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New study reveals pork rivals chicken in terms of leanness

USDA analysis reveals common cuts of pork, including pork tenderloin, are leaner than fifteen years ago

The Other White Meat® is one of the most recognized advertising slogans ever created, and new research announced today solidifies this well-known description with scientific backing.

The new research, presented at the Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting, revealed a surprising fact: pork tenderloin is just as lean as the leanest type of chicken – a skinless chicken breast. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) analysis found that pork tenderloin contains only 2.98 grams of fat per 3-ounce serving1, compared to 3.03 grams of fat in a 3-ounce serving of skinless chicken breast.2 Pork tenderloin meets government guidelines for "extra lean" status.

"These new data illustrate how pork is changing to meet consumers' concerns about fat content," said Ceci Snyder, MS, RD, Assistant Vice President of Consumer Marketing for the National Pork Board. "Some of the more common cuts of pork you can find in today's meat case are now lower in fat and saturated fat because America's pork producers have improved feeding and breeding practices to deliver the leaner products that consumers demand."

In other words, pigs have gone on a diet. On average, six common cuts of pork are 16 percent leaner than 15 years ago, and saturated fat has dropped 27 percent.

Results of Collaborative Study

The new study was a collaborative effort conducted by scientists at the USDA, University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Maryland, in cooperation with and funded by the National Pork Board. The objective was to compare the nutrient data for fresh pork from 1991 to 2005.

To get an updated snapshot of today's offerings, researchers collected samples of nine common cuts of fresh pork from a national representative sample of retail stores in a dozen different markets around the country, as outlined in USDA's National Food and Nutrient Analysis Program sampling plan.

Once the samples were collected, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and other sites analyzed the cuts of pork for calories, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, vitamins and minerals.

"Not only did we find that total fat and saturated fat decreased in six cuts of pork we analyzed, but some essential nutrients such as vitamin B6 and niacin actually increased. We also concluded that pork contains no trans fat," said co-author and visiting scientist Juhi Williams, MS, RD, with the Beltsville [Md.] Human Nutrition Research Center at the USDA. "A small sample of pork pulled from supermarkets a few years ago lead us to believe that pork was probably now leaner, which our study confirmed for the cuts analyzed. It is important that the USDA's database reflect the most up-to-date nutrient information."

The new data will replace the existing nutrient values for pork in USDA's 2007 National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference -- which is used by researchers, registered dietitians, school foodservice directors and other health professionals to plan menus and analyze an individual's nutrient intake. Government agencies and health professional organizations rely on the database for establishing dietary guidelines and nutrition policies.

Heart-Smart Lean Protein

"I hope this new research will help open people's eyes to pork," said Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, author of The Pocket Idiot's Guide to the New Food Pyramids.

"Now people can see that pork tenderloin is just as lean as the poultry options they commonly turn to," she said. "Pork is a versatile and lean protein option for building meals that are consistent with the updated Dietary Guidelines and Food Pyramid."

Of the nine cuts analyzed, six of the pork cuts announced by the government have a nutritional profile that meets USDA guidelines for "lean," with less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat and 95 milligrams of cholesterol per 3-ounce serving. Pork tenderloin meets government guidelines for "extra lean," which requires less than 5 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat and 95 milligrams of cholesterol per serving.

"Pork tenderloin is so flavorful and versatile, it can help take the boredom out of low-fat diets, and can make a substantial nutrient contribution to any eating plan," Ward said.

Pork also packs a significant amount of nutrients in every lean portion. A 3-ounce serving of pork tenderloin is an "excellent" source of protein, thiamin, vitamin B6, phosphorus and niacin, and a "good" source of riboflavin, potassium and zinc, yet contributes only 6 percent of the calories to a 2,000-calorie diet.

Sarah Kittel | EurekAlert!
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