Do Pork Rinds Have Any Health Benefits?

Pork rinds are a snack made from deep-fried pig skin. They’re also known as chicharrones. 

Pork rinds have long been staples at gas stations and convenience stores, but you can now also find them at mainstream grocery stores. Some companies offer gourmet flavors of pork rinds. Some high-end restaurants have even added gourmet pork rinds to their menus.

What Are Pork Rinds?

Pork rinds are made from pork skins. The fresh pork skins are sliced, then boiled or slow-cooked. This reduces the pork skins to about one-fourth of their original size. They’re drained, then deep-fried. The frying process makes the skins puff up.

Pork rinds are one of the fastest-growing snack foods in the U.S. Sales of pork rinds have soared over the past 20 years, perhaps thanks to people following the low-carbohydrate Atkins Diet or the keto (ketogenic) or paleo diet. 

Pork rinds are popular in other parts of the world too, including the chicharrones sold in Mexico, Peru, and elsewhere in Central and South America. They’re also a popular traditional food in Thailand, where fried pork rinds are called Kaeb Moo.

Pork Rinds and Nutrition

A 14-gram (0.5-ounce) serving of plain pork rinds contains:

  • 80 calories
  • 9 grams of protein
  • 5 grams of fat (7% of daily value)
  • 0 grams of carbohydrates
  • 0 grams of fiber
  • 0 grams of sugars
  • 270 milligrams of sodium (11% of daily value)
  • 20 milligrams of cholesterol (6% of daily value)

Pork rinds are not a good source of vitamins and minerals.

Unlike potato or tortilla chips, pork rinds have no carbohydrates. They’re high in fat and protein, which makes them popular with people who are on low-carbohydrate diets such as the Atkins Diet or a keto or paleo diet plan. 

The Atkins Diet was developed in the 1960s by cardiologist Robert C. Atkins. It’s a high-protein, high-fat diet that strictly restricts carbs.

The keto diet emphasizes high-fat foods, with about 60 to 80% of calories coming from fat. It provides some protein and less than 50 grams of carbs a day. The diet’s name comes from the process called ketosis, which happens when your body burns fat for energy instead of using glucose.

The Paleolithic (paleo) diet is based on foods similar to those eaten by prehistoric humans who were hunters and gatherers.

While processed foods aren’t part of a true paleo diet, some paleo diet followers say that pork rinds are a paleo-friendly snack.

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Pork Rinds and Health Concerns

Processed foods. Pork rinds are a highly processed food. Processed foods tend to have more fat, sugar, and salt than fresh, unprocessed foods. 

People also tend to consume more calories when eating highly processed foods. In a study of 15,977 American adults, for example, researchers at New York University and the University of São Paulo found that people who ate more ultra-processed foods had a higher body mass index (BMI) and more excess weight.

High in sodium. Because pork rinds are a processed food, they tend to be high in sodium. If you eat a 2-ounce bag, you’re consuming up to 50% of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for sodium. 

When your diet is high in sodium, more water is pulled into your bloodstream. This increases the amount of blood and blood pressure. High blood pressure (hypertension) can harm your blood vessels and organs. It tires out your heart because your heart is forced to work harder to pump blood.

High in saturated fat and cholesterol. Pork rinds are high in both saturated fat and cholesterol, an unhealthy combination that can raise your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels -- the “bad” kind of cholesterol.

How to Include Pork Rinds in Your Diet

If you eat pork rinds, here are some things to consider:

  • Look for brands that don’t contain artificial preservatives and flavorings and that are lower in sodium. 
  • Eat these high-fat snacks in moderation.
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES: 

ABC News: “Pigging Out on Pork Rinds?”

American Heart Association: “Get the Scoop on Sodium and Salt,” “Unhealthy Foods.” 

British Journal of Nutrition: “Ultra-Processed Food Consumption and Excess Weight Among U.S. Adults.”

Chicago Tribune: “Pork Rinds Go Fancy and You Can Thank Keto and Paleo Dieters.”

FDA: “Sodium in Your Diet."

Journal of Food Quality: “Evaluation of Quality Parameters and Shelf Life of Thai Pork Scratching “Kaeb Moo”.”

Los Angeles Times: “Pork Rinds Have Some Dieters in Hog Heaven.”

Mayo Clinic: “Atkins Diet: What's Behind the Claims?,”  “Is The Keto Diet for You? A Mayo Expert Weighs In,” “Paleo Diet: What Is It and Why Is It So Popular?”

USDA FoodData Central: “Original Pork Rinds."

CDC: “LDL and HDL Cholesterol: “Bad” and “Good” Cholesterol.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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