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Pastured Pork, the Other Red Meat

Posted in Food for Thought


You may have heard pork advertised as the other white meat, but that’s not true. Pork is classified as a red meat, along with beef and mutton. The only reason the pork council could get away with calling pork white meat is because their meat tends to be more pale. Pastured pork is not the pale flabby meat you’ll find in the supermarket. This meat has color, and color means nutrients. That’s why I don’t call pastured pork white meat. That would be selling it short.

Pastured Pork is Healthier

Pastured pigs have 300% more vitamin E and 74% more selenium in their milk than pigs raised in confinement. The meat also contains much more vitamins that conventional pork. The standard practice of feeding confinement pigs synthetic vitamins does not achieve the same results since artificial vitamins are absorbed poorly.[4]

Many nutrients in pork are contained in the fat, as with most meats. Those boneless skinless chicken breasts you may like are not very nutritious. Pigs that are raised outdoors and forage show higher levels of vitamin D than pigs kept indoors and fed soy, casein, cornmeal, and synthetic vitamins. Eating pork fat may also improve triglycerides because fat is especially good at helping us achieve satiety and stable blood sugar.[1] Eating more fat makes us feel full faster.

Pork fat also contains a novel form of phosphatidylcholine that possesses antioxidant activity superior to Vitamin E. This may be one reason why lard and bacon fat are relatively stable and  not prone to rancidity from free radicals.[1]

Pork fat is 50% monounsaturated, mostly consisting of oleic acid. Oleic acid is one reason olive oil is so prized. Monounsaturated fat is lauded for lowering blood pressure and reducing inflammation. The palmitoleic content in pork fat has antimicrobial properties and can help keep plaque at bay. Another 40% of the fat is saturated. This is why lard and bacon grease are so stable and and unlikely to go rancid. People have been cooking with lard for thousands of years. Saturated fat has been vilified by mainstream medicine, but

Saturated Fat is not Your Enemy

Saturated fat has been vilinized since the 1960s. In 1980 that vilification became government doctrine with the publication of the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Claims of consensus turned out to be untrue. Many scientists opposed the recommendation to reduce fat in the diet.[7] However, politics proved stronger than science as the government decided to ignore the results of studies that didn’t confirm the diet-heart hypothesis. The remaining studies championed by diet-heart supporters turned out to not be so conclusive after all. Despite the lack of consensus and weak evidence, dietary guidelines have recommended grains and vegetable oils over saturated fats.

Saturated fats play many important roles in the body. The lungs and kidneys cannot work without saturated fat. Saturated fats provide integrity to the cell walls, promote the use of essential fatty acids, enhance the immune system, protect the liver, and contribute to strong bones. Over half the fat in the brain is saturated.[12]

Our bodies need saturated fat. If we don’t have enough, our body will make it out of carbohydrates and excess protein. There is saturated fat in breast milk. Humans have been consuming saturated fats for thousands of years. Heart disease, obesity, stroke, and diabetes are recent epidemics. A century ago they were rare, now they are commonplace.

No Antibiotics Necessary

Around 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the United States go to livestock. Pig farmers use on average, four times as many antibiotics as cattle farmers.[6] This makes sense when you realize that these pigs live their entire lives in large buildings with thousands of other pigs. No sunshine, no fresh air, and only the cheapest feed. Is anyone surprised that these pigs would need antibiotics?

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Pigs raised on pasture are healthier. They have much fewer problems with rhinitis, respiratory diseases, and foot and leg problems.[3] Back when I raised pastured pigs, I never had to give my animals antibiotics or any other drugs. It’s amazing what sunshine, and fresh ground can accomplish. A survey published in Preventive Veterinary Medicine, showed that pigs raised on pasture had the lowest health costs.[3]

Antibiotic resistance has also shown to be improved with pastured raised pigs. A herd of pasture raised pigs that had not been given antibiotics for over 10 years was divided into two groups. The first group continued to live on pasture, the other was moved to standard confinement. Over the course of 20 months, fecal coliforms were tested for resistance to standard antibiotics. Samples from the pasture raised pigs were much less likely to be resistant.[5]

Pigs Need Exercise

Exercise builds muscle. Bodybuilders don’t sit around on the couch all day, they exercise. You can eat all the protein shakes you want, but if you don’t exercise to build your muscles, you’re only going to get fat. Meat is muscle. While we say we want to fatten up an animal, what we really mean is we want to build up the muscle. After all, the government says fat is bad.

Sitting has been called the new smoking.[8] This is because our bodies need to move. Moving increases circulation. Being stationary is linked with a nearly 50% increased risk of death from all causes and a 125% increased risk of cardiovascular disease events such as heart attack.[8] When a bunch of pigs are corralled in a small pen for their whole life, there is little exercise to be done.

Pigs Need to be Treated Humanely

Factory farmed pigs are raised by the thousands in large windowless warehouses. Pigs stand on slatted floors so that their excrement can be collected underneath. However, poop doesn’t just fall through on it’s own, it has to be pushed through the slats by the pigs lying or stepping on it. Needless to say, these buildings smell worse than the dirtiest rest stop outhouse you’ve ever encountered.

