Health Benefits of Pork
Pork is loaded with various healthy vitamins and minerals, as well as high-quality protein. Adequately cooked pork can make an excellent part of a healthy diet.
The Nutrition of Lean Pork
Lean pork is a healthy choice of meat. It is a good source of proteins, vitamins and minerals. The low sodium content makes it a good choice of meat if you want to maintain healthy blood pressure. Below is a breakdown of key nutrients available in 100 grams of the cooked meat. This serving provides 190 calories.
- Protein – 30 grams
- Fat – 5 grams
- Vitamin B1 – 65 percent of recommended daily intake
- Vitamin B2 – 20 percent of recommended daily intake
- Vitamin B3 – 45 percent of recommended daily intake
- Vitamin B6 – 25 percent of recommended daily intake
- Vitamin B12 – 70 percent of recommended daily intake
- Iron – 15 percent of recommended daily intake
- Magnesium – 10 percent of recommended daily intake
- Phosphorous – 20 percent of recommended daily intake
- Zinc – 35 percent of recommended daily intake
Lean pork provides all 9 essential amino acids. This protein is also easily digestible which enhances various functions in the body. Protein helps to build and repair tissues throughout the body. It is also needed for cell growth and healthy membranes. Protein is a key nutrient for immunity functions in the body. It is required for the formation of white blood cells which are vital antibodies. A 100 gram portion of the lean meat provides about half of the daily requirements for the body.
A 100 gram serving contains 5 grams of fat. More than 50 percent of this is unsaturated fat which is healthier for you. Some fat is essential in a healthy diet. It provides energy and nutrients for normal growth. Fat also helps to maintain healthy skin. Fat in lean pork contains vitamins A, D, E and K. The fat also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), an antioxidant. This antioxidant has been established as helpful in the prevention of certain cancers and heart disease.
Lean pork provides a good mix of B vitamins. Vitamin B1 enables various metabolic processes in the body. It also supports growth and repair of nerves and muscle tissues. Vitamin B2 helps in energy production. It also plays a role in growth and repair of tissues. It facilitates good vision and promotes healthy skin. Pork is an excellent source of vitamin B3. This facilitates the release of energy from metabolism. It also promotes the health of the digestive tract and healthy skin. Vitamin B6 also plays a role in metabolism. It supports the functions of the central nervous system as well as metabolism. The meat also contains high amounts of vitamin B12. This supports the health of the nervous system. It also boosts vitality.
Iron is vital for energy production. It facilitates physical and mental functions. This boosts your productivity levels. Iron is a vital ingredient required for hemoglobin formation. Hemoglobin is a basic component of red blood cells and transports oxygen throughout the body.
Magnesium is a vital mineral for development of strong teeth and bones. It also helps to keep blood pressure stable. This improves cardiovascular health and lowers the risk of heart disease. Magnesium also helps to maintain a healthy balance of energy within the body.
Few meat products give you as much zinc as lean pork. Zinc facilitates bone formation in children and teenagers. It also helps to maintain bone structure and helps prevent bone loss in older adults. It improves the body’s resistance to infections and boosts immunity.
Pork is a rich source of many different vitamins and minerals. These are the main vitamins and minerals found in pork:
Thiamin: Unlike other types of red meat, such as beef and lamb, pork is particularly rich in thiamin. Thiamin is one of the B-vitamins and plays an essential role in various body functions.
Selenium: Pork is usually a rich source of selenium. The best sources of this essential mineral are animal-derived foods, such as meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy products.
Zinc: An important mineral, abundant in pork. It is essential for a healthy brain and immune system.
Vitamin B12: Only found in foods of animal origin, vitamin B12 is important for blood formation and brain function. Vitamin B12 deficiency may cause anemia and damage to neurons.
Vitamin B6: A group of several related vitamins, important for the formation of red blood cells.
Niacin: One of the B-vitamins, also called vitamin B3. It serves a variety of functions in the body and is important for growth and metabolism.
Phosphorus: Abundant and common in most foods, phosphorus is usually a large component of people’s diets. It is essential for body growth and maintenance.
