For years, the medical community worldwide has touted the benefits of a Mediterranean diet. A way of eating based on the traditional cuisine of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, the diet is typically high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nut and seeds, and olive oil, with moderate consumption of fish, poultry, eggs and dairy, and a limited intake of red meat, including pork.
That's where the Mediterranean diet and I split ways. There's no way I could limit my red meat consumption. Apparently, the Aussies feel the same way.
Researchers from the University of South Australia recently revealed the results from a study that show Aussies can have their health and eat pork too with a new version of the Mediterranean diet adapted for Australian palates.
The study compared the cognitive effects of people aged 45-80 years and at risk of cardiovascular disease following a Mediterranean-Pork diet (incorporating two to three servings of fresh lean pork each week) or a low-fat diet (often prescribed to negate risk factors for cardiovascular disease), finding that the Med-Pork intervention outperformed the low-fat diet, delivering higher cognitive processing speeds and emotional functioning, both of which are markers of good mental health.
UniSA researcher Alexandra Wade says the new Med-Pork diet will provide multiple benefits for everyday Australians.
"The Mediterranean diet is widely accepted as the world's healthiest diet and is renowned for delivering improved cardiovascular and cognitive health, but in Western cultures, the red meat restrictions of the diet could make it hard for people to stick to," Wade says. "By adding pork to the Mediterranean diet, we're broadening the appeal of the diet, while also delivering improved cognitive function. This bodes well for our aging population, where age-associated diseases, such as dementia, are on the rise."
According to the World Health Organization, by 2050, the number of people aged 60 years and older will outnumber children younger than 5 years old, bringing common health concerns associated with aging into the forefront. Further WHO statistics show that cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death globally and that dementia is one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people worldwide.
Wade says the Mediterranean diet with lean pork is an effective adaption of a successful eating plan.
"Put simply, a Mediterranean diet encourages healthy eating. It's a food-based eating pattern that, with pork, still delivers significant health benefits," Wade says. "We're hoping that more people will find this dietary pattern to be more in line with their accustomed eating patterns and therefore more adoptable."
While two to three servings a week is a little too light for my palate, it is good to hear the medical community is starting to recognize what many of us pork eaters already know.
Today’s pork is 16% leaner and 27% lower in saturated fat compared to 26 years ago. Eight cuts of pork meet the USDA guidelines for "lean" by containing less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat and 95 milligrams of cholesterol per 100 grams of meat. Popular pork tenderloin has the same amount of fat as a skinless chicken breast.
Pork is both a good source of protein and also provides several important vitamins and minerals. A 3-ounce serving is an "excellent" source of thiamin, selenium, protein, niacin, vitamin B6 and phosphorus, and a "good" source of riboflavin, zinc and potassium.
Pork is naturally low in sodium and a "good" source of potassium — two nutrients that, when coupled, can help regulate blood pressure. The American Heart Association has certified the tenderloin and sirloin roast meet the criteria as heart-healthy foods, indicating that they contain less than 5 grams of fat, 2 grams or less of saturated fat and 480 milligrams or less of sodium per label serving, among other criteria.
To sum it up, you can have your health and eat pork too.