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Is Al Pastor Meat Bad For You?

Also Known As: Pastor, Mexican Spiced Pork



Short answer

Al Pastor meat can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet, but moderation is key due to its potential high sodium, saturated fat, and cholesterol content. Opting for lean cuts and preparing it with healthier cooking methods can reduce these concerns. While the marinade may provide some beneficial nutrients, it's important to control portion sizes to avoid excess calorie intake. Homemade versions with fresh ingredients can also help minimize the intake of preservatives and additives often found in pre-packaged or restaurant versions.



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Long answer

Nutritional Content of Al Pastor Meat

Al Pastor is a popular Mexican dish featuring marinated pork that is traditionally cooked on a vertical rotisserie. As with many foods, the nutritional content of Al Pastor meat can vary based on the ingredients used and cooking methods. However, general nutritional content can be addressed to provide insight into this flavorful dish.

An average serving of Al Pastor meat, which can be roughly 100 grams, typically contains the following nutrients:

  • Calories: The caloric value ranges from 200 to 250 calories, with some variations depending on the additional ingredients used in the marinade, such as oil or fruit juices.
  • Proteins: Inherent to its pork composition, Al Pastor is commonly high in protein, offering around 20-25 grams per serving. Protein is crucial for building and repairing tissues, among other essential bodily functions.
  • Fats: The fat content can vary significantly, but it's generally around 10-15 grams per serving, with a mix of saturated and unsaturated fats. Pork is known for its fat content which contributes both to the flavor and caloric density of the dish.
  • Carbohydrates: Al Pastor meat itself is relatively low in carbohydrates. However, when served with typical accompaniments like tortillas, the carbohydrate count can be significantly higher.
  • Sugars: Some of the marinade ingredients may include sugar or pineapple, which can increase the sugar content, although this is usually minimal.
  • Fiber: Al Pastor meat does not contain dietary fiber, as it is an animal protein.
  • Cholesterol and Sodium: Pork is naturally high in cholesterol, and Al Pastor meat can be high in sodium due to the marinades and seasonings used. These nutrients should be monitored, especially for individuals with cardiovascular concerns.
  • Micro-nutrients: Depending on the specific marinade and seasoning blend, Al Pastor can contain varying levels of vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamin C from citrus juices used in the marinade, as well as iron and potassium found in pork.

It's important to note that preparation methods can affect these values. For example, trimming fat from the meat before cooking can reduce fat content, while adding excess oil can increase it. Using a variety of spices can also enrich the dish with different antioxidants and small amounts of other micro-nutrients.

Expert opinions suggest that while Al Pastor meat can be part of a balanced diet, portion control and mindful preparation are key. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, incorporating lean cuts of pork, such as those used in Al Pastor, can contribute to a healthy protein intake without excessive saturated fat, when consumed in moderation (Smith, et al., 2013).

For those interested in the specific impact of Al Pastor on their diet, it is recommended to consult with a nutritionist who can consider individual dietary needs and recommend portion sizes and accompaniments that maintain nutritional balance.

Saturated Fat and Cholesterol: Heart Health Concerns

Al Pastor is a popular Mexican dish known for its rich flavor and succulent texture, but like many traditional meats, it contains saturated fat and cholesterol, which can be of concern for heart health. The impact of these nutrients on the cardiovascular system is a subject of ongoing debate and research in the nutritional science community.

When considering the health aspects of Al Pastor meat, it's vital to understand the potential implications of its saturated fat content. Saturated fats are a type of dietary fat found in high amounts in animal products, and they're known to raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, often referred to as 'bad' cholesterol. Elevated levels of LDL cholesterol have been associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease.

As Al Pastor is often made from pork, particularly the higher-fat cuts like pork shoulder, the saturated fat content can be significant. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat intake to less than 5% to 6% of total daily calories. For someone eating 2,000 calories per day, that's about 13 grams of saturated fat.

Cholesterol is another dietary component found naturally in Al Pastor meat that can influence heart health. While the body needs some cholesterol to function properly, too much dietary cholesterol can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries, known as atherosclerosis, which can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

However, recent studies indicate that the relationship between dietary cholesterol intake and blood cholesterol levels is more complex than previously thought. The individual response can vary widely, with some people being more sensitive to dietary cholesterol than others. So while Al Pastor meat does contribute to your daily intake of cholesterol, its impact may differ from person to person.

