet alone?
Source: Nutrition

3 Ways to Clean Up Your Diet Without Committing to Whole30

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Whenever someone asks me if they should try Whole30, I always respond by with this question: What’s your goal?

The Whole30 Program is not designed for weight loss (as its creators have made clear). In fact, you're not supposed to step on a scale or take your body measurements at any point during the 30-day plan.

Whole30 is essentially a month-long journey to see how your body responds when you cut out sugar, dairy, grains, soy, alcohol, and pulses (beans, lentils, chickpeas).

It can be a helpful experiment for anyone who suspects they have a food sensitivity or intolerance. That said, many people tell me they are motivated to try Whole30 in order to lose weight. If shedding pounds is your only goal, you can still see results without going "all in” with the plan’s strict eliminations. Bonus: taking this less restrictive approach can make it easier to sustain your new healthy-eating strategies for more than 30 days, so you’ll be more likely to lose weight and keep it off

Below are three dietary tactics that are (partly) inspired by Whole30, but modified to focus on weight loss, not food sensitivities. 

Scale back on sugar and alcohol

One of the main rules of Whole30 is that you must commit to the plan 100%. If you “mess up,” you have to start over. In my experience with clients, there are pros and cons to going cold turkey with things like sugar and alcohol when your goal is weight loss. For many, eliminating these indulgences for 30 days drastically reduces cravings, so you have a diminished desire to nibble on candy at the office or pour a mid-week glass of wine.

However for other clients, putting certain foods off limits can trigger a sense of panic that leads to obsessive thinking about the forbidden goodies—followed by rebound binge eating or drinking. What's more, for many people, eliminating sugar and alcohol just isn’t practical, even for 30 days.

If you feel you regularly overindulge in either sugar or alcohol (or both) cutting back can definitely lead to weight loss results.  But if swearing them off isn't doable try committing to a strategy of moderation. My go-to approach: Limit your sweets to a few squares of 70% dark chocolate a day (except on special occasions). And consider restricting your alcohol consumption to weekends only.   

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RELATED: 9 Tips that Make Healthy Eating a Breeze

Forget about processed foods

In my opinion, the best rule in Whole30 involves giving up processed foods, whether or not your personal goal is weight loss. Instead of eating foods that have been stripped of fiber and nutrients, and filled with artificial additives, focus on “real food." The swap can slash calories, lead to increased energy and improved digestive health, and seriously upgrade your nutrient intake, even if you don’t follow every other Whole30 restriction.

There are plenty of easy ways to trade processed foods for much healthier, clean options. For example, instead of a bagel or a muffin for breakfast, opt for Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and nuts or seeds. Rather than a sandwich or wrap for lunch, have fresh greens dressed with EVOO and balsamic vinegar, topped with wild salmon and a small scoop of quinoa. Ditch the frozen entree for dinner, and whip up a quick veggie, herb, and avocado omelet instead.

Choose your carbs wisely

One thing I don’t love about the Whole30 program for people who are motivated by weight loss is that it cuts out all grains and pulses. If an intolerance or sensitivity to either of these food groups isn’t the cause of your sluggishness (or other symptoms) eating healthy versions and amounts of these foods can boost your energy and help you slim down. 

I’ve had clients who believed that all grains were a problem for them when, in reality, their bloating, fatigue, and failure to lose weight were the result of consuming excessive amounts of poor quality grains. In other words, they shed pounds and felt better after making changes like trading a large bowl of sugary cereal for a small portion of nut-topped whole oats; or replacing white pasta at dinner with spaghetti squash.  

Bottom line: I’m not saying you shouldn't try Whole30. Even if you don't believe you suffer from food sensitivities, it may reveal valuable information about your body and your relationship to food. But before adopting any new eating plan, take some time con consider your motivations, as well as alternatives that may make more sense for you. In the long run, personalizing your approach, and moving at your own pace, will likely serve you best.      

Cynthia Sass is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and consultant for the New York Yankees. See her full bio here.  

Source: Nutrition

Does Plant Protein Build Muscle as Well as Meat?

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Protein helps repair and build muscle—that’s why it’s smart to recover after a hard workout with a smoothie, energy bites, or another high-protein snack. But until now, researchers haven’t been sure whether plant-based protein aids your tired muscles as well as meat. The results of a new study published today in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition are good news for both vegetarians and meat eaters: Plant protein and animal protein appear to benefit muscle health equally.

Researchers looked at the health records of nearly 3,000 men and women ages 19 to 72, as well as food questionnaires that the participants filled out. The researchers estimated the participants’ total protein intake as well as their dietary percentages of protein from specific sources, such as fast food, full-fat or low-fat dairy, red meat, fish, chicken, and legumes. They also looked at participants’ lean muscle mass, bone mineral density, and quadriceps strength—all measures that are important for fitness, health, and better functioning, especially as we get older.  

When the researchers compared this data, they found that people who consumed the least amount of protein overall also had the lowest measures of muscle mass and strength. But the type of protein people ate didn’t seem to matter: After the researchers adjusted for other factors, they found the differences in protein sources had no impacts on musculoskeletal health, for men or for women.

