Pork is the meat of a domestic pig (sus domesticus). It is the most commonly consumed red meat in the world, especially in East Asia.
However, there are countries where the use of pork is strictly prohibited. These are countries where Islam or Judaism are recognized as the state religion, which prohibit eating pork for food. For this reason, pork is illegal in many Islamic countries.
Fresh pork meat is often used for cooking various dishes. Pork is also subjected to preservation and processing for the preparation of semi-finished products. Smoked pork, ham, bacon and sausages are prepared.
Since this meat contains a large amount of protein and is rich in many vitamins and minerals, it can be a great addition to a healthy diet. However, pork has not only useful properties, some of its characteristics are rather contradictory. Therefore, in the article we will consider reliable facts about this meat, the benefits and harms of pork for the human body.
The nutritional value
Pork is a high-protein food and contains various amounts of fat. Below is information on all the nutrients in pork per 100 grams. ( 1 ).
Calories : 297 kcal
Note that the calorie content of different parts of pork may vary. The lowest-calorie portion is considered to be a loin (180 kcal), the highest-calorie part is the brisket (520 kcal).
Water : 53%
Protein : 25.7 gr.
Carbohydrates : 0 gr.
Sugar : 0 gr.
Fiber : 0 gr.
Fat : 20.8 gr.
Saturated Fat: 7.72 gr.
Monounsaturated Fat : 9.25 gr.
Polyunsaturated fat: 1.87 gr.
Omega-3 fatty acids: 0.07 g.
Omega-6 fatty acids : 1.64 g.
Trans fats: 0 gr.
Pork protein (protein)
Like any other type of meat, pork is mainly made up of protein. The protein content in dry, cooked pork is about 26% of the total weight. The protein content in lean pork can reach 89%, which makes it one of the richest dietary sources of protein ( 1 ). For this reason, the use of pork or other meat can be of particular benefit for professional athletes, maintaining their physical fitness, as well as for recovery in the postoperative periods when it is necessary to build or restore muscle.
Pork also contains all the essential amino acids that are required to grow and maintain the health of the body.
High-quality protein is the main nutritional component of pork, which makes this meat useful for the growth and maintenance of muscle mass.
Pork contains various amounts of fat. The percentage of fat in pork usually ranges from 10 to 16%, but it can be much higher, depending on the level of trim and other factors.
Refined pig fat or lard, sometimes used in cooking for frying or other procedures.
Like other types of red meat, pork mainly contains saturated and unsaturated fats, which are present in approximately equal amounts. However, the overall fat composition in pork is slightly different from the meat of other ruminants such as cow and calf (beef and veal, respectively). It has low conjugated linoleic acid and is slightly richer in unsaturated fats ( 2 ).
Pork contains different types of fat. Basically, these are saturated and monounsaturated fats.
Vitamins and Minerals
Pork is a rich source of many vitamins and minerals. The following are the main vitamins and minerals found in pork:
Thiamine: Unlike other types of red meat, such as beef and lamb, pork is especially rich in thiamines. Thiamine is one of the B vitamins and plays an important role in various body functions ( 3 ).
Selenium : Pork is a rich source of selenium. The best sources of this basic mineral are animal products such as meat, seafood, eggs and dairy products ( 4 ).
Zinc : An important mineral found in abundance in pork. It is necessary to maintain a healthy brain and immune system.
Vitamin B12: It can only be found in foods of animal origin. Vitamin B12 is important for the formation of blood cells and the functioning of the brain. Vitamin B12 deficiency can 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 B-vitamins, also called vitamin B3. It serves various functions in the body and is important for growth and metabolism.
Phosphorus: The mineral common in most foods, phosphorus, is found in most people’s diets. It is important for the growth and development of the body.
Iron: Pork contains less iron than lamb or beef. However, the absorption of iron from meat (the heme form of iron) in the digestive tract is very effective, and pork can be considered an outstanding source of iron.
Pork can contain a healthy amount of many other vitamins and minerals.
Note that processed pork products, such as ham and bacon, contain many times less nutrients, but may contain a very large amount of salt (sodium).
Pork is an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals, including thiamine, zinc, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, niacin, phosphorus and iron.