  • Saturated Fat: Typical serving size of Al Pastor meat and its approximate saturated fat content.
  • Dietary Cholesterol: Cholesterol content in a standard serving of Al Pastor meat.
  • Heart Health: Current guidelines for saturated fat and cholesterol intake for heart health.
  • Individual Variation: Explanation of the individual variation in response to dietary cholesterol.

Interestingly, some evidence suggests that when saturated fat comes from sources containing beneficial nutrients, such as lean meats or plant-based fats, the negative impact on heart health may be lessened. Therefore, how Al Pastor meat is prepared, served, and what accompanies it in a meal may also influence its potential effects on heart health.

Given these concerns, it's important for individuals, especially those with existing heart health issues or high cholesterol, to monitor their intake of Al Pastor meat. Balancing meals with sources of unsaturated fats, such as avocados, nuts, and olive oil, and high-fiber foods can help mitigate some of the potential heart health risks associated with a higher intake of saturated fats and cholesterol.

Preservatives and Additives in Al Pastor Meat

Al pastor is a popular Mexican dish traditionally consisting of thin slices of pork that has been marinated in various spices and then cooked on a vertical rotisserie. This method of cooking, inspired by Lebanese shawarma, has been adapted in Mexican cuisine and has grown in popularity across the globe. However, like many flavorful dishes, al pastor meat may contain certain preservatives and additives that are essential for consideration when assessing its health impact.

The first additive of interest in al pastor meat is sodium. The marinating process often involves significant amounts of salt which serves two primary purposes: flavor enhancement and meat preservation. Excessive sodium intake is a known risk factor for hypertension and cardiovascular disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most adults should limit their sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day, yet a single serving of al pastor meat can be quite high in sodium, contributing a substantial amount towards this limit.

Other preservatives that may be found in al pastor meat include:

  • Nitrates and Nitrites: Often used in the curing process for meats, these compounds can help prevent the growth of bacteria and enhance the red color of the meat. Despite their practical uses, studies have raised concerns about the potential health risks associated with high intake of nitrates and nitrites, including an increased risk of certain types of cancer, particularly colorectal cancer.
  • Phosphates: Used to retain moisture and improve texture, phosphates can also contribute to a higher overall dietary phosphate intake, which might be a concern for individuals with kidney disease or those at risk for cardiovascular problems.

Moreover, artificial food colorings may sometimes be added to al pastor meat to achieve the characteristic reddish hue if natural ingredients like achiote (annatto) or chili peppers are not used. While food colorings are generally recognized as safe by regulatory agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), some individuals may experience sensitivities or allergic reactions to these additives.

When considering preservatives and additives in al pastor meat, it is essential to acknowledge the diversity in preparation methods. Local and homemade versions of al pastor might minimize or entirely avoid these substances, while commercial or pre-packaged options are more likely to include them in their ingredient list. As such, it is always recommended to review product labels or inquire about the ingredients when dining out.

Finally, while al pastor meat provides protein and can be part of a balanced diet, it is advisable to consume it in moderation, especially for those with dietary restrictions or chronic health conditions that require careful monitoring of additives and sodium intake. Consulting with a healthcare provider or a dietitian can also provide personalized advice regarding the inclusion of dishes like al pastor in one’s diet.

Marinade Ingredients and Their Impact on Health

Al Pastor meat is recognized for its distinctive flavor, primarily attributed to its rich marinade. Before delving into how this marinade may affect your health, let's break down the typical components found in an Al Pastor marinade:

  • Chilies: Often a blend of guajillo, ancho, or chipotle peppers, which add depth of flavor and capsaicin, a compound with anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Spices: A range of spices, including cumin, coriander, oregano, and cloves, may contribute antioxidant properties and enhance digestion.
  • Achiote Paste: This seasoning imparts a vibrant color and earthy taste, containing annatto seeds known for their source of tocotrienols, a form of vitamin E.
  • Citrus Juices: Typically lime or pineapple, which serve as natural tenderizers due to their acidic content and contain vitamin C.
  • Vinegar: Often used to balance the marinade's pH level and act as a preservative, its acetic acid component may have beneficial effects on blood sugar levels.
  • Garlic and Onions: Both are rich in allicin, quercetin, and other compounds that support cardiovascular health.

