Can pork be a healthy choice?
Pork has a poor reputation as a healthy food for some very good reasons. The only exposure many people get is in salt filled slices of ham or fattening strips of greasy bacon. When people are asked to rank meats from “most healthy” to “least healthy” pork routinely ranks at the bottom of the list. How things have changed. The pork that’s available today is quite a bit different from what was available 30, 20, even just 10 years ago.
In 2006 several different cuts of pork were analyzed by the Agricultural Research Service for the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) nutrient data set. When the results were compared to tests conducted a decade before, researchers found all but one were leaner than cuts previously measured. Six common cuts of pork saw their fat levels fall by 16% and their saturated fat levels by an 27%, all because of selective breeding programs farmers took to provide the buying public with leaner cuts of meat. In fact, over the last 20 years the fat levels in pork haven fallen by an unbelievable 31%.
It’s especially surprising when you compare pork tenderloin to skinless chicken breast, one of the ideal low fat meats. A three ounce serving of lean pork tenderloin has 102 calories, 2.9 grams of fat and 17.9 grams of protein. A three ounce serving of roasted, skinless chicken breast has 141 calories, 3 grams of fat and 26.4 grams of protein. The pork has 25% fewer calories and it’s lower in total fat! An added bonus is that pork has no artery-clogging trans fat. Who could have predicted a day when some pork cuts would be a healthier option than chicken?
The key of course is choosing the right cut. You should avoid spare ribs, ground pork, sausage and bacon (although, there are healthier alternatives for sausage and bacon these days). They have 20 to 38 grams of fat per 3 ounce serving. Cuts like tenderloin, loin chop, sirloin chop or lean ham have only 2 to 9 grams of fat per 3 ounce serving. A good rule to follow is that the leanest cuts tend to come from the loin. It’s true for beef, bison, lamb and pork. So when you shop, the words you’re looking for are “loin” or “round” for the lowest fat options.
Antibiotic – free pork is available in supermarkets and other venues. Be sure to check the packaging for this label “No antibiotics (with the USDA Processed Verified Label)”. See Related Articles below for more information.
Which cuts of pork are leanest?
- Pork tenderloin
- Pork chops and pork steaks
- Pork roasts
- Pork leg (or ham)
- Pork cutlets/scaloppine
There is a downside to the new leaner pork. In the old days, a piece of pork had so much fat that even when it was cooked longer than it should, it remained tender and moist. The leaner pork is easy to overcook and can end up tough or dry. You can avoid that by using a thermometer and cook it to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, but no higher. The meat will be slightly pink on the outside and remain tender inside.
If you’re cooking a larger cut of meat like a roast, only cook it to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Then take the pork out of the heat, cover it with a lid or aluminum foil and let it sit about 10 minutes before you cut it up. During those few minutes the temperature inside the roast will keep rising to 160 degrees and the juices will spread out evenly, so it’ll be more moist.
Pork is a good alternative to chicken and can be used as a substitute in many poultry recipes. A serving of pork without fat contains under 200 calories and provides nearly half of the recommended daily allowance for protein. By preparing pork chops in a healthy way, you can create a meal that tastes good and that fits with your healthy eating goals.
Step 1 : Trim the pork of visible fat. This will reduce both calories and fat grams in your pork chops, automatically making them healthier. It also controls the amount of cholesterol present in the pork chops by getting rid of the part of the meat that contributes to unhealthy cholesterol intake.
Step 2: Season your pork chops with herbs. Using herbs in place of salt or butter and cream sauces creates flavor in your dish, but helps you control your sodium, fat and calorie intake. Many herbs enhance the flavor of pork chops and helps keep them moist and juicy. Try rosemary, garlic, or poultry seasoning.
Step 3: Use healthy cooking methods. Rather than frying your pork chops, try grilling, roasting or braising them. These techniques cut the amount of fat needed to prepare the chops while still preserving flavor. Pork chops can also be baked, however, use a meat thermometer because an overcooked pork chop is dry and lacks flavor. Using non-stick cookware is another good way to reduce the amount of fat needed to cook pork chops and will create a healthier dish.
