The answer may surprise you…
There are A LOT of foods that have been linked to heart disease—many of them erroneously. For decades, it was believed that the consumption of red meat can raise your risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other cholesterol-related problems. Thankfully, modern science has debunked that myth, proving that saturated fat isn’t the real culprit behind your heart problems (the villain is trans fats and hydrogenated oils).
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a link between pork and heart disease! The connection may have nothing to do with the fat in the meat, but it’s still very much there…
How are pork and heart disease linked? One word: sodium.
Sodium is used in just about every meat product. It’s not only useful for adding flavor, but it has preservative benefits (why else do you think people have been making cured and salted meat for thousands of years?). If you look at any pork-based meat product—everything from bacon (NOOOO!) to ham to sausages to hot dogs—you’ll find that sodium content of these meat products is off the charts. A single serving of these meat products deliver way more sodium than you need. The more you eat, the more sodium you consume.
Sodium is responsible for storing water in your body. It works with potassium (the other electrolyte) to ensure you have enough liquid available for your various internal functions. But if you consume a lot more sodium than potassium, the balance of electrolytes gets thrown off. You end up storing water (water retention), which can make it harder for your heart to pump blood. This can lead to high blood pressure and hypertension, which are two of the primary risk factors behind more serious cardiovascular diseases.
A regular cut of pork (loin, shoulder, flank, chop) contains a lot of saturated fat, but that fat won’t do anything to increase your risk of heart problems (unless you eat many pounds of it every day). Fresh meat is actually good for your heart health, as it provides certain minerals and B vitamins that are hard to get from non-meat sources. Both beef and pork can be good for your heart if prepared properly and consumed in moderation (2-4 servings per week should do the trick).
But with pork (and beef) meat-based products, you’re getting way more sodium than is good for you. Every bite of bacon, beef jerky, sausage links, or processed ham delivers a pretty hefty dose of sodium into your body, which throws off the sodium-potassium balance. The result is water retention, which in turn can lead to high blood pressure (your heart having to work harder to pump blood).
Understanding this link between pork and heart disease leads to one simple conclusion: if you’re going to eat pork, make it fresh.
Fresh cuts of pork are more than just delicious—they’re a great source of amino acids, iron, Vitamin B12, and the list goes on. Some cuts contain more fat than others, but the saturated fat isn’t really an enemy to your heart (though it will affect your waistline).
Sadly, you will have to cut the other processed and cured meats from your diet. That means no more bacon or breakfast sausage in the morning, and definitely no trips to the hot dog cart at your local ballgame or convention. Processed meats contain a lot of harmful chemicals along with the sodium, which can cause damage to your cardiovascular system, digestive system, liver, and other internal organs. You’re much better off cutting them from your diet!