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According to the study authors, these results suggest that eating more protein is related to better muscle health. This becomes especially important in middle-age and later in life, they add, since people tend to lose muscle as they get older. (Protein intake did not have a significant effect on bone-mineral density in this study, although it has in previous research.)

Lead author Kelsey Mangano, PhD, assistant professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, says the study delivers a message that meat and veggie lovers can both celebrate: “As long as a person is exceeding the recommended daily allowance for protein, no matter the source in their diet, they can improve their muscle health,” she says. 

In other words, people who want to go meatless can still build muscle with the help of quinoa, peas, nuts, beans, and soy. And if you prefer to refuel after exercise with a turkey and cheese sandwich? That works too. 

RELATED: 14 Best Vegan and Vegetarian Protein Sources

The study was observational in nature, so it was unable to draw any cause-and-effect conclusions—and since the participants’ age range was so broad, the findings should be replicated in older adults who tend to get less protein on a daily basis, says Mangano. (For people who don't consume enough protein, she speculates, the type they eat may become more important.)

It's also important to remember that the study only looked at bone and muscle health—just two components of good health overall. “When we think about our health as a whole it is important to decrease intakes of saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars,” says Mangano, who is also a registered dietitian.

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“Therefore, people should choose their protein sources keeping overall dietary recommendations in mind,” she continues. “Choose protein sources that are lean—limiting saturated fat—and also those that are low in sodium.” That means avoiding processed meats like bacon, for example.

When it comes to other benefits—like, say, living longer or losing weight—some studies have suggested that plant-based protein may have a bit of an edge. But when looking at the research as a whole, says Mangano, “there is no clear evidence whether animal or vegetable sources may be more beneficial for overall health.”

Source: Nutrition

9 Reasons to Add More Citrus Fruit to Your Diet

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They deliver more than just vitamin C! Here are the many ways nutrient-packed citrus can benefit your health.
Source: Nutrition

Yes, You Need to Cool It On the Bacon

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This article originally appeared on

America’s inventory of frozen pork belly—which food manufacturers use to make bacon—is at its lowest point in 50 years, according to a recent USDA report. This, combined with news from the Ohio Pork Council that demand is outpacing supply, sent the Internet into a frenzy: Is there a bacon shortage on the horizon?

Industry experts say no. According to the New York Times, there’s little chance that restaurants and grocery stores start rationing the sizzling slices anytime soon. Still, this may be a good time for a reminder about why it’s a good idea to cut back.

Four slices thick-cut bacon have about 240 calories. They also contain eight grams of saturated fat and 880 mg of sodium—about 40% of your government-recommended daily values.

“The reason we recommend a limit on sodium is because it’s associated with a risk of high blood pressure as well as stroke,” says Lisa Cimperman, a registered dietitian at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. The health effects of eating saturated fat are less clear, “but what we do know is that diets high in saturated fat have been associated with an increased risk of heart disease,” she adds. “About 68% of the calories from bacon come from fat—and about half of those are from saturated fat—so it’s definitely not the healthiest meat you can choose.”

Bacon and other smoked, cured and processed meats are usually treated with nitrates or nitrites—chemical added to preserve shelf life and enhance color. Diets high in processed meats have been linked to chronic health conditions including migraines, asthma, heart failure, kidney disease and several types of cancer.

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Most notably, a 2015 study from the World Health Organization found that every daily portion (about 2 ounces) of processed meat raises colorectal cancer risk by 18%. While the study was unable to determine exactly why this link exists, scientists suspect that nitrates and nitrites are at least partially to blame.

Even bacon labeled as “uncured” or “no nitrate or nitrite added” can still contain high levels of these potentially harmful chemicals, says Guy Crosby, an adjunct associate professor of nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. These products are often treated with celery juice or celery powder, he says, which naturally contain high levels of nitrates.

Because of these potential risks, the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends eating no more than 18 ounces of red meat per week. Crosby’s advice when it comes to bacon is the same: “All things in moderation.”

If you’re preparing bacon yourself, says Cimperman, you can reduce its fat content by cooking it in the microwave (on a paper towel, to absorb grease) or baking it in the oven (on a rack that lets fat drip off), rather than frying it in a pan.

You might also consider substituting less fatty cuts of pork, like Canadian bacon. But beware of bacon replacements. Turkey bacon, for example, is still processed and high in sodium. “Because of the perception that it’s healthier, people tend to eat more of it,” Cimperman says.

On a more optimistic note, Cimperman says it’s important to put the WHO’s 18% statistic into perspective: “We’re talking about relative risk,” she says. “That means that, for a healthy person, eating bacon every day will raise their overall risk of colon cancer from something like 5% to 6%.”

“Certainly bacon is not a health food, and I don’t advise consuming it on a daily basis,” she says. “But if you eat a couple strips of bacon at brunch on the weekend, I don’t think it’s going to present a significant health risk—as long as your overall diet is sensible and healthy.”

Source: Nutrition