A study conducted at Purdue University’s Laboratory for Integrative Research in Nutrition, Fitness and Aging published in the journal Obesity found that pork fits into dieting programs to help retain lean body mass while losing weight.

Ceci Snyder, assistant vice president of Consumer Marketing for the National Pork Board, says diet programs often fail because the food consumed doesn’t provide enough eating satisfaction and, therefore, muscle mass can be endangered from overeating the wrong foods.

Pork, on the other hand, in the recently published study, provided a high-protein diet that improved weight loss, helped preserve lean body mass and improved consumer perceptions of satiety or meal satisfaction during energy restriction, she says. Because muscle mass burns more calories, the finding is important for long-term weight control.

“In addition to helping preserve lean body mass during weight loss, consuming a higher-protein diet helped retain the women’s sense of satiety or fullness after meals,” adds Wayne Campbell, lead researcher for the Purdue study. “The women on the higher protein diet rated themselves more positively in terms of overall mood and feelings of pleasure during dieting, which could help dieters stay true to their weight loss plans longer.”

“This is groundbreaking research,” says registered dietitian Snyder of the peer-reviewed research. “This news is especially relevant to our target audience of young women, who are very interested in weight control.”

In the pork checkoff-funded study, 46 women ages 28-80, who reside in the West Lafayette, IN, area (home to Purdue University), were placed on one of two energy-deficient diets containing either higher protein (30%) or normal protein (18%). The high-protein group ate 6 oz. of lean pork on average each day. Both groups of dieters consumed the same amount of calories – a 750-calorie reduction compared to their normal intake. Both groups were monitored over a 12-week period.

The results confirmed that consuming a high-protein diet and losing weight before becoming obese helped preserve lean body mass.

Weight loss in the study ranged from 17.8 lb. to 20.9 lb. for women on both the high-protein diet and lower-protein diet.

“The significant difference came in how much muscle was retained by the women who ate the pork diet. The pork dieters lost just 3.3 lb. of lean mass – which includes muscle – while the lower-protein dieters lost 6.2 lb. of lean mass,” Synder explains.

She says pork loin and tenderloin cuts used in the study fit especially well into a balanced diet and meet health recommendations from the National Institutes of Health.

“While previous studies have evaluated the impact higher-protein diets have on a weight-loss program, this is the first study to use pork as the only source of meat,” says Mark Reding, a pork producer from Howardstown, KY, and chair of the Checkoff Nutrition Committee. “Pork gives consumers interested in weight control more options and adds variety and flavor.”

Snyder says this research provides valuable information for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as the agency revises its dietary guidelines for the Food Pyramid.

USDA advises consumers when increasing the amount of protein in their diets to select lean choices like pork tenderloin. According to USDA, pork tenderloin contains the same amount of fat and slightly less calories than the same size serving of skinless chicken breast. A 3-oz. serving of pork tenderloin packs a significant amount of nutrients into each serving, while contributing only 6% of the calories in a 2,000-calorie diet.

Snyder notes the Purdue weight loss study provides vital new details about dieting and pork that will be relayed to physicians and health care professionals and consumer media across the country.

“We’ll continue to look for ways to expand on this research and open up more avenues for pork,” emphasizes Reding. “Follow-up research will continue to help us prove to consumers, dietitians and the medical community that we do have a good product, and this helps drive demand for pork.”