5 Nutritional Benefits of Eating Pork

Hold on, grillmaster — you don’t have to burn it. That pork chop you have over the open flame, the one you marinated overnight in soy sauce, olive oil and lemon-pepper seasoning? Go grab the meat thermometer from the kitchen. When the chop reaches 145 degrees, you’re good. Enjoy one of the juiciest cuts of meat you’ve ever eaten, and thank us later.

The same goes for anyone else, whether they’re grilling it, roasting it, baking it or pan-sautéing it. The old belief that you had to cook pork until it was white in the middle is outdated, misguided information. We’re in the future, people: today’s pork is leaner than you think, healthier than you realize, and just about perfect when cooked to medium rare.

“That’s how you want to cook tenderloins and chops, is to 145 degrees,” says Hope Danielson, Director of Health and Wellness at Niemann Foods/County Market. “That’s going to keep it tender and make it more moist, which is what people like.”

It’s but one way that pork continues to surprise. Did you know that pork is loaded with vitamins, minerals, amino acids and healthy protein? That tenderloin is low in sodium and carbohydrates, and has been certified as heart-healthy? That it can be as lean as a chicken breast? Here are five nutritional benefits of eating your new favorite meat.

1. It’s Lean

Compared to two decades ago, the pork of today is 16 percent leaner and 27 percent lower in saturated fat. That’s not an accident — farmers and scientists developed new feed rations to ensure what pigs were eating would develop more muscle than fat. Seven cuts of pork meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines for lean meat by containing less than 10 grams of fat and fewer than 4.5 grams of saturated fat.

“It was absolutely driven by consumer demand,” says Jenny Jackson of the Illinois Pork Producers Association. “Consumers wanted leaner products. They wanted something heart-healthy.”

Pork tenderloin has the same amount of fat as a skinless chicken breast. “Pork is leaner now than it’s ever been,” Danielson says. “It’s just about looking at the type of pork you’re choosing. Look for words like ‘loin’ and ‘tenderloin’ to find the leaner cuts.”

2. It’s Loaded with Good Stuff

A 3-ounce serving of pork, about the size of a deck of cards, is an excellent source of thiamin, selenium, protein, niacin, vitamin B6 and phosphorous, and also contains helpful amounts of riboflavin, zinc and potassium — all vitamins and minerals that help keep the body functioning and in top shape. Pork tenderloin in particular is low in carbohydrates and sodium, and packed with 22 grams of protein per serving.

“That’s significant,” Danielson says. “It has a lot of vitamins and minerals you need. So it’s an excellent source of zinc and potassium, and it’s lower in sodium for people who are concerned with blood pressure.”

And don’t be confused — although pork products like bacon and ham are often considered higher in sodium, that’s because of the salt added in the curing process, Danielson adds, which doesn’t apply to the several lean and healthier cuts of the pig.

3. It’s Heart-Healthy

See that check mark next to pork tenderloin in the grocery store? That’s a certification from the American Heart Association that the product meets heart-healthy guidelines — such as containing fewer than 6.5 grams of fat, less than 1 gram of saturated fat, and 480 milligrams or less of sodium per serving.

Low sodium and good potassium levels, two things found in pork tenderloin, together can help regulate blood pressure. “It’s just a great protein for people who are on low-sodium diets or looking for healthier options,” Danielson says.

Just make sure you don’t negate all those healthy attributes by adding heavy sauces, salty seasonings, or fatty breading during the cooking process. “Here in the Midwest, breaded pork tenderloin is very popular,” Danielson says. “That’s not the healthiest option.”

4. It’s Affordable

Feeding a family can be expensive, doing it with healthy foods even more so. But the leaner cuts of pork provide a nutritious, heart-healthy, and delicious option for the whole family, one that can cost less on average than seafood or even beef.

“What I like about pork is, it’s very accessible and very affordable,” Danielson says. “I think that’s big when it comes to protein. Pork is affordable for people who are trying to feed a family.”

5. It’s More Than Just Bacon

Let’s face it — we all love bacon. Those sizzling strips of breakfast goodness are irresistible. But pork is more than just bacon, a cut that comprises only 10 percent of the pig, Jackson says. There are several other pork products available for those looking to incorporate pork into a healthy, balanced, and protein-packed diet.

“A lot of times people associate pork with fattier meats like bacon and sausage,” Danielson says. “The pork industry has done a lot over the past 20 years in how it’s feeding and raising pigs, given people's’ concerns about heart health and saturated fats. There are leaner options.”

Want to learn more about the nutritional benefits of lean pork, and find recipes for how to cook it? Visit the Illinois Pork Producers Association at their website, www.ILpork.com.