Iron: Pork contains less iron than lamb or beef. However, the absorption of meat iron (heme-iron) from the digestive tract is very efficient and pork can be considered an outstanding source of iron.
Pork may contain useful amounts of many other vitamins and minerals. Processed pork products, such as ham and bacon, may contain very high amounts of salt (sodium).
Bottom Line: Pork is an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals, including thiamin, zinc, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, niacin, phosphorus, and iron.
The Good Health Benefits of Sausage & Bacon
Bacon contains beneficial protein, iron and vitamin B-12, but also contains sodium and saturated fat.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture classifies sausage and bacon as part of the protein foods group, and recommends that men consume 6 ounces and women consume 5 ounces of protein foods each day. While the USDA recommends that most of your protein food intake should come from lean sources — such as beans, lentils and lean cuts of poultry — high-fat fare like sausages and bacon can be consumed in moderation without destroying your diet. Despite their nutritional drawbacks, sausages and bacon provide a source of some essential nutrients needed for good health.
Bacon and sausage each contain several grams of complete protein per serving, and each provides all nine amino acids you need in your diet. Your body uses protein to maintain lean muscle mass and hormone balance, aid in brain function and keep your other tissues healthy and functional. The average American needs approximately 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day, according to Iowa State University. This translates to 60 grams of protein daily for the average 150-pound individual. A 3-ounce serving of bacon contains 29 grams of protein, while sausage offers 13 grams per serving.
Bacon and sausages provide vitamin B-12, a nutrient important for healthy red blood cells. Vitamin B-12 allows you to make hemoglobin, the protein your blood needs to transport oxygen. Consuming enough B-12 also helps you metabolize fats and protein, plays a role in brain function and protects you from the nerve damage that can result from vitamin B-12 deficiency. A 3-ounce serving of bacon provides 1 microgram of vitamin B-12 — 42 percent of your daily recommended intake, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. Sausage contains slightly less vitamin B-12 — 0.8 micrograms, or 33 percent of your daily recommended intake, per serving.
Sausage and bacon contain iron, an essential mineral also important for hemoglobin production. Each hemoglobin protein contains four iron atoms, and consuming enough iron in your diet helps ensure that you can make enough hemoglobin to support red blood cell function. Iron also makes up a component of myoglobin, a protein your muscles use to store oxygen. A 3-ounce serving of bacon provides 0.8 milligrams of iron, while an equivalent serving of sausage provides 1.1 milligrams. Both foods help you reach your recommended daily iron intake — 18 milligrams for women and 8 milligrams for men, according to the Linus Pauling Institute.
Maintenance of Muscle Mass
Along with many other animal-based foods, pork is one of the best dietary sources of high-quality protein.
With age, maintaining muscle mass is an important health consideration. Without exercise and proper diet, muscle mass naturally degenerates with age, an adverse change that is associated with many age-related health problems.
In the most severe cases, muscle wasting may lead to a condition called sarcopenia, which is characterized by very low levels of muscle mass and decreased quality of life. Sarcopenia is most common among elderly people.
High-quality protein, containing all of the essential amino acids, is very important for the maintenance of muscle mass, especially when coupled with strength training.
Inadequate intake of high-quality protein may accelerate age-related muscle degeneration, increasing the risk of sarcopenia.
Eating pork, or other protein-rich animal foods, is an excellent way to ensure sufficient dietary intake of high-quality protein that may help preserve muscle mass.
Bottom Line: Pork is an excellent source of high-quality protein, so it should be effective for the growth and maintenance of muscle mass.
Improved Exercise Performance
Meat consumption is not only beneficial for the maintenance of muscle mass, it may also improve muscle function and physical performance.
Aside from being rich in high-quality protein, animal muscles (meat) contain a variety of healthy nutrients that are beneficial for our own muscles. These include taurine, creatine, and beta-alanine. Beta-alanine is an amino acid, which is used to produce carnosine in the body. Carnosine is a substance that is important for muscle function. High levels of carnosine in human muscles have, in fact, been linked with reduced fatigue and improved physical performance.