Other important components of pork
Like plants, animal products contain a number of biologically active substances, in addition to vitamins and minerals, which can affect health.
Creatine : It is abundant in meat and functions as an energy source for muscles. This is a popular supplement among bodybuilders, and studies show that it can improve muscle growth and overall health ( 5 ).
Taurine : Found in fish and meat, taurine is an antioxidant amino acid that can also form in the human body. Drinking taurine may be important for cardiovascular function ( 6 ).
Glutathione : an antioxidant present in large quantities in meat, but also produced in the human body. Despite the fact that it is the main antioxidant in the body, the role of glutathione as a nutrient has not yet been adequately studied ( 7 ).
Cholesterol : Sterol found in meat and other animal products such as dairy products and eggs. Dietary cholesterol does not affect the level of cholesterol in the body, at least in most people ( 8 ).
Pork contains a number of biologically active compounds, such as creatine, taurine and glutathione.
The benefits of pork for the body
Pork is filled with various healthy vitamins and minerals, as well as high-quality protein. Well-cooked pork can be a great part of a healthy diet. Consider the beneficial properties of pork for the human body in more detail.
1. Maintaining muscle mass
Along with many other animal products, pork is one of the best dietary sources of high-quality protein.
With age, maintaining muscle mass is an important aspect of health. Without exercise and proper nutrition, muscle mass naturally degenerates with age. This adverse change may also be the result of many health problems.
In the most severe cases, muscle depletion can lead to a condition called sarcopenia, which is characterized by a very low level of muscle mass and a decrease in quality of life. Sarcopenia is most common among older people.
A high-quality protein containing all the essential amino acids is very important for maintaining muscle mass, especially in combination with physical activity. Inadequate intake of high-quality protein can accelerate age-related muscle degeneration, increasing the risk of sarcopenia ( 9 ).
Inclusion of pork or other animal protein products in your diet is a great way to ensure that you consume enough high-quality protein, which can help maintain lean muscle mass.
Pork is an excellent source of high-quality protein, which is why it is beneficial for the growth and maintenance of muscle mass.
2. Improving the effectiveness of sports
Eating meat is not only beneficial for maintaining muscle mass, but can also improve muscle function and physical performance.
In addition to the abundance of protein compounds, animal meat contains many healthy nutrients that are beneficial for our own muscles. These include taurine, creatine and beta-alanine.
Beta-alanine is an amino acid that is used to produce carnosine in the body. And carnosine is an important substance for muscle function ( 10 ). A high level of carnosine in human muscles is associated with reduced fatigue and improved physical characteristics ( 11 ).
It has been proven that after vegetarian diets that have a low beta-alanine content, the amount of carnosine in the muscles decreases over time ( 12 ). On the contrary, taking a large amount of beta-alanine (from dietary supplements) can lead to a significant increase in muscle carnosine content ( 13 ).
Thus, eating pork or other rich sources of beta-alanine can be beneficial for those who want to maximize their physical performance.
Like other types of meat, pork can help improve muscle function and exercise quality.
Pork harm to the body
1. Possible harm to the heart
Diseases of the cardiovascular system are the leading cause of premature death worldwide. They are characterized by adverse conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure.
There are conflicting results of observational studies on the effect of eating red meat on the occurrence and course of heart disease.
Some studies have shown an increased risk of diseases of the cardiovascular system when eating both processed and unprocessed red meat ( 14 ), while others have shown an increased risk only for processed meat ( 15 ). Other studies have not found a significant association at all ( 16 ).
However, there is no clear evidence that meat in itself causes heart disease. Observational studies may reveal possible correlations, but cannot serve as evidence of a direct causal relationship.
It is known that eating large amounts of meat harms a healthy lifestyle, in addition to factors such as low consumption of fruits and vegetables, low physical activity, smoking and overeating ( 17 ). Most observational studies try to eliminate the influence of these factors, but so far without success.
Another popular explanation for the harm of pork is the content of cholesterol and saturated fat in pork. However, dietary cholesterol (from animal and vegetable products) practically does not affect blood cholesterol and is not considered dangerous to health. The relationship between saturated fat and heart disease is also unclear, and many serious studies have not found a significant association ( 18 ).
