"Significant reductions" have been achieved in the fat, calorie and cholesterol content of pork over the past decade, reports a study released last week.
The research, presented at the American Dietetic Assn.'s annual meeting in Denver, places the leanest cuts of pork in the same low-fat nutritional category as boneless chicken breast. (High-fat diets have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer.)
For the study, University of Wisconsin (Madison) researchers evaluated 1,200 fresh pork samples from supermarkets in 15 cities for nutrient composition. They then compared the most recent figures to the previously established values.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture supervised the pork project and will incorporate the findings into the agency's authoritative "USDA Handbook 8-10." Due to be published in early 1991, the handbook lists the nutritional composition of all foods. It was last revised in 1983.
The study found that the average fat content of cooked, trimmed, lean pork is 31% lower today than in 1980. The average calorie totals were 17% below the amounts found a decade ago and cholesterol values had declined 10%, reported university meat specialist Dennis R. Buege Ph.D.
The researchers also found that retailers are selling pork cuts with one-eighth inch of removable external fat, or trim, as opposed to about one-quarter inch 10 years ago.
The nutritional changes in pork are the result of selective breeding of hogs for greater development of muscle than fatty tissue. Changes in feed have also been made to emphasize nutrient density and protein.
The 18-month study was funded by the Des Moines-based Pork Producers Council and the USDA's Agricultural Research Service.
The changes in fat, cholesterol and calories seem to be a boost for the pork industry's successful promotional campaign, "the Other White Meat." The ads, however, have been criticized by the Center for Science in Public Interest, a Washington-based consumer advocacy group, as misleading.
Earlier this year the Center for Science filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission asking that "the Other White Meat" claim be discontinued and that corrective advertising be run in its place.
"The new figures indicate that pork is somewhat lower in fat, but it is still not comparable to 'the other white meat,' or chicken," said Bruce Silverglade, a Center for Science attorney. "The ads are still misleading."
Silverglade, who has reviewed the Wisconsin study, said that there is nothing in the revised data that would lead the advocacy group to drop its FTC complaint.
He did acknowledge that one pork-chicken comparison appears valid.
The recent study found that a three-ounce serving of roast pork tenderloin contains 4.1 grams of fat, 133 calories, 67 milligrams of cholesterol and 1.4 grams of saturated sat. A similar-sized serving of roasted, skinless chicken breast contains three grams of fat, 140 calories, 72 milligrams of cholesterol and 0.9 grams of saturated fat.
"Pork tenderloin is comparable in nutritional value to some types of chicken. But pork overall still has more saturated fat and cholesterol than chicken," Silverglade said. " 'The Other White Meat' ads discuss pork in general and not just one particularly expensive cut. If they would advertise that pork tenderloin had the same composition as chicken then we wouldn't have a beef."
An industry representative denied that the campaign applies to all fresh pork cuts.
" 'The Other White Meat' program has been built solely around fresh loin, which constitutes the highest percent of pork sold," said John Hardin, president-elect of the Pork Producers Council. "The campaign is absolutely not to be interpreted as applying to all pork cuts (such as ribs). And we believe the (Wisconsin-Madison) results are supportive."