Following vegetarian or vegan diets, which are low in beta-alanine, may cut the amount of carnosine in muscles over time. In contrast, high dietary intake of beta-alanine (from supplements) may result in significant increases in the carnosine levels of muscles.
As a result, eating pork, or other rich sources of beta-alanine, may be beneficial for those who want to maximize their physical performance.
Bottom Line: Like other types of meat, pork may help improve muscle function and exercise performance.
Due to possible contamination with parasites, consumption of raw or under cooked pork should be avoided.
Pork is the world’s most popular type of meat. It is a rich source of high-quality protein, as well as various vitamins and minerals. For this reason, it may promote muscle growth and maintenance, and improve exercise performance. On the negative side, consumption of both under cooked and overcooked pork should be avoided. Overcooked pork may contain carcinogenic substances, and under cooked (or raw) pork may harbor parasites. That being said, moderate consumption of properly prepared pork can very well fit into a healthy diet.
Pork – Nutrition Facts
Pork is a high-protein food and contains varying amounts of fat. The table below presents information on all the nutrients in pork (1).
Type: Plain Ground Pork
Serving: 100 grams, approx. 3.5oz
|Vitamin A||2 µg||0%|
|Vitamin C||0.7 mg||1%|
|Vitamin D||0.5 µg||10%|
|Vitamin E||0.21 mg||1%|
|Vitamin K||0 µg||~|
|Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)||0.71 mg||59%|
|Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)||0.22 mg||17%|
|Vitamin B3 (Niacin)||4.21 mg||26%|
|Vitamin B5 (Panthothenic acid)||0.52 mg||10%|
|Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)||0.39 mg||30%|
|Vitamin B12||0.54 µg||23%|
|Aspartic acid||2383 mg|
|Glutamic acid||4022 mg|
|Saturated fatty acids||7.72 g|
|Monounsaturated fatty acids||9.25 g|
|Polyunsaturated fatty acids||1.87 g|
|20:5 n-3 (EPA)||0 mg|
|22:5 n-3 (DPA)||0 mg|
|22:6 n-3 (DHA)||0 mg|
Healthy Breakfast: Bacon vs. Sausage
While bacon and sausage are both a source of protein (a key component of any healthy breakfast), these two foods are generally not considered healthy. However, certain types of bacon and breakfast sausage are healthier than others.
Both regular bacon and sausage are fairly high in calories, which can be detrimental if you’re trying to maintain or achieve a healthy weight. A slice of pan-fried cured bacon contains 54 calories, and one pan-fried sausage link contains 75 calories, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Nutrient Database.
However, choosing turkey substitutes or vegetarian options instead helps cut calories at breakfast. A slice of microwaved turkey bacon contains just 30 calories, and one turkey sausage link contains 66 calories. Meatless bacon provides just 16 calories per strip, and meatless sausage contains 64 calories per link, notes the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Saturated Fat and Sodium
Both regular bacon and breakfast sausage are sources of saturated fat and cholesterol — and are high in sodium. Therefore, these two breakfast foods can increase your risk for high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease when eaten in excess. While turkey bacon and turkey sausage are generally lower in saturated fat, these processed meats are still high in sodium. Look for reduced-sodium varieties of bacon and breakfast sausage. If you choose meatless bacon or meatless breakfast sausage, you’ll cut calories, eliminate dietary cholesterol, and be getting almost no saturated fat.
Bacon and sausages are commonly cured, meaning they contain nitrates or nitrites as preservatives. The American Cancer Society reports that these two compounds may increase your risk for cancer, and that higher intakes of processed meats are associated with higher rates of colon cancer. Therefore, uncured bacon or sausages may be healthier options, although such foods might be more difficult to find at your local supermarket.
Because they are high in calories, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and nitrates, regular bacon and breakfast sausages are generally not the healthiest breakfast option. Choosing uncured, reduced-sodium bacon or sausage — or meatless products — is much healthier, but these foods often taste different than regular bacon and sausage. Heart-healthy, protein-rich alternatives include egg whites, black beans, tofu, low-fat cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, protein-rich smoothies, nuts and seeds.
