Pork may be a favorite, but anyone with high blood pressure may wonder whether the sodium amounts in pork are too high. The good news? You can eat pork if you choose your cuts and portions with care, says Barbara Capozzi, DO, clinical dean at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York City.
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Beware of Fat and Sodium
When eating to lower your blood pressure, you want foods that are low in salt, fat and calories, the Cleveland Clinic says. When you eat salty foods such as pork, your body will retain more water. It's the body's way of keeping salt in check in order to release it from the body later. But, excess water may cause blood pressure to rise because extra water puts pressure on the heart and blood vessels.
The American Heart Association (AHA) says that most people should limit their salt (which is mostly sodium) intake to no more than 2,300 milligrams a day. A teaspoon of salt is about that — 2,400 milligrams. Ideally, the AHA says, you should consume even less — no more than 1,500 milligrams a day.
Excess fat in foods can cause your blood pressure to rise because fatty foods, such as some cuts of pork, are high in calories. Extra calories can cause you to gain weight. Being overweight is a risk factor (albeit modifiable) for high blood pressure, according to the AHA.
Pork Has Some Benefits
Granted, pigs are raised to make pork leaner today than it was about 20 years ago, says the North Dakota State University Extension Service (NDSU). Pork also has health benefits. Lean pork in your diet can provide iron, vitamins and minerals, and it has no carbohydrates, Dr. Capozzi notes.
However, she says, because some pork has a high sodium amount, especially pork that has been highly processed — ham, bacon and sausage — eating it "can raise your blood pressure, especially if you are hypertensive and are salt sensitive."
How to Cook Healthier Cuts
If you want to fit pork into your low-blood-pressure diet, here's what Dr. Capozzi recommends:
Choose your cuts wisely. A 3-ounce serving of white pork tenderloin has less than 80 milligrams of sodium, which can fit well into your daily total. You want to limit the amount of ham you eat because a mere 3 ounces can have about eight times as much sodium as tenderloin — 670 milligrams. Likewise, just one strip of bacon can have 325 milligrams of sodium.
Cook wisely, too. "The easiest way to remove calories when preparing pork is to trim all visible fat before cooking," Dr. Capozzi says. When cooking your lean cuts of pork, don't season with salt, advises NDSU. Make a rub of fresh herbs and spices as a substitute for salt. Grilling, broiling and roasting are the heart-healthiest ways of preparing your pork, too.
Go for healthier marinades. If you braise or marinate your pork in sauces, they too can add more sodium and calories, especially if they are laden with sugar and fat, Dr. Capozzi says. If you want a marinade, choose a fat-free dressing or wine-flavored vinegar rather than those that are oil-based, NDSU says.
Watch portion sizes**.** You can have one to two servings of unprocessed pork each week and still eat for lower blood pressure, Dr. Capozzi says. But don't forget, she adds, one serving, or a 3-ounce portion of lean pork, is about the size of a deck of cards. Even a healthy food can be a poor choice if you overdo it. If you want to include processed pork products such as bacon, ham or sausage in your diet, make them a treat and have limited amounts only occasionally.
Look for reduced sodium processed pork cuts**.** You may be able to find hot dogs, sausage, ham and other deli meats that have been made with less sodium, according to the North American Meat Institute. They should be labeled on the package as "reduced sodium." Remember, less sodium doesn't mean no sodium. It's just that reduced sodium may be better for your blood pressure diet than eating these products with full sodium.
- Barbara Capozzi, DO, clinical dean, Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, New York, N.Y.
- Cleveland Clinic: "Hypertension and Nutrition"
- American Heart Association: "How Much Sodium Should I Eat Per Day?"
- American Heart Association: "Know Your Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure"
- North Dakota State University Extension Service: "Now Serving Lean Pork"
- North American Meat Institute: "Salt Use in Meat and Poultry Products"