Pork: Is It Good for You?

Though you may have heard it called “the other white meat,” pork is considered red meat. It’s consumed worldwide, though it is against the laws of some religions — including Islam and Judaism — to eat pork. 

As a red meat, pork has a reputation for being unhealthy. However, it is a good source of certain nutrients, as well as high-quality protein. Consumed in moderation, it can make a good addition to a healthy diet. 

Nutrition Information

100 grams (3.5 ounces) of cooked ground pork contains: 

  • Calories: 297
  • Protein: 25.7 grams
  • Fat: 20.8 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Sugar: 0 grams

Pork is a good source of: 

  • Protein
  • Niacin
  • Vitamins B6 and B12
  • Iron
  • Zinc

Pork is also a good source of vitamins and minerals like phosphorus, selenium, and thiamine. 

Pork is actually richer in thiamine, a B vitamin required for a range of bodily functions, than other red meats like beef and lamb.

Vitamins B6 and B12, also found abundantly in pork, are essential for blood cell formation and brain function. Pork is also an excellent source of iron — the heme-iron found in red meats is absorbed very easily by the human digestive system.

The selenium in pork is essential for proper thyroid function. A six-ounce pork chop has more than 100% of the recommended daily allowance of selenium.

Potential Health Benefits of Pork

Pork is a rich source of certain vitamins and minerals your body needs to function, like iron and zinc. It’s also an excellent source of high-quality protein. Minimally processed, lean, fully-cooked pork eaten in moderation can provide certain benefits when added to your diet.

Research has found a number of potential health benefits associated with eating pork: 

Muscle Maintenance

The high-quality proteins in pork are complete amino acids and therefore perfect building blocks for creating new muscle. As we age, we lose muscle mass, which can lead to conditions like sarcopenia — extreme muscle degeneration.

Eating high quality protein like that found in pork — as part of a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise — can help slow or reverse sarcopenia. It can also help maintain the healthy muscle tissue you already have.

Increased Muscle Performance

Pork contains the amino acid beta-alanine, which helps your body form a compound called carnosine. Carnosine is important for muscle function.

Studies have shown that high doses of beta-alanine supplements taken for 4–10 weeks lead to a 40–80% increase in carnosine levels in participant’s muscles.

High levels of carnosine have also been linked to lower fatigue and higher muscle performance in humans.

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Potential Risks of Pork

Can Be High in Sodium and Saturated Fats
While pork is rich in several important vitamins and nutrients, it can also be high in sodium and saturated fats, two things that should be avoided as part of a healthy diet. 

If you’re on a low sodium diet due to concerns over your heart health and/or avoiding saturated fats, you should consume the leanest, least-processed varieties of pork you can find.

Certain cured pork products like bacon contain sulfates or sulfites, chemical preservatives which you should consume in small quantities or avoid altogether. Look for salt-cured or uncured options instead.

Keep in mind that the way you prepare pork will impact its fat content. Instead of frying, opt for grilling, roasting, baking, or broiling. It’s best to avoid fat-heavy pork products like bacon. Opt instead for leaner varieties that are minimally processed and higher in protein.

Can Contain Parasites
Eating undercooked or raw pork can result in parasitic infections. Taenia solium, or pork tapeworm, is an intestinal parasite. Most of the time it’s harmless, but it can occasionally cause a disease called cysticercosis, which leads to epilepsy.

Eating raw or undercooked pork can also result in trichinosis, an infection of parasitic roundworms called Trichinella. While trichinosis symptoms are usually mild, they can become serious — even fatal — especially in older adults.

To avoid parasitic infection, always cook pork thoroughly. Check the temperature with a meat thermometer to ensure the meat has become hot enough to kill parasites and bacteria before serving.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 30, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

USDA FoodData Database: "Search Results - pork, ground"

NIH Office of Dietary Supplements: "Thiamine"

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Role of dietary protein in the sarcopenia of aging”

Amino Acids: “Effect of beta-alanine supplementation on muscle carnosine concentrations and exercise performance.”

Journal of Applied Physiology: “beta-Alanine supplementation augments muscle carnosine content and attenuates fatigue during repeated isokinetic contraction bouts in trained sprinters” 

Amino Acids: “Effect of beta-alanine supplementation on muscle carnosine concentrations and exercise performance”

Amino Acids: “Influence of beta-alanine supplementation on skeletal muscle carnosine concentrations and high intensity cycling capacity”

International Journal of Endocrinology: “Selenium and Thyroid Disease: From Pathophysiology to Treatment”

Clinical Microbiology and Infection: “Pork as a source of human parasitic infection”

Emerging Infectious Diseases: “Worldwide occurrence and impact of human trichinellosis, 1986-2009”

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