Cured vs. uncured:
Differences in Cured & Uncured Meats
With its concentrated source of nutrients and quality protein, meat provides a high-value food in almost every culture. Unfortunately, it’s also a highly perishable food, and consequently the ability to preserve it through curing has been a vital survival skill through the centuries. In the modern world, you can obtain fresh meat from refrigerated showcases year-round, but cured meats remain popular because of their potent flavors. That gives you the flexibility to choose, at a given meal, whichever form is appropriate.
Anatomy of a Cure
- Salt provides the crucial ingredient in cured meats, as it disrupts the cellular activity of bacteria that might otherwise cause spoilage or illness. Sugar can moderate the salt’s harshness and act as preservative in its own right. Cured meats are often smoked as well, which does little for food safety but helps prevent rancidity. The other crucial ingredient in most cured meats is nitrates or nitrites in some form. These give cured meats their delicately rosy color and provide them with their signature flavors. On a more practical note, they also kill Clostridium botulinum, the bacteria responsible for botulism.
Cured vs. Uncured
- Cured meats can easily be distinguished from uncured meats by their texture, color and aroma. The salting process leaves the muscle fibers slightly denser than before, as proteins in the meat contract. This is why ham’s texture is distinctly different from the texture of a pork roast, even when the two cuts come from the same part of the animal. The distinctive ruddiness of cured meats is also immediately recognizable, differing from the paleness of uncured pork or the deep red of beef. Most important, cured meats possess deep and complex flavors created by beneficial bacteria, yeasts and enzymes during the curing process.
Cured But Not Actually
- Oddly, some obviously cured meats such as bacon, ham and deli sausages are sold as “uncured” in retail stores. This is a regulatory and marketing quirk, growing from consumer demand. Some health-conscious diners wish to avoid nitrates and nitrites, either because of their weak association with cancer or from a simple desire to minimize their consumption of chemicals in general. Most such foods are cured instead with celery juice or powder, because celery is a potent source of natural nitrates. These nitrates naturally turn into nitrites during the curing process, but the nitrites haven’t been “added” by the processor. Because of this, such meats must be labeled as “uncured” under U.S. law.
On the Table
- Even in small quantities, cured meats instill their character into every dish. That’s a boon to frugal or budget-challenged cooks, who can flavor an entire pot of inexpensive beans or vegetables with a ham bone or a few morsels of bacon. Yet that flavor also imposes limits, and a pork chop or a piece of fresh beef is infinitely more versatile than its cured equivalent. Ultimately, the choice comes down to your desired result. For example, a pork hock and a smoked hock will each enrich a pot of greens, but the smoked hock imposes its own flavor while the fresh hock leaves center stage to the taste of the greens.
Cured vs. Uncured Meat; Does it Really Matter?
Curing meat has been around since the 3rd century B.C., the processes from then compared to today are what makes the question “Does it Really Matter?” valid.
As early as 3000 BC in Mesopotamia, cooked meats and fish were preserved in sesame oil and dried, salted meat and fish were part of the Sumerian diet. The early processed meat products were prepared with one purpose in mind: their preservation for use in times of scarcity. During 900 BC, salt was being produced in ‘salt gardens’ in Greece and dry salt curing and smoking of meat were well established.
The Romans in 200 BC learned the use of salt from the Greeks and besides curing fish, the Romans preserved various types of meat, such as pork with pickles containing salt and other ingredients. It was during this time that the reddening effect of salting was noted. By medieval times, treating meat with salt, saltpeter and smoke was common place and saltpeter’s effect to ‘fix’ the red color was well recognized.
Today the curing process is largely man made chemically based. Using synthetic chemicals such as sodium nitrates and nitrites are what is causing the health issues such as gastrointestinal cancer. Natural nitrates occur in salt, celery powder, lactic acid and citric acid and have been used in the “uncured” meats, the name “uncured” is a misrepresentation of the process.
Curing, at its very root, is the preservation of meat by the use of acid, salt, and sugar to remove water and prevent spoilage. The flavor and texture that develops during the process is an added bonus and, in the era of modern refrigeration, the real point to curing anything to begin with.
