Is Pork Bad for You? Benefits and Potential Risks

Pork is why we love BBQ, taco al pastor and schnitzel. As pigs in a blanket or bacon-wrapped dates, it’s one food that makes a party delicious. This well-known red meat from domestic pigs is the most commonly eaten meat in the world, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. The U.S. comes in third for the biggest producers and users of pork and pork products, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Pork often hogs the limelight as one of the most controversial foods, leaving many debating whether or not it’s “bad” for you. While some are strict avoiders due to religious, cultural or health reasons, others may strongly prefer all things bacon-wrapped. This article will explore what happens if you eat pork every day.

Photographer / Brie Passano, Food Stylist / Annie Probst

Pictured Recipe: Honey-Garlic Pork Chops

Pork Nutrition

According to the USDA, a 3-ounce serving of cooked pork (trimmed of fat) contains:

  • Calories: 171
  • Protein: 23 g
  • Total Fat: 8 g
  • Saturated Fat: 3 g
  • Carbohydrates: 0 g
  • Fiber: 0 g
  • Sugars: 0 g
  • Potassium: 303 mg
  • Sodium: 47 mg
  • Choline: 55 mg

Health Benefits of Pork

The good news is that pork packs a variety of perks.

Provides High-Quality Protein

Just 3 ounces of cooked pork contains 23 grams of high-quality protein. “The protein in foods like pork can be used very easily by your body. The benefits of high-quality protein include building strong muscles, helping to keep you full, immune support, weight management, prevention of muscle loss and energy production,” according to Kara Behlke-Ungerman, RDN, vice president of nutrition, health and wellness transformation at the National Pork Board.

Eating pork daily gives your body a filling source of protein to get you closer to meeting your protein needs. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends adults eat about 5 to 7 ounces of protein foods daily, and recommendations vary by age, sex and physical activity. “Protein is especially vital as we age due to the diminishing muscle mass that happens as we get older, increasing the risk of sarcopenia,” says Johna Burdeos, RD. “Sarcopenia is the progressive loss of lean body mass (muscle and tissue) and is associated with numerous adverse effects, including malnutrition, falls, debility, functional decline and depression,” she explains.

Is Rich in Choline

Choline is a nutrient critical for developing healthy brains and spinal cords for developing babies during pregnancy. “Surprisingly, many prenatal vitamins offer little to no choline,” says Behlke-Ungerman. Most people who are pregnant aren’t getting enough choline during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, according to the Dietary Guidelines. “A 3-ounce serving of pork can help fill this daily choline gap because it provides a good source of choline that can benefit both mom and baby,” says Behlke-Ungerman.

In addition, pork also contains B vitamins, including thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. B vitamins play significant roles in building the placenta and providing energy for fetal development, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Can Be a Part of a Heart-Healthy Diet

Some cuts of pork have received the American Heart Association Heart-Check Certification, like boneless pork sirloin roast or pork tenderloin. This means these cuts are extra-lean meat, so they contain less than 5 grams of fat, 2 grams or less of saturated fat, 95 milligrams or less of cholesterol, 480 milligrams or less of sodium per label serving and 10% or more of the Daily Value for protein, says Behlke-Ungerman. Some studies have even included fresh lean pork as part of a heart-healthy balanced Mediterranean diet, according to a 2019 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

May Help You Eat More Plants

Most people don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thankfully, pork pairs nicely with fruits and vegetables like fresh arugula, pears, and blue cheese salad or rice bowls with pineapple, beans and onion. The pork-and-plants combo is ideal for pumping up on protein, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients for enhanced health, says Behlke-Ungerman.

Potential Risks

There may be some drawbacks to eating pork regularly.

May Increase Your Risk of Foodborne Illness

Cooking with pork isn’t without risk. “In places around the world with high pork consumption, an infection called trichinosis is a concern. The infection can be fatal. It is caused by the Trichinella roundworm, which is found in undercooked and raw pork,” says Burdeos. That said, the CDC notes that over the past 40 years in the U.S., there have been few reported cases and the risk of this disease from “commercially raised and properly prepared pork is very low.” Cooking pork to the recommended temperature is key is lowering your risk of eating contaminated meat.

“For home cooks, following the recommended pork cooking temperature will not only keep you safe, it will provide a much better eating experience. Today’s pork can be safely enjoyed when cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source,” says Behlke-Ungerman.

Might Increase Your Risk of Heart Disease

Often, people associate pork with poor health because of highly processed sources, such as hot dogs, bacon and sausage, which are rich in saturated fat and sodium. Eating these types of foods can elevate your cholesterol and drive heart disease risks, according to the American Heart Association. “If your eating patterns include a significant amount of ultraprocessed pork products, you’re increasing your risk of adverse conditions such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, heart disease and stroke,” Burdeos adds.

How to Prep Pork

Whether you’re going to grill, broil or roast pork, here’s how to buy and prep your meat for maximum flavor, according to Behlke-Ungerman.

Choose Lean Cuts Most Often

These are the top varieties to choose from that’ll offer plenty of flavor and nutrition without providing excess fat:

  • Pork tenderloin
  • Sirloin pork chop
  • Sirloin pork roast
  • New York pork chop
  • 96%-lean ground pork
  • New York pork roast
  • Porterhouse pork chop
  • Ribeye pork chop

Trim the Fat

Whichever pork cut you’re working with, trimming the visible fat can help you cut back on calories and fat. Fat trimming helps the most when you’re purchasing more fatty cuts of meat, like pork shoulder.

Add Flavor

Pork quickly assumes the savoriness of herbs and spices, and all it takes is rubbing these onto the pork cut. Low-fat dressings, juices and vinegar can also amplify the flavor without adding calories or fat. “Pork’s versatility also means it can easily fit into meals across a variety of personal and cultural preferences. It’s the perfect nutrient-dense canvas for globally inspired flavors, and it’s already enjoyed in many cultural cuisines,” says Behlke-Ungerman.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is pork red meat?

The World Health Organization categorizes pork as red meat. Beef, veal, goat, horse, lamb and mutton are also types of red meat.

Is pork healthier than beef?

Everyone has their own definition of health; however, pork and beef are available in lean cuts, which provide low amounts of saturated fat and high amounts of protein. Pork and beef can be included in a healthy diet.

What meats should you limit?

It’s beneficial to your health to limit high-fat cuts of red meats, which usually have a lot of visible fat, as well as processed meats like hot dogs and deli meats. More often, choose lean cuts of red meat, poultry and fish and plant proteins as part of a healthy eating pattern, according to the AHA.

The Bottom Line

Nutritionally, pork possesses a wide range of essential nutrients like energizing B vitamins, choline for developing babies, and iron for healthy red blood cells. A 3-ounce serving of lean pork is loaded with protein and low in fat. Eating lean pork daily can be a part of a well-balanced, high-nutrient diet.