No, pork rinds are not healthier than vegetables, and there is no study that proves it

Dietitians, nutritionists and scientific disseminators deny a hoax that has flooded the media in Colombia, Latin America and Spain, claiming that pig skin is better for your health than spinach, carrots and cauliflower

Fried pork crackling pieces.
Fried pork crackling pieces.GiovanniSeabra (Getty Images)
Juan Miguel Hernández Bonilla

A few days ago, the Colombian newspaper El Colombiano published an article titled Pork rinds are healthier than some vegetables, according to a new study. The story began in a conclusive tone: “If you say the word ‘pork,’ people automatically think of the word ‘fat,’ immediately followed by ‘unhealthy.’ However, nothing can be further from the truth.” To support this idea — which contradicts all scientific evidence known to date — the journalist stated that researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine had published a scientific article in the journal Plos One that proved that pork skin was indeed better for your health than spinach, carrots and cauliflower.

The same day, Semana magazine, the most read media outlet in Colombia, published a similar article: Surprising study reveals that consuming pork rinds would be healthier than some vegetables. The newspaper El Tiempo followed suit: According to a study, pork rinds could be healthier than some vegetables. Caracol Televisión, Cambio magazine, Infobae, Noticias Uno and many other prestigious Colombian media outlets also published their own versions of the same article.

The news made the leap to social media and became a topic of discussion among families and friends. The most listened-to radio stations in the country, with several million daily listeners, included it in their morning newscasts. This Monday, journalist Néstor Morales, Blu Radio news anchor, introduced the topic like this: “There is a study that comes from California, from the community of scientific libraries, that recommends eating pork rinds for your health.”

The story was also published on Venezuelan, Mexican and Spanish websites. Even several American media outlets made their own version. The problem is that the study on which all these publications were based was not done by any doctors from Boston University, and it was not published in Plos One — or anywhere else for that matter, because it does not exist. It is nothing but a hoax. A lie that got out of hand.

Although the origin of the story is not known with certainty, Juan Camilo Mesa, a Colombian dietitian, nutritionist and microbiologist, explains that the first reference to this supposed study is a Facebook post that went viral. Afterwards, it was published in the Argentine portal TN, where it began its journey through the world’s newsrooms, growing like a huge snowball of misinformation. “Colombian media began to replicate the first news story and did not change a single comma,” says Mesa, outraged, from his home in Stockholm, Sweden, where he earned a master’s degree in nutritional sciences. “There is no article about pork rinds and vegetables in the database of the scientific journal. It does not exist.”

Mesa explains that none of the more than 100 articles about the health benefits of pork rinds that can be found online refers directly to the original research. “No publication mentions the authors, nor the date on which it was published, nor the title of the supposed scientific study, as usually happens in serious media when a scientific article is reviewed,” he says, and adds: “It’s all a big lie, fake news replicated without thinking by the media to gain clicks and audiences.” EL PAÍS also examined the magazine’s database and did not find any related articles.

Colombian doctor and endocrinologist Óscar Rosero also denied the existence of the article. “Everything seems to indicate that many news portals use ChatGPT too much. All the portals cite an article from the journal Plos One, but they provide no link. I searched and in the last year there have been no publications that talk about the subject in that way.”

Nutritionist and dietitian Catalina Echeverry explains that with this news, the media is generating mistaken beliefs among the people, which can have serious public health consequences. “What is going to happen in the short term in Colombia, even more so during this Christmas season, is that the consumption of pork rinds will increase, and the consumption of vegetables, which is already very low, will decrease.”

Echeverry explains that this can cause diseases in the long term. “The increase in the consumption of saturated fats, such as pork rinds, is related to cardiovascular problems. This is shown by scientific evidence.” The recommendations of the American Heart Academy and the World Health Organization, and even the Colombian health system’s own guidelines, all say the same thing: high consumption of saturated fats is linked to heart disease.

The Colombian nutritionist is emphatic when explaining the risks of pork rinds: “It doesn’t depend on whether you prepare it in canola oil, palm oil, or even in the air fryer; it is a fatty protein that can affect your health.” Echeverry agrees with her colleagues in denying the existence of the scientific article, and goes further: “If it existed, it would be poorly designed,” she says. “It makes no sense to compare animal proteins with plant proteins because they are completely different food groups. It is obvious that pork rinds have more protein than vegetables, but vegetables are not supposed to cover our daily protein requirement. They provide us with fiber, vitamins and antioxidants.”

The Colombian media not only replicated an article based on a study that does not exist but, to give it validity, they interviewed people who advocate a diet based on a high consumption of pork rinds without any scientific arguments. Doctor Bayter, a food influencer with more than four million followers on TikTok who proposes absurd diets, was invited to several spaces to encourage people to eat more pork rinds and, above all, abandon vegetables.

Mesa assures that these diets go against all the consensuses that medicine has reached in recent years. “Science says the complete opposite of what Bayter proposes. We must favor foods of plant origin: fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, seeds, and reduce red meat, which includes pork rinds.”

For Echeverry, the reason why newspapers and radio stations resort to spreaders of misinformation like Bayter is clear: “They have a giant follower base; that generates more views, it is viral content, the ratings go up. The problem is that no one curates the content; no one makes sure it is true. It is highly irresponsible and dangerous.”

Mesa and Echeverry insist that numerous and convincing scientific articles associate a high consumption of red meat with an increased risk of suffering from some types of cancer. For instance, the consumption of more than 50 grams of red meat per day was associated with a 22% and 36% increased risk of colorectal and colon cancer, respectively.

Julio Basulto, a Spanish food and health disseminator, explains on his social media accounts that, in addition to it being a lie, the most serious thing about the publication of these hoaxes is that the consumption of vegetables is discouraged: “Science unequivocally shows that a diet based on foods of plant origin protects the people’s health, there is less type 2 diabetes, less cardiovascular disease, less cancer and fewer premature deaths. There is a systematic review and meta-analysis, with more than two million participants, that proves it.”

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