These buildings need constant ventilation to keep methane, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and other toxins from building up. If the fans stop running for even a few minutes, the pigs will start suffocating. But even with constant airflow, the smell is still unbearable. This is what the pigs live in their entire lives. And lest you think they don’t mind, I’ll remind you that a pig has one of the best senses of smell in the animal kingdom.

This is not only horrible for the pigs, it’s also a horrible working environment for the workers who must tend to the pigs. Workers have died trying to tend to hogs in buildings where ventilation had broken down.

Superbug Factories

Up to 97% of hogs in confinement facilities are given antibiotics on a constant basis to promote growth and Stave off diseases.[9] this constant use of antibiotics breeds stronger and more resistant bacteria. The industry tries to stay one step ahead by using multiple antibiotics or adding in new and stronger antibiotics. However, this only works for so long, meanwhile they are killing off most of the bacteria. The ones left have developed an immunity to that antibiotic. If another antibiotic doesn’t come along and kill the bacteria, it will go on to thrive and build a large community of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Researchers from the University of Maryland and the FDA randomly sampled 200 packages of ground meat in Washington DC area grocery stores. Salmonella bacteria were found in 6% of beef, 35% of chicken, 24% of turkey, and 16% of pork. Of the salmonella strains isolated in the sampling, 84% were found to be resistant to at least one antibiotic.[9]

To Nitrite or not to Nitrite

When I used to sell meat at farmers markets in St louis, I had several customers who would insist on buying “nitrite-free” cured meat. An interesting note, nowhere on my packages did it say “nitrite-free”. The USDA requires that “nitrite-free” bacon be listed as uncured due to the unpredictability of the nitrite-free process.

“This notion of ‘nitrite-free’ or ‘organically cured’ meats is a public deception.”

Nathan S. Bryan, PhD, University of Texas Houston Biomedical Research Center [2]

Traditional bacon is cured using sodium nitrite salts. This is a very controlled method, the processor knows exactly how much nitrites have been added to the meat. Nitrite-free bacon is cured using a solution of celery juice powder and salt which contains about 50% nitrate, along with a starter culture of bacteria. This bacteria transforms the nitrate into nitrite, curing the meat. This is a natural process, but it tends to generate more nitrite than would be added in traditional bacon. In fact, “nitrite-free” bacon can contain up to twice the nitrite content as traditionally cured bacon.[1, 10] According to Dr Nathan Bryan, “Some convert 40 percent, some convert 90 percent, so the consistency of the residual nitrite is highly variable.”[1]

However, this whole nitrite-free movement may be a waste of time. It turns out that most of the nitrites and nitrates you’re exposed to don’t even come from food. They come from within your own body. Up to 90% of the nitrites you get will come from salivary nitrites.[10] You didn’t think that saliva was simply there to keep your mouth from going dry. No, it is the first step in the digestion process.

Research is beginning to show that nitrites and nitrates may actually be good for you.[1,10,11] Or at the very least, not bad for you. If you’ll recall in my article, Everything I Know About Food I Learned from PR Companies, a lot of the scientific findings touted on the news are promoted by PR companies working on the behalf of companies. Some want to promote their product, others want to discredit a competing product.

This is not to say that processed or cured meats are suddenly good for you. Much of the processed meat you’ll find in a supermarket is still full of other chemicals and preservatives. Studies have linked processed meats to cancer, but I do not believe that nitrites or nitrates are solely to blame.

A promising trend I’m seeing is many small meat processors moving to more natural meat cures. My local processor recently switched to a simpler bacon cure with only 7 ingredients: water, salt, sugar, brown sugar, maple sugar, sodium erythorbate, and sodium nitrite. A definite improvement over the previous cure, which had over 10 ingredients, including MSG. Ask your farmer if their meat processor offers more natural meat cures.

Buy Local Pork

When you buy your pork from a local sustainable farm, you get to see how they were raised. Industrial farms don’t want you to see how their pigs are raised. It’s embarrassing. Sustainable farms are proud of how they raise their animals. Even if you don’t visit the farm in person, you can probably still see pictures of the pigs on the farm’s website.

Most small farmers who raise pastured pigs will sell you pork by the whole or half. Many farms also sell pork by the piece. It’s more expensive this way, so investing in a small freezer could easily pay off.



  3. Kliebenstein, J.B. et al. 1983. A survey of swine production health problems and health maintenance expenditures. Preventive Veterinary Medicine. Vol. 1. p. 357-369.
  4. Mutetikka, D.B., and D.C. Mahan, 1993. Effect of pasture, confinement, and diet fortification with vitamin E and selenium on reproducing gilts and their progeny. J. Anim. Sci. 71:3211.
  5. Langlois, B. E., K. A. Dawson, et al. (1988). “Effect of age and housing location on antibiotic resistance of fecal coliforms from pigs in a non-antibiotic-exposed herd.” Appl Environ Microbiol 54(6): 1341-4.
  7. The Big Fat Surprise, Nina Teicholz, 2014
  9. Righteous Porkchop, Nicolette Hahn Niman, 2010
  11. Skovgaard N.   Microbiological aspects and technological need: technological needs for nitrates and nitrites Food Addit Contam. 1992 Sep-Oct;9(5):391-7.
  12. Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon and Mary Enig Phd, 2001


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