The other day I was sorting through a box marked "old books." I was thinking the box might contain books from my college days, so I was a little surprised when I lifted the flaps on the box. The books were owned by my husband's great- grandparents.
Among the antique books was "Plain Home Talk," which was written by a physician and released in 1891. I barely dared touch the fragile, yellowed pages of the 960-page book, but I was curious about its encyclopedialike contents. Among its many topics, the book featured chapters on foods, liquids, disease and bad health habits of men, women and children.
I turned to the chapter on food and my attention was caught by an unusual drawing. It showed side-by-side facial profiles of a rather unkempt, bristly faced man next to the profile of an equally bristly faced pig. Their "snouts" were similar, too. The caption read, "The unhealthy pair." Both were described as "hoggish" due to their feeding practices.
At the time of the book, trichinosis was a foodborne illness associated with pork. The author cautioned people from taking a bite of pork, even if the meat was "thoroughly cooked to death." Pork was considered "diseased" because many of the hogs at that time carried trichinella, a microscopic wormlike parasite. The author mentioned that many people in Germany had been sickened by or died from trichinosis during the 1860s.
Interestingly, 120 years ago, the author cited 160 degrees Fahrenheit as the temperature needed to kill the parasites. This temperature is the current U.S. Department of Agriculture's recommendation for the internal temperature of cooked pork.
Trichinella is no longer an issue with pork, nor is high fat content.
Today's pork is very lean, with 16 percent less fat and 27 percent less saturated fat compared with pork produced just 20 years ago. In fact, a 3-ounce serving of pork tenderloin has 2.98 grams of total fat, which is nearly the same fat content as a skinless chicken breast, which is 3.03 grams of fat per 3-ounce serving.
Depending on our portion sizes and our food preparation methods, however, we can completely change the nutrition profile of our main course. If we add rich gravies and sauces or add a lot of fat when cooking meat, our lean protein choices could gain many calories.
If you are seeking the leanest cut of pork, look for "loin" on the meat label.
For example, pork loin and loin chops will have the least fat, saturated fat and calories. You can trim excess fat from other cuts before cooking it.
When you're ready to cook, consider low-fat cooking methods, such as grilling, broiling stir-frying and pan-broiling. Use a rack during broiling, so the natural fat drips away. When pan frying, skim fat before serving.
When it's time to serve yourself a portion of meat, develop an eye for serving size. Remember that a 3-ounce serving is about the size of a deck of cards. Most adults need 5 to 7 ounces of protein foods from the meat and beans group per day.
For a flavorful and quick meal, stir-fry pork with vegetables, such as broccoli and carrots. Place a small amount of oil or cooking spray in your nonstick pan, heat it, and then add thin strips of plain or marinated pork. Quickly move the meat around the pan. Remove the cooked meat from the pan to prevent overcooking during the vegetable preparation. Stir-fry a variety of vegetables, add a small amount of your favorite stir-fry sauce, add the cooked meat and serve your colorful, nutritious main course.
Here's a recipe for grilled pork from the National Pork Board. For more information, see the NDSU Extension Service publication "Now Serving: Lean Pork!" available at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/yf/foods/fn1475.pdf.
Favorite Grilled Pork Chops
4 pork chops, 3/4-inch thick
3/4 c. Italian dressing
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Place all ingredients in a self-sealing bag; seal bag and place in refrigerator for at least 20 minutes (or as long as overnight). Remove chops from bag, discarding marinade, and grill over a medium-hot fire, turning once, just until done, about eight to 11 minutes total cooking time. The internal temperature should reach 160 F as measured by a food thermometer.
Makes four servings. Each serving has 210 calories, 5 grams (g) of carbohydrate and 11 g of fat.
(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)