Pork vs Chicken meat - Health impact and Nutrition Comparison
Pork and chicken are two of the most commonly consumed meats in the world. The choice of pork or chicken often comes up when ordering a meal or planning dinner. In this article, we will talk about what sets these meats apart and what they have in common, with the main focus on health and nutrition.
Pork is classified as a red meat, due to its high content of myoglobin. Chicken, on the other hand, is poultry and is classified as a white meat.
According to the USDA, chickens can be classified in four groups: Cornish game hen, broiler-fryer, roaster and capon (1). The two main differentiating factors between these groups are the chicken’s age and weight.
Based on the classification, one of the defining differences of these meats becomes apparent. Chicken meat is usually light pink, while pork is darker in colour.
Pork meat has recognizable marbling: visible white wavy lines of intramuscular fat. Chicken meat sometimes also has intramuscular fat called white striping, however, it is less apparent and less common.
Taste and Use
The taste of pork can differ based on its cut. In general, it is described to be fatty and salty. Chicken is described to have a more tender and soft texture.
Chicken and pork can be used in similar ways in the kitchen. Both of these meats can be grilled, broiled, baked, braised and much more.
Bans and Religion
While chicken consumption is not prohibited by any major religious laws, pork intake is a different case.
Pork meat is not a kosher food, meaning its consumption is forbidden according to orthodox Jewish dietary laws. Similarly, it is also prohibited by Islamic dietary laws.
Types of Meat
Both pork and chicken meat can be produced as processed or fresh meat. Processed meat is defined as meat that has been preserved by smoking, curing, salting, or the addition of chemical preservatives (2).
Based on the cut of pork, there are different varieties of pork. The four primal cuts of pork are the shoulder (the butt and the picnic), the leg or ham, the loin and the belly or side.
The chicken meat is mainly divided in three parts: the breast, the leg and the wing. The breast meat is the most commonly used part of the chicken and it is also the lightest in colour.
Each type of meat, based on the cut and production method, has slightly varying nutritional and biological properties.
For this article, we are looking at the nutritional values of whole, broiled pork loin and roasted broiler-fryer chicken with skin.
Macronutrients and Calories
Pork and chicken have very similar macronutrient compositions. However, pork is a little more dense in nutrients containing 58% water, while chicken consists of 60% water.
One average serving size of pork weighs 85g. Chicken’s serving size is much larger - 140g or one cup of diced chicken.
Chicken and pork are both high calorie foods, containing nearly the same amount of calories. A hundred gram serving of pork contains 242 calories, whilst chicken has 239.
Protein and Fats
Pork and chicken are similar in these macronutrients as well.
Both of these meats contain 27g of protein per a 100g serving. Both are also very rich in all essential amino acids. Pork contains slightly higher levels of all those amino acids, except for isoleucine and methionine.
Pork is also slightly higher in fats. However, chicken contains larger amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids, while pork is richer in monounsaturated and saturated fats.
Pork is lower in cholesterol.
Like most meats, both chicken and pork contain no notable amount of carbohydrates.
Overall, pork is a little richer in vitamins, containing more of vitamin B1, vitamin B12, vitamins B2 and B6 and vitamin E. Pork also contains vitamin C and vitamin D, which chicken is absent in.
Chicken, on the other hand, is richer in vitamin A, vitamin B3 and vitamin B5. One vitamin found in chicken which pork completely lacks is vitamin K.
Pork and chicken contain the same amount of the folate form of vitamin B9.
Pork is the clear winner in this category, being higher in potassium, phosphorus, calcium, zinc, magnesium, selenium, copper and choline. Pork also contains less sodium.
However, chicken is richer in iron and manganese.
Based on the fact that pork and chicken contain almost no carbohydrates, the glycemic index of these foods is considered to be 0.
The normal pH value for fresh chicken meat falls in the range of 5.3 to 6.5, making chicken a slightly acidic food (3).
Normal pork also has an acidic pH value of 5.6 to 5.7. Pork meat with a higher pH value, may be dark, firm and dry (4).
Another way of evaluating the acidity of foods is the potential renal acid load or PRAL. The PRAL values demonstrate how much acid or base the food produces inside the organism.
The PRAL values for pork and chicken are 12.6 and 14.6 respectively. The higher this number, the more acidic the food is.
Weight Loss & Diets
Chicken and pork are both high calorie foods, however, pork is slightly higher in calories.
Containing no carbohydrates, these meats fit well in both low carb and low glycemic index diets.
