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Pork: Healthy When Lean

by Berkeley Wellness

Because it is the source of bacon, sausage, spareribs, hot dogs, and other high-fat products, pork gained a bad reputation in recent decades. The pork industry has tried to counter this, fairly successfully, by promoting pork as the “other white meat.”

In fact, according to one definition of white and dark meat that measures certain proteins in meat, pork is closer to chicken than to red meat. But its fat content still depends on which pork cuts and products you choose.

Pork generally has become leaner over the years, thanks to changes in the breeding and feeding of hogs. Some cuts are actually among the leanest meats. Well-trimmed tenderloin, for instance, has almost as little fat as skinless chicken breast. And the fat in pork is slightly less saturated than that in beef or lamb. But, of course, ever-popular bacon is largely saturated fat, and pork ribs have half as much fat as protein.

Types of Pork

There are dozens of types of pork, from healthy tenderloin to the many varieties of ham and sausage.

Pork: nutrition

Pork provides high-quality protein as well as significant amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and selenium. It also has good amounts of vitamin B6, vitamin B12, iron, potassium, and zinc. Even so, fattier cuts of pork and pork-based meats—such as sausage, bacon, and ribs, which are still the most popular—are hard to justify on a heart-healthy diet.

As with beef, the guidelines for including pork in your diet are to choose lean cuts, such as tenderloin and center loin or extra-lean ham. Eat small portions, 3 to 4 ounces cooked, and trim all visible fat before cooking.

If you’re trying to cut down on sodium, you need to make an effort to avoid cured pork products such as bacon, ham, and other cold cuts. Since salt and other sodium-containing substances are necessary for curing the meat, cured pork products can be exceptionally high in sodium. Just 3 ounces of cured ham, for example, can contain almost one-half of the maximum recommended daily intake of sodium. Check the labels or ask your butcher because some lower-sodium products are available.

For a full listing of nutrients, see the National Nutrient Database:

How to Choose the Best Pork

Learn what to look for when buying fresh pork or cured pork products.

How to store pork

Since the fat in pork is less saturated that that of beef, it turns rancid faster. Fresh pork will keep for two to three days in the refrigerator depending on the size of the cut—smaller cuts spoil more quickly. Keep pork in its original store wrapping in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Cooked pork will keep in the refrigerator for four to five days.

Cured pork products keep much longer than fresh pork. Vacuum-packed bacon is often marked with a “sell by” date. The unopened bacon will keep for a week after this date. Once opened, it will keep for about a week if tightly wrapped. Slab bacon will keep for several weeks if tightly wrapped and refrigerated. Canadian bacon will keep for three to four days if sliced, up to a week if in large pieces.

Cured hams keep for about a week in the refrigerator. If the ham is vacuum-packed or sealed in plastic, leave it in its wrapping. If not, rewrap it tightly in aluminum foil.

Canned hams should be refrigerated and will keep for up to six months if unopened. Once opened, tightly wrap the leftovers and use within a week. Some canned hams do not need refrigeration, but be sure to check the label. If in doubt, refrigerate. Dry-cured hams should be refrigerated and will keep for six months.

How to Cook and Serve Pork

Instead of making pork or ham the centerpiece of a meal, use it as a flavor-enhancing component in a mixed-ingredient dish such as a soup, salad, stir-fry, or casserole.

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