Fresh pork, nutritional properties and health benefits

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The battle waged in Europe by the lobbyists of the
Lab meat
(lab meat) against red meat stimulates objective reflection on the nutritional properties and health benefits associated with the consumption of fresh pork. (1)

High-biological-value protein and essential micronutrients at a good price, especially relevant in the Covid-19 era economic crisis. Without sacrificing the flavors and traditions that also find a place, without overdoing it, in the Mediterranean diet. Nor to the safety, quality and sustainability that characterize 100% Italian productions.

Some insights based on analytical data, shared nutrition recommendations and European nutrition & health claims regulations.

Protein and essential amino acids

Proteins make up the body’s tissues and are essential to ensure its vital functions from infancy to old age.

Amino acids are the basic components of proteins. Nine of these (histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine) are defined as essential amino acids, as humans are unable to synthesize them on their own and must therefore take them in through the diet.

High biological value is attributed to proteins of animal origin (meat, fish, eggs, milk and dairy products). Due to the co-presence in such foods of the essential amino acids. In contrast, a medium biological value is attributed to plant protein sources, which are equally important but require to be combined (e.g., grains + legumes and/or nuts with shells), in individual meals, to supplement the intake of essential amino acids.

The daily intake recommended by the Italian Society for Human Nutrition (SINU), in the latest update of the LARNs(Reference Intake Levels of Nutrients and Energy), is 1.1 grams of protein per kg of body weight.

Protein, nutrition & health claims

The European regulation on nutrition and health claims on food (so-called nutrition & health claims) indicates how:

‘source of protein‘ the food product where ‘at least 12 percent of the energy value‘ is contributed by protein,

‘rich in protein’ the food where it provides ‘at least 20 percent’ of the total energy’ (EC Reg. 1924/06, Annex).

Reg. EU 432/12 However, it only authorizes certain healthclaims (health claims), in labeling and advertising of the above foods.

‘Protein contributes:

– To the maintenance of muscle mass,
– To the growth of muscle mass,
to the maintenance of normal bones’ (EU reg. 432/12).

Fresh pork, nutritional properties and health benefits

100 grams of pork steak offers an average of 21.3 grams of protein, accounting for 54.3 percent of total energy intake (157 kcal/100 g). (2) Thus, the protein content in relation to energy value is more than twice the amount required to boast ‘rich in protein‘ on the label (20 percent, according to EC Reg. 1924/06). Other benefits are added, related to the presence of a wide range of micronutrients.

Vitamins

B vitamins characterize fresh pork. Below are the values reported by CREA (Food and Nutrition Research Center) on pork steak. (2)

(*) The NRV (Nutritional Reference Value) expresses the share of vitamins offered by the indicated portion of food (100 g of raw steak, in this case) compared to the average daily requirement. (3)

The health benefits associated with the intake of these vitamins-confirmed by EFSA and validated by the European Commission in reg. EU 432/12(health claims) – are numerous.

‘Vitamins B1, B2, B3 contribute:

– To normal energy metabolism, normal functioning of the nervous system, (B1, B2, B3),
– To normal heart function (B1)
– To normal psychological function (B1, B3),
– To the maintenance of normal red blood cells (B2),
– To the maintenance of normal visual capacity (B2),
– To normal iron metabolism (B2),
– To the protection of cells from oxidative stress (B2),
– to the maintenance of normal mucous membranes, the maintenance of normal skin, and the reduction of fatigue and tiredness (B2, B3)‘.

Scientific literature also reports the presence, in the generality of meats, of vitamins B12 (cobalamin) and B6. Both essential to the functioning of the immune and nervous systems. In addition:

– B12 is critical for amino acid and fatty acid metabolism, red blood cell production, and cell growth and reproduction. It also intervenes in the synthesis of some neurotransmitters and the function of the nervous system. Its essential source, in vegetarian diets, is brewer’s yeast,

– B6 participates in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fatty acids, and amino acids. Very important for the functioning of the nervous system and yet sensitive to cooking. Ham is one of his favorite sources. 50g of domestic prosciutto offers 0.5 mg of vitamin B6 and 0.19 μg of vitamin B12, accounting for 36% and 7.6% of their respective daily requirements (3,4).

Minerals

Selenium, phosphorus and zinc are the prominent minerals in the fateful pork steak, as in other cuts. Potassium, copper, iron, and magnesium follow, according to CREA analyses. (2)

The health virtues associated with the intake of only the three first minerals contained therein are:

– Selenium.Contributes to normal spermatogenesis, maintenance of normal hair and nails, normal immune system function, normal thyroid function, and protection of cells from oxidative stress.’

– Phosphorus. ‘Contributes to normal energy metabolism, normal cell membrane function, and maintenance of normal bones and teeth.’

– zinc. ‘Contributes to normal acid-base metabolism, carbohydrate metabolism, macronutrient metabolism, fatty acid metabolism, and vitamin A metabolism.’ As well as ‘to normal protein and DNA synthesis. To normal cognitive and visual function, fertility and reproduction, testosterone levels in the blood. To the maintenance of bones, hair, nails, skin. To the immune system. Intervenes in the process of cell division and contributes to their protection from oxidative stress’ (EU reg. 432/12).

Interim conclusions

The Mediterranean diet-as celebrated as much as disapplied-also includes moderate consumption of red meat-including pork-and cured meats. Two servings each week the former, one the latter, according to CREA guidelines for healthy eating. (5) As part of, precisely, a varied and balanced diet.

#poormabuoni

Dario Dongo

Notes

(1) See section ‘Meat consumption, the new war on Commission‘ in previous article ‘Farm to Fork special, the strategy presented in Brussels on 20.5.20‘. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 5/24/20, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/progresso/speciale-farm-to-fork-la-strategia-presentata-a-bruxelles-il-20-5-20
(2) CREA (Food and Nutrition Research Center). Food composition tables. Item pork, steak, raw, https://www.alimentinutrizione.it/tabelle-nutrizionali/105230
(3) VNR, Nutritional Reference Values. Reg. EU 1169/11, Annex XIII
(4) CREA (Food and Nutrition Research Center). Food composition tables. Item prosciutto crudo, domestic, aged 12 months,
https://www.alimentinutrizione.it/tabelle-nutrizionali/110535
(5) CREATES (2018). Guidelines for healthy eating