Unless meat is sold raw, it needs to be preserved somehow in order for it to stay fresh and not spoil. Bacon is sometimes smoked, but curing is the most common way to prepare it for sale. The oldest and most traditional way to cure meat is with salt; the nitrogen in salt, sea salt in particular, removes moisture and seals the surface from bacteria and other contaminants. Somewhat paradoxically, bacon preserved this way is usually referred to as “uncured.” The “cured” designation is usually saved for meat that has been preserved with chemicals that mimic salt but are more efficient and predictable from a manufacturing perspective.
Basically, like most of the morals to my blogs, buying local, buying organic and knowing where your food comes from seems to be the key. The labeling of uncured vs. cured is a matter of whether the manufacturer is using synthetic compounds to cure or natural compounds to cure. But in today’s labeling of products, cured and uncured are the same thing.
Sources and resources:
Is Bacon Bad For You, or Good? The Salty, Crunchy Truth
Many people have a love-hate relationship with bacon. They love the taste and crunchiness, but are still worried that all that processed meat and fat may be harming them. Well, there are many myths in the history of nutrition that haven’t stood the test of time. Is the idea that bacon causes harm one of them? Let’s find out…
How is Bacon Made?
There are different types of bacon and the final product can vary between manufacturers. Bacon is most commonly made from pork, the meat from pigs, although you can also find “bacon” made from the meat of other animals like turkey. Bacon typically goes through a curing process, where the meat is soaked in a solution of salt, nitrates, spices and sometimes sugar. In some cases the bacon is smoked afterwards.
The curing is done in order to preserve the meat. The high salt makes the meat an unfriendly environment for bacteria to live in and the nitrates also fight bacteria and help the bacon preserve its red color. Bacon is a processed meat, but the amount of processing and the ingredients used vary between manufacturers.
Bottom Line: Bacon is usually derived from pork and goes through a curing process where it is mixed with salt, nitrates and other ingredients.
Bacon is Loaded With Fats… But They’re “Good” Fats
The fats in bacon are about 50% monounsaturated and a large part of those is oleic acid. This is the same fatty acid that olive oil is praised for and generally considered “heart-healthy”. Then about 40% is saturated fat, accompanied by a decent amount of cholesterol. But we now know that saturated fat isn’t harmful and cholesterol in the diet doesn’t affect cholesterol in the blood. Nothing to fear.
Depending on what the animal ate, about 10% are polyunsaturated fatty acids (mostly Omega-6). These are the “bad” fats in bacon, because most people already eat too much of them. However, if you choose bacon from pastured pigs that ate a natural diet, then this won’t be much of an issue. If your pigs are commercially fed, with plenty of soy and corn (like most pigs are), then the bacon may contain enough Omega-6 to cause problems. I personally wouldn’t worry about it much, especially if you’re already avoiding vegetable oils, which are the biggest sources of Omega-6 in the diet.
Bottom Line: The fatty acids in a typical batch of bacon are about 50% monounsaturated, 40% saturated and 10% polyunsaturated.
Bacon is Fairly Nutritious
Meat tends to be very nutritious and bacon is no exception. A typical 100g portion of cooked bacon contains:
- 37 grams of high quality animal protein.
- Lots of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B12.
- 89% of the RDA for Selenium.
- 53% of the RDA for Phosphorus.
- Decent amounts of the minerals iron, magnesium, zinc and potassium.
Bacon is also pretty high in sodium, which makes sense given how it is cured with sodium during processing.
I personally think the risks of sodium are way overblown. Some studies show that excess sodium can elevate blood pressure and raise risk of heart disease, while other studies show that too little sodium leads to the opposite result.
If you’re already avoiding the biggest sources of sodium in the diet (processed, packaged foods) then I don’t think you need to worry about the amount of sodium in bacon. For healthy people who don’t have high blood pressure, there is no evidence that eating a bit of sodium causes harm.
Bottom Line: Cooked bacon is loaded with many nutrients. It is quite high in sodium, which may be a problem for people with elevated blood pressure.