Moderate consumption of pork, as part of a balanced diet and a healthy diet, is unlikely to harm the body, increasing the risk of heart disease.
2. Possible association of pork consumption and tumor development
Cancer is a serious disease characterized by uncontrolled cell growth in the body. Many observational studies have found a link between eating red meat and the risk of developing colon cancer ( 19 , 20 ).
It is difficult to prove that pork can actually do harm by causing tumor growth in the body.
Despite the fact that some studies show an indirect effect, this cannot serve as evidence of a direct causal relationship.
However, there is evidence that overcooked pork may contain a number of carcinogens, primarily heterocyclic amines ( 23 ).
Heterocyclic amines are a family of unhealthy substances found in relatively large quantities in well-fried meat, fish or other sources of animal protein. They form when animal protein, such as pork, is exposed to very high temperatures during grilling, barbecue, baking or frying ( 24 ). Studies have shown that foods high in heterocyclic amines can increase the risk of developing several types of cancer, such as colon, breast, and prostate cancers ( 25 , 26 ).
The role of meat consumption in cancer development is still unclear. Although there is no convincing evidence of the carcinogenicity of meat, there are many hints of it.
As part of a healthy diet, moderate consumption of slightly processed pork (such as steamed) probably does not increase the risk of cancer, but for optimal health it seems reasonable to limit the use of overcooked pork.
Pork itself is not a cancer risk factor. However, eating large quantities of roasted pork meat will not bring any benefits to the body and may be harmful.
3. Possible parasite infection
Eating raw or unfried pork should be avoided altogether, especially in developing countries. This is due to the fact that raw pork can contain several types of parasites, which can cause great harm by infecting the human body ( 27 ).
Pork tapeworm or pork tapeworm (taenia solium) is an intestinal parasite. It sometimes reaches 2-3 meters in length.
In developed countries, it is extremely rare to encounter this parasite. Much more common cases of infection in Africa, Asia and Central and South America.
People become infected by eating raw or undercooked pork. Most of the time the disease is asymptomatic. However, it can sometimes lead to more serious consequences, such as cysticercosis – damage to internal organs. An estimated 50 million people are infected with pork tapeworms each year ( 27 ).
One of the most serious symptoms of cysticercosis is epilepsy. Cysticercosis is considered the main cause of acquired epilepsy.
Trichinella is a family of parasitic roundworms that cause a disease known as trichinosis or trichinosis.
Although trichinosis is rare in developed countries, eating raw or undercooked pork can increase the risk, especially when wild pig meat is consumed. Most often, trichinosis has very mild symptoms, such as diarrhea, stomach pain, nausea and heartburn, or no symptoms at all. However, trichinosis can develop into a serious condition, especially in the elderly. In some cases, this can lead to weakness, muscle pain, fever, and swelling around the eyes. In the worst case, this can be fatal ( 28 ).
Toxoplasma gondii is the scientific name for the parasitic protozoan, unicellular “animal” that is visible only under a microscope. It is found all over the world. It is estimated that about a third of all people are carriers of toxoplasma.
In developed countries, the most common cause of infection is raw or undercooked pork ( 29 ).
As a rule, Toxoplasma gondii infection does not cause any symptoms. But in people with a weak immune system, this can lead to a condition known as toxoplasmosis. Symptoms of toxoplasmosis are usually mild. The biggest danger is toxoplasmosis infection during pregnancy, as this can harm an unborn baby and cause malformations.
Despite the fact that parasites characteristic of pork meat are rare in developed countries, pork must always be well cooked before being eaten.
Pork may contain parasites, so you should avoid eating raw or undercooked pork.
Pork is the most popular type of meat in the world. It is a rich source of high-quality protein, as well as various vitamins and minerals.
For this reason, pork can contribute to the growth and maintenance of muscle mass, as well as increase the effectiveness of sports.
Avoid consumption of both undercooked and overcooked pork. Overcooked pork may contain carcinogens, and undercooked (or raw) pork may contain parasites.
At the same time, moderate consumption of properly cooked pork can benefit the body and fit perfectly into a healthy diet without harm.