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Lean protein: Why pork is good for you

pork on the grill

After spending this summer in beast mode at the gym, I was a little disappointed that I hadn’t lost any weight despite all the extra sweat sessions.

So I met with a wellness specialist, who explained that 25 percent of weight loss is from exercise and 75 percent is from diet. I guess peanut M&Ms don’t count as a high-protein food. Go figure.

Now my husband and I are cutting back on carbs and focusing on eating more high-quality protein and vegetables.

Problem is, I’m not a big fan of boneless, skinless chicken breast, the go-to protein for many fitness buffs. Instead, I prefer lean pork, which I add to salads, stir-fry, soups and more.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who has made the switch to low-carb, high-protein foods. A new consumer survey by Nielsen found that 55 percent of U.S. households say high protein is an important attribute when buying food.

However, the survey also found that consumers don’t have a good understanding of what foods are high in protein.

About 45 to 64 percent of consumers didn’t consider beef, chicken and pork to be high in protein. Even more surprisingly, only 36 percent of U.S. households knew that pork was a high source of protein.

I would like to think that here in Iowa, the nation’s top producer of high-quality pork, we know pork is a healthy (and surprisingly lean) source of protein.

October is National Pork Month, so it’s the perfect time to take advantage of meat-counter specials on nutritious, lean pork – like pork loins, pork chops and more.

We’re learning more about the benefits of lean protein in our diets, particularly as we age, to help prevent muscle loss and aid in weight loss.

In fact, new research suggests that those of us over the age of 50 may need more protein than what is currently recommended by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

Yet what many people may not realize, with “plant-based” diets getting so much attention, is that animal-based proteins are considered high-quality sources of lean protein.

Pork, beef, dairy and eggs contain all the essential amino acids our bodies need, unlike plant-based proteins, which are considered lower quality protein because they lack some of these essential nutrients.

The Nielsen survey also found that 78 percent of respondents thought peanut butter is higher in protein than it actually is.

In reality, you would have to eat 6.5 tablespoons of peanut butter, equal to a whopping 613 calories, to get the same 23 grams of protein as a 3-ounce, 170-calorie serving of pork.

In addition, pork is considered a lean protein. Seven common cuts of pork, on average, are 16 percent leaner than 20 years ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

And more good news, you don’t need to cook these lean cuts of pork beyond the point of tenderness. The USDA now recommends cooking pork to a safe internal temperature of 145 degrees, with a 3-minute rest before slicing.

Plus, with new quick-cooking tools like the Instant Pot or Sous Vide, it’s easy to find pork recipes for weeknight meals.

So take advantage of the National Pork Month specials and discover the versatility of pork. Because, yes, pork is a lean, high-quality protein. And it’s OK to take a break from chicken now and again.

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is Iowa Farm Bureau's Senior Features Writer.



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