Filed under: Nutrition: Health

First, let's get this out of the way: You cannot get swine flu from eating pork. The World Health Organization has made this very clear. As for that other cause of pork paranoia, trichinosis, you should have no worries at all about contracting this parasite as long as you cook pork to an internal temperature of 160 degrees -- which often means the center can be a bit pink (this is good if you want a non-shoe-leather texture). But are there other problems with pork?

Pork - Safe or Scary?
Can pork make you sick? Or is bacon just fine? Read on to find out.

Pork - Safe or Scary?

    Aah, bacon. What's not to love? Well, sadly, there are serious issues with this popular breakfast food and burger-topper. Bacon is one of the dreaded "processed meats" we're told to avoid as it significantly raises the risk of colon cancer, largely due to the nitrates used to preserve its color and hinder microbial growth. Nitrates themselves are harmless, but they convert to a cancer-causing compound when digested.
    Verdict: Buy nitrate-free bacon. It's worth tracking down--it can often be found at farmers markets and natural-food stores. While nitrate-free bacon will look more brown than red, it tastes great.


    There are many varieties of ham: fresh, cured, or cured/smoked. While fresh ham, which is the color of a fresh pork roast, is uncured, most cured hams contain nitrates, and so pose all the problems commercial bacon does.
    Verdict: Choose fresh ham, or high-quality dry-cured country ham or prosciutto, which don't contain nitrates. Like nitrate-treated bacon, deli/sandwich ham should be eaten only on a rare occasion, if you must consume it at all.


    Some sausages contain nitrates, some don't. But all fall in the processed meat category, and all tend to be packed with saturated fats and meat byproducts (organs, scraps). Two breakfast pork sausages contain more calories (140) and fat (12 grams) than three strips of bacon (120 calories, 9 grams fat).
    Verdict: Sausages are the worst choice of all the processed pork products. That mystery-meat component is a bit of a turnoff too, no?


    Pork Chops/Tenderloin
    While they are technically classified as red meats (despite the pork industry's "the other white meat" ad campaign), pork chops and pork tenderloin are much lower in fat than many other meats. Tenderloin, for instance, is as lean as boneless, skinless chicken breast, and contains thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, zinc, iron, and choline. And hooray! These meats are not processed.
    Verdict: If you're going to eat pork, tenderloin and chops are the way to go.


Jennifer Schonborn is a holistic nutrition counselor based in New York.


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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.