Pork & Cholesterol

Most pork is lean meat, but some types are high in cholesterol.

Most pork is lean meat, but some types are high in cholesterol.

Pork is one of the most commonly eaten meats in the world, especially in the United States where Americans consume more than 9 million tons of it per year. There are many cuts and ways of preparing pork, which impacts how much cholesterol it contains. In general, most pork is considered lean meat, especially compared to similar cuts of beef.

Types of Pork

Pork is eaten in several forms, some of which are cured or smoked and others that are meant to be baked, fried or barbequed. Cured pork takes the form of some hams, Italian prosciutto, sausages, salami and hot dogs, whereas bacon and hams meant for sandwich meat are usually smoked. Fresh cuts of pork include back ribs, pork cutlets, pork chops and pork tenderloin. Some types of pork are naturally lower in fat and cholesterol, although the way you cook them affects fat content too. For example, baking or barbequing pork meat allows some of the natural fat -- which contains cholesterol -- to drip away, whereas frying pork in butter or cooking oil usually adds more fat and cholesterol to the meat.

Cholesterol in Pork

Pork ranges widely in cholesterol content. For example, a 3.5-ounce cut of smoked ham contains about 53 milligrams of cholesterol, whereas the same serving size of pork spare ribs contains almost 120 milligrams. In between these is pork tenderloin, with 74 milligrams of cholesterol per 3.5-ounce portion, pork chops with 85 milligrams of cholesterol and bacon with about 100 milligrams. Canadian back bacon is the leanest type of bacon, with a 3.5-ounce portion containing about 70 milligrams of cholesterol. Unlike beef, most pork products can’t be trimmed of fat in order to reduce cholesterol.

Compared to Other Meats

Cuts of beef contain a little more cholesterol than similar cuts of pork. For example, a 3.5-ounce serving of sirloin steak contains 90 milligrams of cholesterol, whereas the same portion of beef ribs contains 95 milligrams. For further comparison, a 3.5-ounce cut of skinless chicken breast contains 85 milligrams of cholesterol. Veal, lamb, shrimp and all organ meats contain considerably more cholesterol than pork.

Cholesterol Recommendations

Cholesterol is essential for your body because it’s needed to make cell walls, certain hormones and vitamin D, but too much of a certain type, called LDL cholesterol, is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Cholesterol is only found in animal products, such as pork, beef, chicken, fish, seafood, dairy products and eggs. If you have risk factors for heart disease, such as being obese or a cigarette smoker, you shouldn’t consume more than 200 milligrams of cholesterol a day. If you are free of risk factors, then no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol are recommended daily.

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  • Contemporary Nutrition: Functional Approach; Gordon M. Wardlaw et al.
  • The Nutribase Complete Book of Food Counts; Art Ulene
  • Public Health Nutrition: From Principles to Practice; Mark Lawrence and Tony Worsley

About the Author

Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.

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