How Pork Affects Your Metabolic Health

Sometimes called “the other white meat”. But is it, really? When you think of pork, bacon, ham, and sausage are likely some of the foods that come to your mind first. Not exactly what you might think of when you think of metabolic health.

pork roast with vegetables

There are many cuts of pork that are lean, unprocessed, and are a great addition to a metabolically healthy meal plan. Pork tenderloin, center-cut pork chops, or a trimmed pork loin are just a few. 

Let’s take a look at how pork supports metabolic health, the different cuts of pork available, and how you can add them to your meals.

Why is Pork A Good Choice for Metabolic Health

In the 1980s the National Pork Board launched an advertising campaign calling pork “The Other White Meat.” Their goal was to have consumers reconsider pork as a healthy, low-fat protein choice.1

The campaign got the attention of consumers and pork producers alike, who have gone on to raise pork that is lower in saturated fat and total fat than it was 20 years ago.2

While often thought of as high in fat, lean pork is an excellent source of protein and B vitamins including thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin B6. It is lower in iron, zinc, and vitamin B12 than beef but also lower in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, which can support a health weight and metabolism.3,4,5.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Read more about </strong> <a href="/blog/macronutrients-vs-micronutrients">macronutrients and micronutrients for optimal health</a>.</p>

When compared to other types of unprocessed meat, studies have shown that fresh pork is just as effective at promoting metabolic health and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease as other types of meat.6

Eating more pork may be helpful for those working to reduce their weight. A study of 164 overweight adults found those who increased the number of servings of pork weekly lost weight, reduced their waist circumference and % body fat, compared to those who ate more chicken and beef.7

Other studies have looked at glucose and insulin response after consuming unprocessed pork products compared to other unprocessed proteins and found no difference in glucose or insulin response.8

More research is needed on the effects of processed pork products like bacon, sausage, and ham on insulin and blood glucose response, but lean, unprocessed pork can be a healthy part of a metabolically healthy meal plan. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about our free </strong> <a href="/blog/low-glycemic-plan">7-day low-glycemic diet plan</a>.</p>

What Are the Different Cuts of Pork and How Best to Prepare Them?

There are a variety of cuts of pork available in most grocery stores. Here are the characteristics of each cut and tips for how best to prepare them.

Tenderloin

Pork tenderloin is the leanest cut of pork available and comparable in fat content to a boneless chicken breast. It cooks quickly and picks up the flavors of the spices and herbs it’s cooked with, making it a great substitute for the traditional white meat (chicken). 

Rub the tenderloin with a southwestern spice rub or marinate it with oil,vinegar, and Italian spices for a flavorful dinner. Sear it on all sides and then roast it in the oven for 20 minutes or place it on the grill. Cook to an internal temperature of 145°F. 

Roast

A pork loin, also called a roast, is a lower fat cut of pork. You may see it labeled as a center-cut pork roast, ribeye roast, or top loin roast. It is also delicious rubbed with herbs and spices and then roasted in the oven or grilled. Cook it to an internal temperature of 145°F. Once finished cooking, let the pork rest a few minutes before cutting into it. This will help keep it juicy and flavorful!

Chops

Pork chops come from the pork loin and are either sold with the bone in, or boneless. Chops with the bone left in, tend to be higher in fat because of the layer of fat between the meat and the bone. Pork chops are incredibly versatile and can be sauteed, grilled, baked, or even air-fried.  

grilled pork chop, asparagus and mushrooms
Because protein is filling, lean pork chops can be part of a weight management diet.

Pork Belly

This is the cut that bacon comes from. It is high in fat, rich in flavor, and is typically salted and cured. You may also see smoked pork belly on restaurant menus. The preparation method dictates how high it is in salt and fat. You’ll most often see pork belly on restaurant menus and just know that while it is delicious, it is one of the highest fat cuts of pork.

Pork Ribs

Excellent for a summer barbeque or slow roasted on a cold winter day, pork ribs are just that, the ribs from the pork, and they tend to be higher in fat than other cuts of pork. They are delicious with a spicy rub but go easy on the barbeque sauce as those can have a lot of sugar added. 

Pork Shoulder 

One of the fattiest cuts of pork, it is also known as a picnic roast, Boston butt, or pork butt. This is the cut that is often used for pulled pork and is best slow-roasted or smoked.  

How to Use Pork for Dinner

Pork can be an easy protein to include in your meals. Some cuts, like pork tenderloin or boneless pork chops, cook in under a half hour, making them an excellent option for busy nights. 

