Pork has a rich history in various cultures around the world. In ancient Rome, the pig was seen as an animal fit for feasts and was often served as whole roasted suckling piglets and boar heads. In Europe, pork remained a staple in the diet of farmers for centuries. Similarly, in Asia, pork has been recognized as a significant staple food. Despite the evolution of culinary tastes and preferences, pork continues to be an important part of people’s diets and is considered to be one of the most widely consumed meats globally.
Pork – Nutrition facts
Pork has a very high energy value, medium protein content and high-fat content. Also, pork contains zero carbs, sugar and fibre. The meat also has a zero glycemic index, meaning it does not affect your blood sugar at all. There is also a good amount of vitamin B12, a small amount of iron and medium phosphorus.
Pork – Good news
Pork contains a large number of various healthy vitamins and minerals as well as high-quality protein.
1Contains essential vitamins and minerals
Pork is a good source of many vitamins and minerals. Among them are:
Thiamine (Vitamin B1) in 100 g of pork – 33% of daily intake. Unlike other red meats, such as beef and lamb, pork is particularly rich in thiamine, one of the B vitamins that play an important role in various body functions.
Vitamin B12. Almost exclusively found in animal products, vitamin B12 is important for blood formation and brain function. A deficiency of this vitamin can lead to anaemia and neuronal damage.
Niacin in 100 g of pork – 29% of daily intake. One of the B vitamins, niacin or vitamin B3 performs many functions in the body and is important for growth and metabolism.
Phosphorus. Found in abundance in most foods, phosphorus is usually an important component of the human diet. It is essential for the growth and maintenance of the body.
Iron. Pork contains less iron than lamb or beef. However, the absorption of meat iron (haem-iron) from the digestive tract is very efficient, so pork can be considered an outstanding source of iron.
Pork also contains many other vitamins and minerals. On the other hand, processed, cured pork products, such as ham and bacon contain high levels of salt.
2An affordable source of protein
Like all meat, pork is mainly made of protein. It provides all nine essential amino acids that are necessary for the growth and maintenance of the body. In fact, meat is one of the most complete sources of protein.
For this very reason, eating pork can be particularly effective for bodybuilders, recuperating athletes, postoperative patients, or others who need to build or rebuild muscle.
3Helps muscle mass maintenance
Like most animal products, pork is an excellent source of high-quality protein. At almost any age, maintaining muscle mass becomes an important aspect of health. Without exercise and proper nutrition, muscle mass naturally degenerates with age, an adverse change that is associated with many age-related health problems.
In the more severe cases, muscle wasting leads to a condition called sarcopenia, which can be defined by very low muscle mass and reduced quality of life.
Eating pork or other protein-rich foods is a great way to ensure an adequate intake of high-quality protein, which can help to maintain muscle mass.
4Good source of fat
Pork contains varying amounts of fat. The proportion of fat in pork is usually 10-16%, however, it may be much higher depending on the degree of trimming and other factors. Clarified pork fat, called lard, is sometimes used as cooking fat.
Like other red meats, pork consists mainly of saturated and unsaturated fat that is present in roughly equal amounts.
The fatty acid composition of pork is slightly different from the meat of ruminant animals, such as beef and lamb.
5Improves the physical efficiency of exercise
Eating meat is not only good for maintaining muscle mass, but it can also improve muscle function and physical performance. Pork contains many beneficial nutrients that are good for your muscles. These include such amino acids as taurine, creatine, and beta-alanine. Beta-alanine is an amino acid your body uses to produce another amino acid – carnosine, which is important for muscle function.
Actually, high levels of carnosine in human muscles are associated with reduced fatigue and improved physical performance.
Maintaining a vegetarian or vegan diet low in beta-alanine reduces the amount of carnosine in the muscle gradually over time.
Pork – Bad news
Pork is the world’s most popular type of meat but that does not change the fact that it may contain various harmful infections.
The tapeworm (Taenia solium) is an intestinal parasite. It may reach a length of 6.5-10 feet (2-3 metres). In developed countries, infection is very rare. It is a major threat in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America. People catch the infection when they eat raw or undercooked pork. In most cases, it causes no symptoms.
It can, however, sometimes lead to a disease known as cysticercosis, a parasitic disease that affects an estimated 50 million people each year. One of the most serious symptoms of cysticercosis is epilepsy. In fact, cysticercosis is considered to be the leading cause of acquired epilepsy.
Toxoplasma gondii is a parasitic protozoan, a single-celled organism that can only be seen under a microscope. In developed countries, the most common cause of infection is the consumption of raw or undercooked pork.
Toxoplasma gondii infection usually causes no symptoms, but in people with a weak immune system, it can lead to a condition known as toxoplasmosis. Symptoms of toxoplasmosis are usually mild, but it can be devastating to the unborn child and life-threatening for those with weak immune systems.
The family of parasitic roundworms or Trichinella cause the disease known as trichinosis or trichinellosis. Despite the fact that the disease is rare in developed countries, eating raw or undercooked (rare) pork can increase your risk, especially if the meat is from a free-range, feral, or backyard pig.
Most of the time trichinellosis has mild symptoms, such as diarrhoea, abdominal pain, nausea and heartburn, or no signs at all. However, it can develop into a serious illness, especially in the elderly. In some people, this can lead to weakness, muscle pain, fever, swelling around the eyes, and even death.
Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in people all over the world, and high levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol in the blood dramatically increase the risk of disease development. High ‘bad’ cholesterol leads to blood clots and makes arteries hard and stiff.
When this happens, the heart has to work harder to pump blood through the veins, leading to high blood pressure. After a long period of time, your heart muscle tissue becomes damaged and you are at increased risk of a heart attack. If you are generally healthy, you should limit your pork consumption to a few servings a month.
Also, it is worth remembering that the way pork is cooked affects its fat content. Instead of frying, choose to grill, roast, bake or boil. It is better to avoid pork products that are high in fat, such as bacon. Instead, choose leaner varieties that are minimally processed and contain more protein.
Fun & curious facts about pork
The Native Americans reportedly grew very fond of the taste of pork, leading to the most violent attacks on explorer Hernando de Soto’s expedition. He was considered the father of the American pork industry. By the time Hernando de Soto died three years later, his pig herd had grown to 700 head.
Pork in the Blue Zones
The Blue Zone long-livers have a simple approach when it comes to meat consumption. They view meat as a festive meal and recommend keeping portions small, no larger than a pack of cards, and limiting intake to once or twice a week. Processed meat should also be avoided.
Let’s sum pork up
When consumed properly, pork can provide numerous health benefits, including the delivery of essential macro and micronutrients, support for muscle health, and improved exercise tolerance. However, it is crucial to be cautious when it comes to eating pork that is not cooked correctly. This is particularly important in regions where sanitation standards may be lacking, as poorly cooked pork can contain parasites that can be harmful to your body. Therefore, it is important to ensure that your pork is cooked properly to avoid any potential health risks.
Not enough? Here is more
Agnes is a health and fitness junkie, soon-to-be nutrition coach and personal trainer. In this video, she shares many interesting things about pork and its benefits.
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