Before bacon is cured, smoked, sliced and packaged, it starts out as a thick cut of pork belly. A piece of pork belly is composed of layers of fat and meat that cook down into a rich and flavorful protein, particularly when braised.
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Many restaurant menus offer this decadent entree as pork belly is high in fat, particularly saturated fat, and calories. Compared to several other cuts of pork and leaner proteins, it could be considered fattening. Make it as a special-occasion dish and avoid putting it on your plate on a regular basis.
Read more: What is the Leanest Meat to Eat?
According to LIVESTRONG's food database MyPlate, each ounce of pork belly contains 145 calories, but a recommended serving of meat is 3 ounces, making this full serving total 435 calories. Compare this 3 ounces of chicken breast with 133 calories, 3 ounces of flank steak with 141 calories, or 111 calories in 3 ounces of tilapia. Pork belly is nearly triple the calories of these leaner protein choices.
Dietary guidelines are based on maintaining weight on a typical 2,000-calorie diet for the average person, but daily caloric needs vary depending on gender, age and level of physical activity. For the average 2,000-diet, a serving of pork belly constitutes nearly a quarter of your daily calories.
There are 14.8 grams of fat in an ounce of pork belly before it's cooked (that's more than 44 grams of fat in a 3-ounce serving,) 5.4 grams of which is less-than-optimal saturated fat.
The American Heart Association recommends keeping your daily saturated fat intake to no more than 5 to 6 percent of your total daily calories. When on a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, this limit is 11 to 12 grams total daily. So, a 3-ounce serving would actually have you exceed what you should consume daily for saturated fat. Saturated fat can contribute to high levels of bad cholesterol, increasing your risk of developing heart disease.
The Harvard School of Public Health recommends replacing much of your saturated fat intake with healthy fats — such as that found in avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds — to keep your blood cholesterol at a healthy level. If you are watching your weight, consider serving pork belly as an appetizer or small dish, rather than a main entree, and cooking fish for your main course.
An ounce of pork belly provides about 3 grams of protein, which is far below the 9 grams of protein in one ounce of chicken breast or the 7 grams in an ounce of tilapia. Its high fat content crowds out the beneficial protein. Because it's not cured with sodium and nitrates and nitrites like bacon, it contains just 27 milligrams of sodium per serving. This means it won't cause you to bloat and retain water, which can show up as extra pounds on the scale.
Read more: Daily Protein Intake for Weight Loss
More About MyPlate
Learn more about smart protein choices with the free LIVESTRONG MyPlate calorie tracker app for iPhone and Android that has helped millions of people lose weight the healthy way — by getting support from an active community as they track their eating and exercise. Consistently a top-rated app, MyPlate offers the latest technology in an easy-to-use tool that includes millions of foods and recipes, 5-minute in-app workouts and a robust support community.
- HealthALiciousNess.com: Pork Fresh Belly Raw
- National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: Estimated Calorie Requirements
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Balancing Calories
- American Heart Association: Know Your Fats
- Harvard School of Public Health: Fats and Cholesterol: Out with the Bad, In with the Good
- Seattle PI: Chefs Love Pork Belly, Oozing With Flavor and Texture
- Washington Post: Is Pork Good For You?
- HealthALiciousNess.com: Chicken, Flank Steak, Tilapia