Nitrates, Nitrites and Nitrosamines
Now that we know saturated fat, cholesterol and normal amounts of sodium are usually nothing to worry about, this leaves us with the nitrates. Apparently, some studies conducted by some scientists a long time ago linked nitrates with cancer. However, these studies have since been refuted. Nitrates aren’t some artificial compounds unique to bacon. Our bodies are loaded with them and the biggest dietary source is vegetables.
Yes, vegetables are loaded with nitrates. Even our saliva contains massive amounts of them. These are compounds that are natural parts of human bodily processes.
There is some concern that during high heat cooking, the nitrates can form compounds called nitrosamines, which are known carcinogens. However, vitamin c is now frequently added to the curing process, which effectively reduces the nitrosamine content. The harmful effects of nitrosamines are outweighed by potential benefits, but dietary nitrates may also be converted to Nitric Oxide, associated with improved immune function and cardiovascular health.
Bottom Line: There may not be any reason to fear the nitrates in bacon. Nitrates are parts of the human body and found in massive amounts in other foods like vegetables.
Other Potentially Harmful Compounds
When it comes to cooking meat, we need to find balance. Over cooked is bad, under cooked can be even worse.
If we use too much heat and burn the meat, it will form harmful compounds like Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons and Heterocyclic Amines – which are associated with cancer. On the other hand, some meats may contain harmful pathogens like bacteria, viruses, and parasites. For this reason, we need to cook meat well enough to kill the bacteria. So cook your bacon (& sausage) properly. It should be crunchy, but not burnt.
Bottom Line: All meat should be cooked well enough to kill potential pathogens, but not so much that it gets burnt.
What The Studies Say
There are concerns when it comes to bacon and other processed meats. Many observational studies do show a link between consumption of processed meat, cancer and heart disease. In particular, processed meat has been associated with cancer of the colon, breast, liver, lung and others.
There is also an association between processed meat and cardiovascular disease. A large meta-analysis of prospective studies on meat consumption did show that while regular meat had no effect, processed meat was significantly associated with both heart disease and diabetes.
Of course, those who eat processed meat are also more likely to smoke, exercise less and live an overall unhealthier lifestyle than people who don’t. People who are eating processed meat in these studies may be eating them with pancakes, soft drinks or beer and might even have ice cream for dessert afterwards.
Therefore, we can’t draw too many conclusions from these findings. Correlation does not equal causation.
However, I do NOT think these studied should be ignored, because the associations are consistent and they are fairly strong. Whether this matters in the context of a lower carb, real food based diet, I do not know.
Bottom Line: Several observational studies show a link between processed meat consumption, cardiovascular disease and several types of cancer.
How to Make The Right Choices
As with most other types of meats, the quality of the final product depends on a lot of things, including what the animals ate and how the product was processed. The best bacon is from pasture-raised pigs that ate a diet that is appropriate for pigs. If you can, buy bacon from local farmers that used traditional processing methods. If you don’t have the option of purchasing your bacon directly from the farmer, then eat supermarket bacon at your own risk. Generally speaking, the less artificial ingredients in a product, the better.
If you want to make your own bacon, you can buy pork belly and then process or prepare the bacon yourself.
Bottom Line: As with other types of meat, the feed the animals ate and the conditions they were raised in can have a profound effect on the final product.
Take Home Message
There are several studies showing that bacon is linked to cancer and heart disease, but all of them are so-called epidemiological studies, which can not prove causation. Overall, I’m not convinced that bacon is harmful. But I’m not convinced that it’s totally healthy either. It is a processed meat after all.
At the end of the day, you have to make your own choice. Take a look at the matter objectively. Do you think including this awesome food in your life is worth the risk? That’s for you to decide. In my opinion, bacon can be consumed as part of a healthy, real food based diet. It is also pretty much the perfect food for people eating low-carb diets.
There are some potential concerns, but I personally don’t lose sleep over them as I know I am avoiding the foods that are truly awful, such as sugar, refined carbs and vegetable oils. I have personally made the choice to continue eating bacon a few times per week, like I have been doing for some time now. In my opinion, a life with bacon in it sure as hell beats a life without it.