Monday, November 29, 2010
Kielbasa and Eggs for breakfast!
The procedure is pretty simple... I take a hunk of frozen kielbasa from the freezer, and slice it into very thin (1mm-ish) slices. That goes into a pre-heated skillet on medium-low, and it starts sizzling right away. And then I cook my eggs. I happened on the idea of using kielbasa after I'd sliced some up and cooked it for another dish. One piece was left in the pan by accident, and burned. Being the kind of guy I am, I picked up the burned piece and stuck it in my mouth. The crispy burned slice tasted just like bacon.
But is it healthy?
Like most Americans, I'm still pretty confused about whether or not eggs are good for you. Good or bad cholesterol, high protein, and so on. There was a recent study at Harvard that noted that men who ate up to 6 eggs per week did fine, but that those who ate 7 or more eggs per week had an increased risk for dying of anything in general. There are a lot of weird things going on in the study, and it's not very conclusive about why or how eggs would be a factor. But, Harvard gives a 6 egg limit, and the Mediterranean diet has a guideline of 4 or fewer eggs per week, so the message I'm taking away is that eggs should be eaten in moderation.
Moderation? I've heard for years that even unhealthy things can be eaten in moderation, and it won't be so bad. I take this with a grain of salt (in moderation) because I've heard for most of my life that some of the best things are REALLY unhealthy. And given what many Americans think of as an acceptable portion, a moderated portion may still be way too much. And given the way our news media functions, I'm waiting for them to come out with a study somewhere that says moderation causes a really ugly, flammable cancer of the sort that would condemn you to the stopped-up bowels of hell.
Thanks to the recent bacon mania, recipes from Bacon Explosion to numerous chocolate-bacon recipes, and even bacon recipes published by a cardiologist in Israel (WTF!!??!!) are running well beyond the bounds of what would be considered even marginally healthy. Bacon dipped in Chocolate is now being served at the same state fairs that made deep-fried twinkies popular. How such an evil coexists so peaceably with Bible Belt baptists is almost beyond me. Holy crap.
Restricting myself to 4-6 eggs a week sounds a lot healthier than a moderated portion of deep fried twinkies and chocolate covered bacon. But I'm not really in a position to point fingers when it comes to my love of fried swine.
Like any other person who's been exposed, I do have a thing for bacon. And it's hard to wrap the mind around combining 'bacon' in a sentence with 'moderation.' Part of the reason I'm talking about kielbasa and eggs is that I find that kielbasa is a lot easier to use in moderation. The flavor is fantastic. But a little goes a long way, so it's easy to use a small amount. And I don't get the same cravings for kielbasa that I do for bacon.
Kielbasa is the polish word for sausage. It's not a specific recipe. But most of us in the US have a pretty specific flavor in mind when someone says Kielbasa. It's a pork-, or pork and beef- based sausage that's flavored with garlic and marjoram. I've been using regular, full-fat pork or pork/beef kielbasa, because I've found that it just tastes the best. I've tried turkey kielbasa. It smells great while cooking, but has no real flavor. And lite kielbasa's not bad, but it doesn't cook up as well without adding more oil (fat) to the pan. Full fat kielbasa tastes a little better, cooks easier, and it does leave some grease in the pan, so it's clear that some of the fat content is cooking off in the process. But it's not the oil-slick tidal pool of greasiness that you get when cooking bacon.
There are 3 real dietary health issues involved in bacon and its substitutes: Fat, Nitrates and Sodium.
I looked up some of the basic nutrition info for this entry, and compared it with bacon.
2oz of bacon (around 4-5 slices): 302 Calories.
Calories from fat: 106: 4g saturated fat.
647 mg of Sodium.
2oz of Hillshire Farm Polish Kielbasa: 100 Calories.
Calories from fat: 140: 0g saturated fat, 6g monounsaturated fat.
570 mg Sodium
(other alternatives, for comparison)
2oz Butterball turkey bacon (4 slices): 140 calories
Calories from fat: 60: 2g saturated fat
540 Mg of Sodium.
2oz (7 strips) morningstar vegetarian strips: 210 calories
Calories from fat:140: 1.75g saturated fat, 3.5g monounsaturated fat, 10.5g polyunsaturated fat
805 mg of Sodium.
Clearly kielbasa isn't the healthiest meat in the world. But it's much better than bacon. (Both are healthier than anything labeled 'breakfast sausage,' but that's a whole other topic. ) And ounce-for-ounce, it's has fewer calories than turkey- or veggie- 'bacon'. Given the vegetarian reputation for being a healthier diet, I was surprised to find that the sodium in the vegetarian option was so much worse than any of the other options.(That said, I don't think it's loaded up with nitrates, so maybe it all balances out.)
Meat products need to be cured in something to protect us from all kinds of microbial nastiness, and to keep the meat from rotting. And in the case of pork products, it also helps protect us from things like roundworms. Historically speaking, the discovery of how to cure meat was really important. Lacking the option to refrigerate, the ability to preserve meat for a long time enabled people to travel greater distances and explore areas of the globe that had been previously inaccessible.
Historically, meat was cured with salt and sugar. but more modern processes use nitrates, which have been linked with a whole host of health issues, including various kinds of cancer. Bacon is cured. So is Kielbasa. But uncured options have been appearing as people began to understand the health issues. Trader Joe's, of all places, has one of the best-rated uncured bacon options. (I've tried it... it tastes wonderful.) They also have an uncured pork kielbasa that I haven't tried yet... but it's on the list. Given TJ's reputation for quality, affordable food, and my experiences with their bacon, I'm pretty confident.
Sodium is another issue when eating kielbasa. 2oz, or 1/8 of a pound, has around 25% of the daily recommended dose of sodium. This is better by half than bacon, on par with turkey bacon, and definitely better than the morningstar strips... but still not ideal. But a little kielbasa can go a long way if it's sliced thinly. So we don't typically eat 2oz worth with our eggs.
So, kielbasa is a healthier substitute for bacon. And nutrition-wise, it's pretty comparable to some of the other bacon substitutes. After doing the research and reading everything I just wrote, I'm almost ready to give a hearty, demoralized 'whoop-de-doo.'
But at the end of all of this, we're still talking about bacon and eggs. And bacon is not exactly the gold standard when it comes to healthy eating. So, take that statement without any grains of salt, since there's already enough salt in the sausage. The health issues aren't new to anyone, and this is still something that people do enjoy once in a while. Some people have turned to turkey bacon or a vegetarian equivalent. I'm just trying to offer something tastier.