Step 4: Pair pork chops with fruits and vegetables. Pork chops are enhanced by fruits, such as, raspberries, cherries and apricots, which add a little sweetness to the flavor of the meat. Onions, sauerkraut and potatoes also go well with pork chops and can bring out the taste of the pork.
Step 5: Choose the right side dishes. All your good intentions “go out the window” if you serve your healthy pork chops alongside foods that aren’t healthy. Pair your pork chops with brown rice, steamed or roasted vegetables or a salad to keep the meal healthy while still making the pork chops center stage.
Step 6: Keep your portions in check. A serving of boneless pork is 3 oz., so be sure you don’t serve yourself up a huge pork chop that ends up being several servings, derailing your healthy intentions.
Grilled Pork Chops with Sweet Pepper and Onions
For the pepper side dish:
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 yellow bell pepper
- 1 orange bell pepper
- 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano
- 1 tablespoon minced basil
- 1 large sweet onion, cut into 3 thick slices
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus oil for brushing on the onions
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or crushed red pepper flakes
For the chops:
- 4 pork chops, bone-in
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon crushed fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
Make the peppers and onions:
Heat a grill to a high flame.
Grill the peppers until the skin is blackened all over and the flesh is soft, about 15 to 30 minutes, turning every few minutes with tongs to cook evenly. The peppers should be nearly collapsing when done. Remove to a bowl and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Set aside for 30 minutes; the steam that will be created in the covered bowl will help loosen the skin from the flesh of the peppers.
Brush the onion slices with olive oil. Grill a couple of minutes until char marks show. Flip with a grill turner (so the onion rings don’t fall apart). Cook the other side until marks show. Again, this takes only a couple of minutes. Cut the onions into long strips.
Uncover the bowl with the peppers and slip the skin off the peppers with your fingers; don’t be tempted to run the peppers under cool water to remove bits of clinging skin because you would be rinsing away the smoky flavor.
Cut the peppers in half, scoop out the seeds, stem, and any membrane, and cut into long, thin strips. Toss the pepper and onion strips with the garlic, oregano, basil, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a clean bowl. Set aside.
Make the chops:
Rub the chops with the olive oil, salt, fennel, thyme, and rosemary, coating well. Set aside 30 minutes at room temperature (or up to 2 hours in the refrigerator.)
Grill the chops until browned on one side, about 5 minutes.
Turn and grill until browned on the other side and cooked all the way through, about 5 more minutes.
The total cooking time will depend on the thickness of the chops, the strength of the flame, and how far the chops are from the flame.
Distribute the pepper and onions among 4 plates and place 1 chop on top. Serve with lemon wedges.
Smashed New Potatoes with Garlic and Chives
- 2 pounds new potatoes or Yukon Golds
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter or Smart Balance or olive oil
- 1 minced garlic clove
- 2 tablespoons minced chives or green onion greens
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Put the whole potatoes in a medium oven-proof baking dish with a cover and add the 1 tablespoon of the butter, cut into pieces. Cover and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.
Take the dish out of the oven and mix the potatoes so they’re coated with butter. Sprinkle the potatoes with garlic and salt. Return to the oven, cover, and cook for another 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how large the potatoes are.
When the potatoes are soft, remove the dish from the oven and, using a potato masher, crush each potato. Don’t pound them, just crush them. Add salt to taste. Sprinkle chives on the potatoes to serve.
Pork Chops Shepherd Style
- 6 bone-in pork loin chops, about 1-inch thick, 6 to 8 ounces each
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, for dredging
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 medium red onions, halved, sliced ½ inch thick (about 4 cups)
- 3 large garlic cloves, sliced
- 6 ounces provolone in one piece, preferably imported from Italy
- 1 cup white wine
Trim excess fat from the pork chops, leaving only a thin layer on the edges. Season both sides of the chops with 1 teaspoon of salt. Spread the flour on a plate, and dredge the chops, lightly coating both sides with flour.