Despite the high calorie count, pork and chicken may have potential use in weight loss diets, as the high protein and fat content leads to high satiety and energy expenditure.
There is some evidence, however limited, showing pork intake to have a positive impact on waist circumference (5).
Regular consumption of lean fresh pork has also been studied to relatively reduce weight, body mass index, waist circumference, percentage of body fat, fat mass and abdominal fat (6).
Among children, a higher meat consumption, including pork and chicken, has been associated with lower levels of body mass index, as well as systolic and diastolic blood pressures (7).
Poultry meat intake, along with vegetables, has been correlated with a reduced risk of developing obesity and obesity related diseases (8).
While fresh pork and chicken may have beneficial effects in a balanced diet, processed meats can have a negative impact on metabolism (9).
Opinions about the health benefits of meat consumption are often contrary. In this section, we will look into scientifically founded information about the health impact of chicken and pork intake.
Regular intake of fresh lean pork can improve body composition, without negatively affecting risk factors for cardiometabolic disease (6).
Poultry, such as chicken, may not have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular health, but the National Heart Foundation of Australia concluded that there is not enough strong evidence for recommending a limit on the intake level (10).
Substitution of red meat with poultry, such as chicken, decreases the risk of developing type 2 and gestational diabetes, also improving glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors (11).
The limited evidence about pork intake and diabetes has suggested a possible negative impact of processed pork on glucose and insulin metabolism and a possible positive impact of pork intake on waist circumference and high density cholesterol, also known as “good” cholesterol (12).
Chicken may serve as a source of protein for patients with type 2 diabetes and renal dysfunction (13).
In one study increased white meat intake and equally decreased red meat intake has been correlated with significantly reduced risk of cancer of the esophagus, liver, colon, rectum, anus, lung and pleura. This inverse association may be largely due to the substitution of red meat (14).
Downsides and Risks
Overall, various studies have demonstrated red and processed meat intake to be correlated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and all-cause mortality (15).
Substituting red meats with high quality plant foods, such as legumes, nuts or soy, as well as whole grains or dairy, might potentially reduce the risk of coronary heart disease (16).
Red meat intake has been studied to increase low density lipoprotein levels, also known as “bad” cholesterol, in the blood (2).
The dietary heme iron, found in red meat has also been associated with cardiovascular diseases, such as myocardial infarction and fatal coronary heart disease, potentially due to the additional oxidative stress (16).
A study has concluded that higher intake of processed meat, unprocessed red meat and poultry is significantly associated with a small increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. Higher consumption of processed meat, unprocessed red meat, but not poultry is associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality (17).
A study has found red meats, but not poultry, intake to be positively associated with increased diabetes risk (18).
In contrast to the previous statement, another research has concluded that both red meat and poultry consumption were associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes (19)
The cooking method also plays a role in the increased risk of diabetes due to meat consumption. High-heat cooking of meats, such as grilling and barbecuing has a bigger negative impact on health, when compared to moderate-temperature cooking, such as stir-frying, boiling, steaming or sauteing (20).
Both red and processed meats have been studied to have undesirable effects relating to oncological conditions. Red meat consumption has been associated with an increased risk of colorectal, nasopharyngeal, lung and pancreas, as well as breast and prostate cancer (21, 22). In addition to those, processed meat might also increase the risk of esophageal (squamous cell carcinoma) and stomach cancer (non-cardia) (21).
There are potential positive associations with poultry intake and the risk of prostate cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (22).
In summary, pork and chicken have similar macronutrient compositions, however, pork is slightly higher in calories, protein and fats. Pork is also overall richer in vitamins and minerals, containing larger amounts of vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamins B1, B2 and B12, calcium potassium, phosphorus and zinc. On the other hand, chicken is richer in vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamins B3 and B5 and iron.
Even though pork may be nutritionally superior, pork is a red meat, while chicken is white. Due to this, pork tends to have a bigger negative impact on health, compared to chicken.
Vitamin and Mineral Summary Scores
Comparison summary table
|Lower in Cholesterol|
|Lower in Sodium|
|Lower in price|
|Rich in minerals|
|Lower in Saturated Fat|
|Lower in Sugar||Equal|
|Lower in glycemic index||Equal|
|Rich in vitamins||Equal|
Which food is preferable for your diet?
|Low Calories diet|
|Low Fats diet|
|Low Carbs diet||Equal|
|Low glycemic index diet||Equal|
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All nutrients comparison - raw data values