What Is a Carrier Food?

Have you heard of a “carrier” food? It’s the next big thing in nutrition.  

But what exactly is a carrier food, and can pork be one?  

A carrier food in its simplest form is a food that helps you eat healthier when it’s included in your diet. When a carrier food is on your plate or in your bowl, it tends to bring along more of the food groups and nutrients many of us need more of for better health, according to researchers. 

Pork is the Ultimate Carrier Food

New research confirms pork is the ultimate carrier food. Here’s why. 

A 2023 study* looking at eight years of health and diet information from tens of thousands of American children (aged 2-18) and adults (aged 19+) found that compared to people who don’t eat pork, pork eaters tended to have more of the following nutrients in their diet.

The researchers in this study also found there are unintended nutrient consequences when pork is removed from the diet or when pork is not on the plate – and this spans the lifecycle. This could result in significantly impactful nutrient issues and limit the ability to meet daily nutrient needs set by expert health organizations.  

People across the lifespan (children, adolescents, adults, etc.) who self-reported eating pork in this study were able to better meet their daily nutrient recommendations for copper, potassium, zinc, thiamin, and choline compared to people who did not eat pork.  

Potassium is a nutrient of public health concern for the general U.S. population according to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans because low intakes are associated with health issues. Other nutrients outlined in this report include choline, because for example, adolescent males and females have low intakes of nutrient-dense foods that could lead to low intakes of choline. Choline is essential across life stages, including pregnancy, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes its role in neurodevelopment. Choline is needed by the brain and nervous system to regulate memory, mood, muscle control, and other functions. 

Putting Pork’s Impact as a Carrier Food In Perspective

Putting the carrier food impact of pork into perspective using the example of potassium, researchers think that because pork is a carrier food, over 2.5 million children and over 5.7 million adults meet potassium recommendations in their diet every day.* 

That’s about as many people as there are living in Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston – combined! 

Director of Nutrition Research for the National Pork Board, Dr. Kristen Hicks-Roof, highlights that, in fact, potassium has been designated a nutrient of public health importance, and elaborates on this finding.

“While potassium is just one example of a nutrient that is ‘carried’ by pork, it’s an important one,” Hicks-Roof says. “The human body needs potassium for almost everything it does, including proper kidney and heart function, muscle contraction, and nerves to work properly. That’s why not getting enough of it from the diet can be harmful to health. As a carrier food, when pork is on the plate, it brings with it the very foods that could help people get more potassium in their diet to meet their daily needs, like fruits, vegetables, beans, and peas.” 

As a carrier food, when pork is on the plate, it brings with it the very foods that could help people get more potassium in their diet to meet their daily needs, like fruits, vegetables, beans, and peas. 

Pork Is a Carrier Food for the Future

Pork can also be the carrier food for the future. Why? 

As a nutrient-dense and high-quality protein, it’s: 

Pork helps you add more under-consumed food groups (like vegetables, beans and whole grains) to your eating pattern and increases your intake of nutrients (like choline, iron and potassium). 

Pork has a low environmental impact per 100 grams of protein compared to other foods. 

Pork is affordable, flavorful and accessible for any budget. 

Pork is a top protein used in culturally appropriate diets around the world.  

As a nutrient-dense and high-quality protein, pork is the carrier food for the future.

“Because pork is a carrier food for the nutrients that Americans of all ages, especially for children and adolescents, struggle to eat enough of, it can be a recipe staple to help people ‘carry’ good health in a tasty and easy way,” Dr. Hicks-Roof says.

The National Pork Board strives to share research like this with nutrition educators and the public and share nutritious, plant-forward, delicious, versatile, and convenient recipes that use this favorite carrier food – pork. 

*Regarding Agarwal et al., 2023, this is an observational study and is therefore unable to be used to determine cause and effect. The information is based on self-reported diet habits over a single point in time. Adult consumers of pork tended to be male and older, and carry other traits such as less likelihood of being normal weight, having education above high school or engage in vigorous activity. Pork consumers tended to also have higher intakes of sodium, which is a nutrient of public health concern to limit. The results from this study need to be confirmed in clinical research settings.