Meanwhile, pour the olive oil in a large oven proof skillet, and set it over medium heat. Shake excess flour from the chops, and lay them all in the skillet in one layer (depending on the size of your pan, you may have to squeeze them in). Gently brown the pork on the first side, about 4 minutes; turn the chops over, and brown the second side, another 4 minutes. Remove the chops to a plate and keep warm.
Scatter the onions and garlic in the skillet, stir them around the pan, season with the remaining salt, and cover. Cook the onions slowly, stirring occasionally, and scraping the pan bottom to mix the browned bits with the onion juices.
Set a rack in the middle of the oven and heat it to 400 degrees F. Slice the provolone in 6 or more thin slices about the size of the pork chops.
After the onions have cooked for 15 minutes or so, and are quite tender and colored with the pan scrapings, uncover, and push them all to one side of the skillet. Lay the pork chops back in, one at a time, spooning a layer of soft onions on the top of each chop. When they’re all in the pan, lay the provolone slices over the onions.
Raise the heat, and when the meat is sizzling again, pour the wine into the skillet (in the spaces between the chops, not over them). Swirl the pan so the wine flows all through it, and bring to a boil, then carefully move the skillet from the stove to the oven.
Bake the chops for 10 minutes or so, until the cheese topping is bubbly. Carefully remove the skillet from the oven, and let chops rest in it for a few minutes. To serve, lift out each chop with a spatula, keeping the cheese topping intact, set it on a dinner plate, and spoon some of the skillet juices and onions around it.
Sauteed Spinach with Cannellini Beans and Garlic
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 (15.5 ounce) can of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
- 2 large bunches of fresh spinach, ends trimmed, washed and drained
- About 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest (about 1/2 lemon)
- Coarse sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Heat olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat until warm. Add the garlic and cook just until fragrant about one minute. Stir often, being careful not to let it brown.
Stir the beans into the garlic and oil and cook until heated through – about 1 minute. Be careful not to cook too long or the beans will turn mushy.
Add the spinach and sea salt – about 1/2 teaspoon. Cook the spinach, turning with tongs, until wilted – about 2 or 3 minutes. After wilted, remove from the heat.
Add in the lemon zest, additional salt to taste and freshly ground black pepper.
Pork Chops with Creamy Marsala Sauce
Makes 4 servings
- 1/2 cup Marsala (see Note), divided
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 thin boneless pork loin chops (about 1 pound), trimmed
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 thin slices prosciutto (2 ounces), chopped
- 1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 3 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
- 3 teaspoons chopped fresh chives, divided
- 1 cup low-fat milk
Mix 2 tablespoons Marsala and cornstarch in a small bowl; set aside.
Place flour in a shallow dish. Sprinkle pork chops with salt and pepper, then dredge in the flour.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and add the pork chops. Cook until well browned on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.
Add prosciutto to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until browned, about 1 minute. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until it starts to soften and brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the remaining 6 tablespoons Marsala, oregano and 1 1/2 teaspoons chives and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits. Add milk and the reserved cornstarch mixture to the pan; adjust the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened and reduced slightly, 4 to 6 minutes.
Return the pork chops and any accumulated juice to the pan and simmer, turning to coat, until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve the chops topped with the sauce and garnished with the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons chives.
Note: Marsala, a fortified wine from Sicily, is a flavorful addition to many sauces. Don’t use the “cooking Marsala” sold in many supermarkets—it can be surprisingly high in sodium. Instead, purchase Marsala that’s sold with other fortified wines in your wine or liquor store. An opened bottle can be stored in a cool, dry place for months.
Whole Grain Noodles
Cook whole grain yolk free egg noodles according to package instructions, serve with the pork chops and drizzle some of the Creamy Marsala sauce over them.
Sautéed Butter-Thyme Mushrooms
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 (8-ounce) packages pre-sliced cremini mushrooms
- 1/3 cup beef broth
- 4 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots; cook 1 minute or until tender. Add salt and mushrooms to pan; cook until mushrooms are brown and liquid evaporates. Add broth to pan; cook for 2 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates. Stir in thyme, and cook for 30 seconds.
