How safe is pork when you have gout?
The first thing we need to do is to take a look at pork’s purine content. Why? Because gout is caused by high blood uric acid that can lead to monosodium urate crystals forming in the joints and surrounding tissue.
But uric acid is produced when chemical compounds called ‘purines’ — in our body’s cells and in the cells of the food we eat — breakdown during metabolism; the process by which your body converts the food you eat into energy.
- More purines => more uric acid => a higher risk of gout.
- Less purines => less uric acid => a lower risk of gout.
So gout patients are usually advised by their doctor to completely avoid high-purine foods — those foods producing 200+ mg of uric acid per 3.5 oz (100 g) serving — like organ meats, game, certain red meat, and quite a few fish and shellfish species.
But foods containing moderate amounts of purines — those producing 100-200 mg of uric acid per 3.5 oz (100 g) serving — may be eaten in limited amounts: smaller serving sizes and consumed less often (see below).
What is the purine content of pork?
Pork falls into the moderate-purine food category, so gout sufferers are usually advised to eat it in moderation: i.e. no more than 1 x 3.5 oz (100 g) serving per day and not every day.
If you stick to that within an overall low-purine diet then there shouldn’t be a problem.
However, it’s not just purines we need to consider, it’s also the overall ‘healthiness’ of pork…
Putting gout aside for a minute, should we be eating pork at all?
First question; is pork a red or a white meat?
According to Wikipedia, ‘Some meat, such as pork, is classified as white meat under the common or gastronomic definition, but as red meat under the nutritional definition.’
So the food industry generally refers to it as ‘white’ whilst most food scientists and nutritionists classify it as a ‘red’ meat, most probably because it contains small amounts of myoglobin, a red-pigmented protein, which gives meat its color.
Either way, pork is the meat of the domestic pig. It’s hugely popular worldwide although it’s forbidden in several religions including Islam and Judaism. So adherents of these religions do not eat pork or pork products.
Outside of such religions, pork is the most widely consumed meat, including processed products like smoked and cured pork, bacon, sausages, gammon, and ham. It accounts for over 36% of the world meat intake, followed by poultry at around 35% and beef at approx. 22%. Source.
But just how healthy is pork?
According to Healthline:
Pork is a rich source of many vitamins and minerals, including:
- Thiamine. Unlike other types of red meat, such as beef and lamb, pork is particularly rich in thiamine — one of the B vitamins that plays an essential role in various bodily functions (4).
- Selenium. Pork is rich in selenium. The best sources of this essential mineral are animal-derived foods, such as meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy products (5).
- Zinc. An important mineral, abundant in pork, zinc is essential for a healthy brain and immune system.
- Vitamin B12. Almost exclusively found in foods of animal origin, vitamin B12 is important for blood formation and brain function. Deficiency in this vitamin may cause anemia and damage to neurons.
- Vitamin B6. A group of several related vitamins, vitamin B6 is important for the formation of red blood cells.
- Niacin. One of the B vitamins, niacin — or vitamin B3 — serves a variety of functions in your body and is important for growth and metabolism.
- Phosphorus. Abundant and common in most foods, phosphorus is usually a large component of people’s diets. It’s essential for body growth and maintenance.
- Iron. Pork contains less iron than lamb or beef. However, the absorption of meat iron (heme-iron) from your digestive tract is very efficient, and pork can be considered an outstanding source of iron.
Pork contains good amounts of many other vitamins and minerals.
It’s also a good protein source, with 25.7 g of protein in a 3.5 oz (100 g) serving.
So, on the face of it, pork has a lot going for it in terms of its nutritional value…
However, irrespective of pork’s beneficial protein, vitamins, minerals, and trace elements, some experts advise against its consumption. For example, you can read an article by Dr. Josh Axe, here: ‘Why You Should Avoid Pork.’ He discusses in some detail the key problems with pork, as he sees it:
- The pig’s problematic digestive system.
- Increased cancer risk from bacon and other processed pork.
- Swine flu in humans.
- Trichinosis dangers (caused by roundworms in pork).
- Pigs harbor common viruses and parasites.
- Factory farming and pigs.
- Drug resistant bacteria in pork chops and ground pork.
And there are moral concerns, for example, is modern large-scale industrial pig farming inhumane?
The industry will argue ‘no’ but other groups like Peta will argue ‘yes.’ Who to believe?
So do we have to give up on all meat then, including pork?
Not necessarily. The University of California ‘Berkeley Wellness’ website has this advice:
As with all animal products, the alternative is to buy pork from sources that raise pigs more humanely and to support organizations trying to reduce needless suffering of farm animals.
Ultimately, if you aren’t willing to go whole hog and give up all meat, the best alternative is to limit your intake by eating small portions of humanely raised meat— which probably won’t cost more than larger portions of factory-farmed meat—along with more plant-based protein sources (such as peas, see next page). Labels from trustworthy organizations include “Animal Welfare Approved,” “Certified Humane,” “American Humane Certified,” and “Food Alliance Certified.”
Of course, at the end of the day, it’s entirely down to the individual whether or not to include pork in their diet; ‘you pays your money and you takes your chance.’
Personally, I rather like pork and have never had any health issues with it, gout or otherwise. And I’m not aware that any of my family or friends have had any problems either.
Of course, I’ve never eaten pork or pork products to any great extent and follow the ‘consume in moderation’ mantra for gout sufferers. But, going forward, I’m going to pay even closer attention to where my food is sourced from.