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Eating Smart

Don't Pig Out on Pork, but a Little Is Fine

March 26, 2001|SHELDON MARGEN and DALE A. OGAR

Holidays have a way of being identified with certain kinds of food. Turkey makes us think of Thanksgiving. Potato latkes always appear at Hanukkah time. Eggnog is usually under the mistletoe and ham is a traditional Easter meal.

But pork has a somewhat justified reputation as being high in fat and not really a component of a healthful diet. The biggest villains, of course, are bacon, sausage, hot dogs, ribs and pork rinds. But some cuts of pork actually are 50% leaner than they were 25 years ago. If compared with beef, for example, pork has slightly less saturated fat and--like beef--is a high-quality protein. It is also rich in B vitamins (particularly thiamine) and some important minerals such as zinc and iron.

Look at the following comparison of the fat and calorie content of various pork products. (Unless noted otherwise, all numbers are for a 3 1/2-ounce portion, from which the fat has been trimmed.)

* Center loin, broiled: 231 calories, 10 grams of fat, 39% of calories from fat.

* Tenderloin, roasted: 166 calories, 5 grams of fat, 26% of calories from fat.

* Leg (ham), roasted: 220 calories, 11 grams of fat, 45% of calories from fat.

* Ham, cured, fresh: 131 calories, 5 grams of fat, 34% of calories from fat.

* Spareribs, braised: 397 calories, 30 grams of fat, 69% of calories from fat.

* Italian sausage: 323 calories, 26 grams of fat, 72% of calories from fat.

* Bacon (three medium slices, cooked): 109 calories, 9.36 grams, 78% of calories from fat.

If you like pork and want to include it in your diet, here are some suggestions:

* Choose lean cuts, such as tenderloin, center loin, fresh pork leg, or lean ham. Avoid the fattier cuts of pork (ribs, loin blade and shoulder) and pork-based meats (sausage, bacon).

* If you're trying to minimize salt intake, avoid all cured pork products, such as bacon, ham and cold cuts.

* Trim all visible fat from pork before cooking.

* Limit portion sizes (3 to 5 ounces per meal) so that you can keep your overall cholesterol intake below 300 milligrams a day. Pork contains 20-25 milligrams of cholesterol per ounce.

* Experiment with seasonings to find new flavor combinations.

* Pork goes well with fruit. Try marinating it in fruit juices, honey or marmalade. This will keep it moist and provide a delightfully sweet flavor.

The old worries about raw pork are still in effect but less of a problem than they used to be. The parasite that causes trichinosis is killed at about 140 degrees. To be safe, it's a good idea to cook pork products to at least 160 degrees (no pink inside). This is considered "medium" if you order it in a restaurant.

If you have an opportunity to freeze the meat before you use it, 20 days at 5 degrees or less will kill the trichinae (the organism that causes trichinosis), so you won't need to cook it quite so much. And remember, the leaner the meat, the more quickly it will cook. If you use a microwave and your meat contains a bone, check the meat near the bones to make sure that it is completely done.


Dr. Sheldon Margen is a professor of public health at UC Berkeley; Dale A. Ogar is managing editor of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter. Send questions to Dale Ogar, School of Public Health, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-7360, or e-mail to Eating Smart appears the second and fourth Mondays of the month.

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