Easy Stuffed Pork Chops
- 4 pork rib or loin chops, cut 1-inch thick
- 4 slices prosciutto
- 4 slices Mozzarella Cheese
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/4 cup egg substitute beaten with 1 tablespoon milk
- 1 1/2 cups Italian Panko Crumbs
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 cups chopped Pomi tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.
Cut a slit in the side of each chop, forming a pocket. Fold and stuff prosciutto and cheese into pockets; press lightly to close pocket.
Combine flour, salt and pepper in a shallow bowl. Beat egg substitute and milk another in shallow bowl. Place breadcrumbs in a third shallow bowl. One at a time, lightly coat chops in flour mixture; then dip in egg mixture and dredge both sides in Panko crumbs, patting to coat.
Heat butter and oil in large skillet over medium heat until hot. Add chops; cook 4 to 5 minutes per side or until golden brown. Transfer to baking sheet.
Bake in preheated 375° oven 10 minutes or until desired doneness.
Meanwhile, add tomatoes to same skillet; cook 3 minutes or until softened, stirring occasionally. Stir in basil; season with salt and pepper. Transfer chops to serving plates and top with tomato mixture.
Serves: 6 to 8
- 1 large whole cauliflower
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Tear or cut off the outer leaves attached to the base of the cauliflower, then cut out the bottom core. Separate the head into big florets. Cut the big florets into 1-inch chunks or thick slices, so you have 6 cups or more of roughly equal-sized cauliflower pieces.
Pour the olive oil into a large skillet and set over medium-low heat. Scatter the garlic slices and red pepper on the oil, and pile in all the cauliflower. Sprinkle with salt. Sweat the cauliflower, about 4 minutes. Toss and cook for another 3 minutes. The edges of the cauliflower pieces should have started to brown. Cover the pan, lower the heat and let the cauliflower continue to caramelize slowly, tossing the pieces every few minutes for 12-15 minutes.
Pork Chops Braised in White Wine
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- fresh ground pepper
- 4 center-cut loin pork chops
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups dry white wine, divided
In a small bowl, combine sage, rosemary, garlic, salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Mix into a paste.
Press small amounts of mixture firmly onto both sides of each pork chop and let sit for at least five minutes.
In a heavy large skillet with a cover melt the butter with the olive oil over moderate heat. Place the chops in the hot oil and butter and brown for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Use tongs to turn the meat. You don’t want to pierce the meat with a fork. You will loose the natural juices.
Add 1 cup of wine to the skillet. Cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the chops 30 to 35 minutes, turning occasionally. When chops are tender, remove from pan to a serving platter.
Add the remaining wine to the skillet and deglaze the pan. Pour sauce over chops and serve.
Sauteed Savoy Cabbage
- 1 savoy cabbage (2 pounds), halved, cored, and cut crosswise into 1-inch strips, thick ribs removed
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter or Smart Balance Blend, cut into small pieces
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Place cabbage in a large skillet with 1 cup water (skillet will be very full). Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to medium-low. Cover skillet; simmer until cabbage is very tender, tossing occasionally, 12 to 15 minutes. Pour out any water remaining in skillet. Add butter and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Cook a minute or two and toss gently to combine.
Beet and Tomato Salad
This is an unusual salad but very good. Slices of roasted beets and fresh beefsteak tomatoes are dressed with shallot vinaigrette and fresh oregano to create a colorful and flavorful side dish.
- 2 medium beets (about 1 pound total), scrubbed
- 2 teaspoons plus 3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar
- Coarse salt and ground pepper
- 3 medium beefsteak tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place beets on a large piece of foil on a baking sheet. Top with 2 teaspoons oil and season with salt and pepper. Fold foil around beets and crimp ends to form a packet. Roast beets on sheet until tender when pierced with a knife, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove beets from foil and let cool, then peel and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices. This can be done early in the day and set aside the beets at room temperature.
Tip: I use surgical gloves to remove the skin from the beets, so my fingers do not turn purple.
In a small bowl, whisk together remaining 3 teaspoons oil, shallot, and vinegar; season with salt and pepper. On a large platter, arrange beets and tomatoes in an alternating pattern, and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with dressing and sprinkle with fresh oregano leaves.
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