February is American Heart Month, and heart health is top of mind for many Americans. Pork should also be on the top of the list as people look for ways to make food choices that are both nutritious and flavorful. But many people still have misconceptions about the nutrition in fresh, whole-muscle pork. We talked to three registered dietitians about what the industry can do this month – and all year long – to help more consumers think of pork when they think of healthy eating.
According to Adria Huseth, RDN, LD, CPT, the Pork Board’s manager of nutrition communication and research, many manufacturers are reformulating their products to create healthier versions or healthier alternatives.
“Consumers who have made changes to their diet in the last 10 years are especially likely to care about recognizing ingredients on the package,” she said.
Huseth acknowledges that’s an opportunity for fresh pork, which is a single ingredient product. Nutrition messages can go beyond protein to highlight the full nutrient profile. For example, a 3 oz. serving of fresh pork tenderloin is an “excellent” source of thiamin, selenium, vitamin B, zinc, choline and potassium.
Charlotte Rommereim, RDN, LN, LD, a registered dietitian nutritionist who is also a pig farmer, agrees. Since Rommereim often works with people who have chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes, she sees how pork is an easy choice for those wanting to improve their diet.
“Pork’s nutrient density means we get a lot of value for our health in every bite,” she said.
As consumers look more closely at labels, they may be concerned about proteins that have added hormones, she said.
“Some brands have placed a ‘No added
hormones’ claim on the label, but consumers need to know that no pork
has added hormones, even if the label doesn’t say
it,” Rommereim said.
Focus on Versatility
Even as more consumers carefully review nutrition labels, taste remains a top driver of food decisions.
“People want to know what they can do with pork,” Rommereim said. “They need more ideas of ways to prepare it.”
She said stores that offer recipes and in-store demos help consumers think of new ways to incorporate pork into recipes. Even when in-store demos aren’t possible, linking to online videos that show how easy it can be to prepare pork can help win over new fans.
Kim Kirchherr, MS, RD, LDN, FAND, ACSM-CPT, a dietitian with experience across the food supply chain, reinforced the need for consumers to know how tasty and easy to prepare pork can be.
“It’s easy to prepare, it’s nutritious, and it’s the number one protein around the world, so it fits in deliciously with global cuisines,” Kirchherr said. “It’s checking all the boxes, so just telling that story and helping people understand pork’s nutrition, versatility and ease of preparation is a win-win-win.”
All three dietitians agreed that people want meal plans that are easy to follow and incorporate into their lifestyle. In the past, nutrition messages were complicated and focused on things that should be cut out of a diet.
“Rather than telling people what they have to cut out, we need to show them how to enjoy food in a healthful way,” Rommereim said.
Instructing people to lower their cholesterol, eat less fat or lower their sodium intake is hard to follow because few people know what this means when they sit down for a meal. Instead, she said, people need simple messages about lifestyle choices that are more healthful.
“It’s hard for anyone to change their eating habits,” Rommereim said. “Instead, I try to show them how they can make healthier choices with their usual eating habits in mind. If they don’t like to cook, they can make a pork chop and frozen vegetables, and then add a sauce.” She uses the nine dinner occasions from the 2019 Dinner at Home in America report to help her patients think of meal ideas they’ll want to cook.
According to Kirchherr, many brands are successfully helping consumers make healthy food choices by showing them how to make delicious dishes with the products they offer, and by showing how those dishes fit into balanced choices.
“There is a place for all the food choices people make,” Kirchherr said. “Honoring that and helping them find informed ways to be successful is a great path many brands and companies are forging. People are beginning to understand that ‘balanced diet’ isn’t a diet at all. They can integrate their favorites and know this supports a healthful lifestyle.”
Nutrition facts aren’t the only thing consumers are looking for on their food labels, though. Increasingly, they’re looking for sustainability claims, too. According to the 2019 IFIC Food and Health Survey, six in 10 consumers say it’s hard to know whether their food choices are sustainable, but 63% say this would have an influence on their food choices if it were easier to identify sustainable products.
Rommereim said when she meets with her patients, she tells them pork is not only good for them, it’s good for the environment. Modern pig farmers have reduced energy, water and land use, making pork not only good for people but good for the planet.
“People think red meat isn’t sustainable,” she said. “As a pig farmer, I can tell them about the things we do to protect our environment.”
Huseth agrees. “Consumer interest in food choices that are healthy for me and healthy for the planet has increased,” she said. “There is a great opportunity to showcase the We Care message – that pig farmers care for pigs, people and the planet.”
All three dietitians agree more consumer education is vital to helping consumers think of pork as a tasty, healthful and environmentally friendly protein option.
“There’s so much more we can do,” Kirchherr said. “From recipes and cooking tips, to specific information like how to read labels and select foods for chronic conditions, there is so much we can do to help people make more informed decisions.” That includes pork’s full farm-to-table story, and knowing how pig farmers work to provide a nutrient-rich, sustainable protein.