Pork: Embrace or Avoid?

Probably no other meat feeds more people across the world - or more controversies - than pork. Religious limitations aside, we are bombarded by calls to stop eating pork, on the one side (since it presumably causes heart disease, cancer, diabetes and what not) and by slogans like "Eat More Backon", on the other. But let us thread carefully and investigate!

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Why they say it is bad

You will often hear people say they don’t eat pork because it’s “bad for you”, opting instead for chicken or turkey. Why does pork have such a vile reputation?

First of all, because it is used to make processed meats, such as ham, bacon, and sausages. Such products are often very fatty and caloric, but what’s worse, they are loaded with salt and nitrates that preserve the red color of the meat. Studies show that it is rather the nitrates and other preservatives that increase the risk of heart disease, not the meat itself (see here for details). In fact, recent research shows that there is no direct link between the consumption of red meat and cardiovascular disease, as long as you don’t go over the top in your meat consumption.

The second argument against pork is that it is rich in saturated fats, and those supposedly lead to heart disease. However, the scientific opinion is very split on this one: some recent studies show no connection between saturated fats and the heart health. As an aside: human and animal babies rely mostly on their mother’s milk – and in it, half of the fats come from saturated fat!

If you still worry about the fat, keep in mind that pork is versatile: all cuts with the word “loin” in the name tend to be very lean, somewhere between chicken thigh and chicken breast! Generally, nowadays pigs are bred to be much leaner than in the past.

Why it may actually be good for you

Pork, like all meat, is a great source of protein: 100g of lean pork contain 26g of protein (a sedentary adult needs 45-55g a day). Research has shown that regular consumption of lean pork is just as beneficial for body composition as that of chicken or beef; in fact, such protein-rich diet is known to promote weight loss.

Protein apart, pork abounds in valuable nutrients – here are some of them:

  • Vitamin B1 (thiamin) – essential for metabolism, for your liver and skin (more here); pork contains more thiamin than other meats;
  • Zinc – vital for the immune system, DNA replication, and healing of wounds;
  • Selenium – a strong anti-oxidant that is also important for your thyroid (more here);
  • Iron – you can’t make red blood cells without iron, and its deficiency leads to anemia; it is very hard for the body to extract iron from plant sources, however, so meat provides the main source of this nutrient;
  • Vitamin B12 – important for the brain and cognitive function; its lack leads to fatigue and loss of focus; vitamin B12 is best obtained from animal sources.

So what’s the conclusion? Pork by itself is not bad for you. And lean cuts are definitely good for you! It’s the processed pork products, treated with preservatives and full of salt, that are responsible for pork’s bad reputation. It’s ok to use a strip of bacon to add taste to your stew or veggies; just avoid eating ham and bacon every day and stick to tenderloin instead.

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