Several years back, when I was writing for United Media, I wrote a column about pork. I mentioned that it is both the most popular meat on earth, and one of the most controversial. In societies with food taboos, pork is one of the meats most likely to be shunned. And even among folks who have no religious constrictions against particular foods, pork is often thought of as a guilty pleasure, something that’s tasty, but not really good for us. Heart attack on a plate and all that.
Hah. Pork rules, she said, with a nice pork shoulder steak sitting comfortably in her belly. What’s more, there’s reason to believe pork is good for your heart. What would make me say that?
- Pork is a terrific source of potassium. That pork steak I just ate was pretty big, I’m guessing about a half a pound. That means I got 720 milligrams or more of potassium, far more than a banana would have supplied. – heck, even a big banana has less than 500 milligrams. Potassium, as I’ve mentioned before, is important for regulating blood pressure; potassium and sodium balance fluid levels in your body. So that pork potassium is helping keep my blood pressure down.
- Pork is high in niacin, aka B3; my pork steak supplied over half my niacin requirement for the day. Since recent studies show that niacin is more effective than pharmaceuticals at reducing arterial plaque, that’s more good news for my heart. Niacin also appears to be protective against Alzheimer’s. Having watched my mother descend into that darkness, that alone is enough reason to keep my niacin intake high. Niacin also helps with levels of serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical, in a round-about way: If you don’t get enough, your body will use the amino acid tryptophan to create some, instead of using that same tryptophan to create serotonin. This may explain why extreme niacin deficiency or pellagra, can cause mental symptoms virtually indistinguishable from schizophrenia.
- Pork is the richest common dietary source of thiamine, aka B1. My pork steak had more than my RDA. Thiamine deficiency, called beri beri, can cause congestive heart failure, a weakening of the heart muscle so the heart enlarges and becomes flabby, and can’t contract hard enough. Congestive heart failure can and does kill. Interestingly, one of the things that can lead to thiamine deficiency is a diet high in carbohydrates, especially sugar and other refined junk carbs.
- Pork is a good source of zinc; my pork steak had most of my daily requirement. Animal studies suggest that zinc helps prevent arterial plaque, while tests on people who have actually had heart attacks show that they’re more likely than those who have not to show low blood levels of zinc.
So pork is an outstanding dietary source of four – count’em – four nutrients vital to your heart’s health. Sounds pretty good to me.
Of course, the standard line is that pork is so high in fat, it’s awful for you, I mean, don’t you know lard will kill you, for heaven’s sake? No, I don’t know any such thing. I’m completely unconvinced that animal fat is bad for me, or, for that matter, that saturated fats are bad for me. I consider them the proper fuel of the human body. But just so you can dazzle and amaze your friends, I will point out that over half of the fat in my pork steak was monounsaturated – you know, like olive oil – fat that raises HDL “good” cholesterol and lowers LDL “bad” cholesterol.
And of course, my pork steak contained plenty of protein and not a speck of carbohydrate. It therefore did not jack my blood sugar around and spike my insulin levels, both of which are pretty hard on the cardiovascular system.
In short, it looks very much as if my nice, tasty, fatty pork steak (I choose shoulder steaks because they’re fatty!) was actually good for my heart. All this, and it ran me a big $1.99 a pound.
So stop thinking that you need to slant your low carb diet toward salmon and chicken to keep your heart healthy. It’s just not true. Don’t get me wrong, they’re fine foods, and I encourage you to eat them. Just don’t fear the pork. It’s good for your heart.
© 2010 by Dana Carpender. Used by kind permission of the – oh, I can’t think of a joke that doesn’t sound rude… What do you think? Please send Dana your comments to Dana Carpender.