Ever since our grandmother’s time there is a tendency to separate good food from bad food: food that is very good for you and food that is always bad for you. Often however the ideas we have about food are not true and much of the popular wisdom is based on a lack of information or deep rooted prejudices. There are examples that demonstrate that these old ideas are unfounded and that some types of food that are considered healthy, if combined with other food or if eaten in excess, are not at all good for you.
The healthiness of food depends on two things: firstly food safety, i.e. the production methods that must ensure nutritionally healthy and hygienically safe product; secondly consumption, since any food, if consumed excessively or in the wrong way, can be harmful.
All this to say that pork and its by-products, i.e. cold meats, are often mistakenly under attack by health and slimming fanatics. Nowadays “good” food must be above all low in fat, and health fanatics consider the percentage of fat in cold meats as a weak point, ignoring the fact that, thanks to modern technology, pork is one of the leanest meats with the lowest level of cholesterol; many charcuterie products are now included in a variety of low-calorie diets, and in the diet of children and athletes. Pork and its by-products have been part of the human diet for over three thousand five hundred years, which underlines the benefits and goodness of cold meats, and the fact that they are not harmful and that they have a high nutritional value. In fact, the common denominator of the vast family of cold meats and sausages is animal proteins, which range from 20% to 30% of the edible part: noble and highly digestible proteins. The essential amino acids present in the muscle are also of fundamental importance; they are essential to life and give that characteristic mild taste to cold meats.
In the past good quality charcuterie had to have a high fat content – owing to the more difficult lifestyle and colder weather – but nowadays the demand is for good quality charcuterie with reduced calories.
There is such a large variety of cold meats that it is not difficult to meet these requirements: from bresaola or lean ham with 150 calories per hundred grams, to 500 calories for the same amount of sausages. The quality of the fat has also changed: the percentage of unsaturated fats (i.e. “good” fats) has increased, to the detriment of saturated fats, the so-called “bad” fats.
It is important to point out that there are three categories of charcuterie products: lean, medium-fat and high-fat, each with very different nutritional characteristics. Lean cold meats are important sources of protein, as well as having a high satiating value. The amount of fat is between 4 and 10% and they include cooked ham and raw cured ham (with the fat removed), bresaola and cured pork loin. Medium-fat cold meats have a fat content between 10 and 20% and can be eaten in reasonable quantities because the calorie count is not excessive, about 280 calories per hundred grams; these include cured ham (with the fat) and capocollo. High-fat cold meats contain a high number of calories and have a low satiating value; consumption should be limited in a low-calorie diet because the fat content is over 30%, so only a small taste is recommended. They should complement a meal or be used for cooking. This category includes many types of salami, cotechino, pancetta, guanciale, lardo and coppa, which should be eaten only as an occasional treat.
It is, however, important to remember that fat is necessary for the proper functioning of our body, and also makes cold meats tasty. Very lean cold meats, in fact, become too hard and tasteless. Another point in favour of pork and its by-products is the level of cholesterol, which is very low and similar to that of white meat, a milestone that has been achieved thanks to new farming methods, which include the addition of foodstuff with anti-cholesterol properties (corn, soybeans) in pigs’ feed.