Is pork good for you?

Not all pork cuts are created equal, but they can all be part of a heart-healthy diet. Here’s what you need to know.

The lean side

According to the National Pork Board, the pork that’s available today is 16 percent leaner and 27 percent lower in saturated fat than it was 25-plus years ago. In fact, many cuts are now comparable to lean, skinless chicken. There are seven cuts of pork that meet the USDA guidelines for “lean,” which is defined as having fewer than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, and 95 milligrams of cholesterol per serving. Examples include pork tenderloin, boneless top loin chops, pork top loin roast, center loin chops, sirloin roast, and rib chops. A good rule of thumb when shopping for pork is to look for the words “loin” or “chop.”

P is for protein

A 3-ounce serving of pork tenderloin has about 24 grams of protein and as few as 122 calories. Protein is not only important for muscle building and muscle maintenance, it also helps you feel full. Getting an optimal amount of protein can help offset the 3 to 8 percent of muscle mass that we lose per decade after the age of 30.

Vitamins and minerals

Pork is rich in the B vitamin thiamin. This key vitamin helps metabolize carbohydrates, protein and fat, and pork is one of the best food sources. A 3-ounce serving contains 54 percent of the Daily Value. It’s also an excellent source of phosphorous, niacin and B6, which all play a role in maintaining a healthy metabolism.

Heart health and blood pressure

The strict Heart-Check Food Certification Program includes criteria for sodium, saturated fat, and cholesterol, and accounts for beneficial nutrients found in pork. Because pork tenderloin and pork sirloin are naturally low in sodium, they’re a smart choice if you’re trying to lower blood pressure.

What about bacon?

While bacon is higher in saturated fat than most cuts of pork, it can still be part of a healthy diet. Think of it more like a flavoring agent than a side dish, and remember that a little goes a long way. Use small amounts to add a smoky flavor to nutrient-rich foods, such as sautéed greens, beans, soups or salads.

Cuban Pork Tenderloin

Serves: 6 

All you need:

1 1/2 pounds pork tenderloin, trimmed

1/4 cup  resh orange juice

1/4 cup fresh grapefruit juice

2 tbsp chopped cilantro

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp dried oregano

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

All you do:

1. Using a thin knife, trim silver skin from tenderloin. Mix orange juice, grapefruit juice, cilantro, cumin, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper flakes in a gallon-size zippered plastic bag. Add pork; close and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours.

2. Prepare outdoor grill for direct medium-hot grilling. For a gas grill, preheat grill on high. Adjust temperature to 400°F. For a charcoal grill, build fire and let burn until coals are covered with white ash. Spread coals and let burn for 15 to 20 minutes.

3. Lightly oil cooking grate. Remove pork from marinade, drain briefly, but do not scrape off solids. Place on grill and cover grill. Cook, turning occasionally, until browned and instant-read thermometer inserted in center of pork reads 145°F, about 20 to 27 minutes. Transfer to carving board and let stand 3 to 5 minutes. Cut on slight diagonal and serve over your favorite rice and black bean salad.


Nutrition facts per serving: 140 calories, 24g protein, 3g fat, 1g saturated fat, 220mg sodium, 75mg cholesterol, 3g carbohydrate                         


Claire Henning, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee


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