Cooking temperatures for pork were updated recently and now, it is recommended to cook most cuts to an internal temperature of 145°F with a 3 - 10 minute “rest” before slicing or serving it. The exception is ground pork, which should still be cooked to 160°F.  

Pork is also easy to use in a variety of cuisines and with a variety of flavors. Try sliced pork loin in a stir fry, or a roasted pork tenderloin stuffed with pesto and served with a hearty grain like farro. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Try this </strong> <a href="/blog/avocado-cilantro-lime-dressing-recipe">versatile avocado cilantro lime dressing recipe</a>.</p>

Pork chops can be broiled, air-fried, baked, or grilled. Top them with a barbeque seasoning rub or drizzled with a dijon mustard vinaigrette like the sheet pan pork chop recipe below. 

Pork and Brussels Sprouts with Pesto- an Easy Sheet Pan Dinner

Sheet pan dinners are easy and make clean-up a breeze. If you are feeding more than two people, just double the amounts and split the ingredients between 2 pans. 

sheet pan dinner with pork, Brussels sprouts and potatoes

Ingredients:

  • 2, 4 oz. boneless pork chops
  • ¼ cup prepared pesto
  • 6 small yellow potatoes, quartered
  • 12 - 15 Brussels sprouts, cut in half
  • 1 tbsp. Extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ tsp. Kosher salt
  • ½ tsp. Black pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.  Line a sheet pan with foil or parchment paper.
  2. Place pork chops on the sheet pan at one end. Spread each pork chop with 1 tablespoon of pesto. 
  3. Place potatoes in a small bowl and toss them with 2 tablespoons of pesto. Place the potatoes in the middle of the pan.
  4. Toss the Brussel sprouts with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and place them on the other end of the sheet pan. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper. 
  5. Place the sheet pan in the middle of the preheated oven and roast for about 20 minutes, until the pork is lightly browned and the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork or knife. 

Serves 2

Calories: 570, Total Fat: 29g, Saturated Fat: 5g, Cholesterol: 100mg, Sodium: 900mg, Carbohydrates: 41g, Fiber: 7g, Sugars: 5g, Protein: 43g, Vitamin D: 1mcg, Calcium: 145mg, Iron: 5mg, Potassium: 1190mg

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Keep reading: </strong> <a href="/blog/chicken-sheet-pan-dinners">Try these healthy chicken sheet pan dinner recipes</a>.</p>

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References

  1. The National Pork Board. Pork Checkoff Program. The Other White Meat.  Accessed August 29, 2022. https://porkcheckoff.org/pork-branding/pork-brands/the-other-white-meat-brand/
  2. United States Department of Agriculture, Nutrient Dataset for Fresh Pork, Release 1.1, September 2007. Accessed, August 29, 2022. https://www.ars.usda.gov/ARSUserFiles/80400525/Data/Pork/Pork1-1.pdf
  3. USDA, Food Data Central. Pork, Fresh, Loin 4/1/2019. Accessed, August 29, 2022. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168250/nutrients
  4. Murphy, M. M., Spungen, J. H., Bi, X., & Barraj, L. M. (2011). Fresh and fresh lean pork are substantial sources of key nutrients when these products are consumed by adults in the United States. Nutrition research (New York, N.Y.), 31(10), 776–783. https://doi.org/10.1016
  5. USDA, Food Data Central Website. Beef, Tenderloin, Roast. 4/1/2019. Accessed August 29, 2022. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168723/nutrients
  6. Micha, R., Wallace, S. K., & Mozaffarian, D. (2010). Red and processed meat consumption and risk of incident coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Circulation, 121(21), 2271–2283. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.924977
  7. Murphy, K. J., Thomson, R. L., Coates, A. M., Buckley, J. D., & Howe, P. R. (2012). Effects of eating fresh lean pork on cardiometabolic health parameters. Nutrients, 4(7), 711–723. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu4070711
  8. Stettler, N., Murphy, M. M., Barraj, L. M., Smith, K. M., & Ahima, R. S. (2013). Systematic review of clinical studies related to pork intake and metabolic syndrome or its components. Diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity : targets and therapy, 6, 347–357. https://doi.org/10.2147/DMSO.S51440
  9. United States Department of Agriculture. Cooking Meat? Check the New Recommended Temperatures. June 22, 2020. Accessed: August 30, 2022

About the Author

Laura M. Ali Headshot
Laura is an award-winning food and nutrition communications consultant, freelance writer, and recipe developer.
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Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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