While most ingredients in an Al Pastor marinade can offer potential health benefits, it's the portion size and frequency of consumption that might turn a good thing into an area of concern. Let's explore the health implications of the marinade more closely:

  • Antioxidant Activity: The spices and chilies in Al Pastor marinade are rich in antioxidants, which combat free radicals and may reduce the risk of chronic diseases. A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry underscores the potent antioxidant properties of chilies and related spices.
  • Anti-inflammatory Effects: Capsaicin from peppers and the anti-inflammatory properties of many spices can help reduce inflammation in the body. A research article in the Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology suggests that capsaicin has a role in inflammatory processes.
  • Glycemic Control: Vinegar in the marinade may influence glycemic responses. According to a study presented in the Journal of Diabetes Research, vinegar can improve insulin sensitivity in insulin-resistant subjects after a high-carbohydrate meal.
  • Sodium Content: Though not always highlighted, marinades can contain high levels of sodium, particularly if commercial seasoning mixes are used. High sodium intake is associated with increased blood pressure and cardiovascular risk, as per the CDC guidelines.
  • Marination Process: Longer marination times may lead to higher absorption of the marinade's components, which can lead to an increase in the consumption of both beneficial nutrients and potentially harmful elements like excess salt.

It is essential to consider these factors when evaluating how Al Pastor marinade might influence your diet. Although there are clearly potential benefits, moderation and consideration of individual health conditions, such as hypertension, can determine whether the marinade contributes to or detracts from overall health.

Portion Sizes and Moderation in Consumption of Al Pastor

When it comes to enjoying the rich flavors of Al Pastor, a popular Mexican dish typically made from pork marinated in a blend of spices and cooked on a vertical rotisserie, portion sizes and moderation are key for maintaining a balanced diet. Although this dish can indeed be a satisfying part of one's diet, its calorie density and potential high sodium and fat content require mindful consumption.

Typical serving sizes of Al Pastor can vary, but a standard serving is often considered to be about 3 ounces (85 grams), roughly the size of a deck of cards. Many restaurants may serve larger portions, which can easily lead to overeating. When consumed in large quantities, the calories and fat from the pork, combined with any added oils or toppings such as cheese, sour cream, or mayonnaise, can quickly add up.

  • Standard Serving Size: 3 ounces (85 grams)
  • Calories: Approximate 180-200 calories per serving
  • Total Fat: 8-10 grams, depending on preparation
  • Saturated Fat: 2-2.5 grams
  • Sodium: 400-600 mg

In terms of moderation, the American Heart Association recommends that individuals limit their intake of red meat, such as pork, to a few times per month and not exceed 6 ounces (170 grams) cooked. When balancing total daily caloric and nutrient intake, monitoring the portion size of Al Pastor is essential. Opt for smaller portions, and if the served amount is larger than recommended, consider sharing the meal or reserving half for another time.

It is also worth noting that consuming Al Pastor alongside a variety of vegetables and whole grains can improve the nutritional balance of your meal. Including these foods can provide necessary fiber, vitamins, and minerals, which can help mitigate potential negative health effects associated with a high intake of red meat.

Remember that while Al Pastor can be high in sodium, those on a low-sodium diet or with hypertension should be particularly cautious. Reducing portion sizes or seeking out versions of Al Pastor that are lower in sodium and fat can be beneficial strategies for enjoying this dish without overindulging.

Overall, when enjoyed in moderation and with attention to portion size, Al Pastor can fit within a healthy diet. However, consistently consuming large portions or not considering the accompaniments can lead to excessive intake of calories, saturated fat, and sodium, which can have adverse health effects over time.

Healthier Preparation Methods for Al Pastor Meat

While traditional Al Pastor meat is known for its robust flavor and savory goodness, it's often cooked with methods that can add unnecessary fats and calories. However, there are ways to prepare Al Pastor that can enhance its nutritional profile without compromising on taste. Let's delve into some preparation techniques that can make Al Pastor meat a healthier addition to your diet.

Choose Leaner Cuts of Meat:

  • Opt for lean cuts of pork like loin or tenderloin, which contain less saturated fat.
  • Trim any excess fat before marinating to reduce fat content further.
  • Consider using skinless chicken or turkey as an alternative to pork for a lower-fat version.

Health-Conscious Marinating:

  • Use fresh citrus juice, vinegar, and spices in your marinade to tenderize the meat and infuse it with flavor without adding extra fat.
  • Avoid using too much oil in your marinade; a small amount of heart-healthy oil like olive or avocado oil is sufficient.
  • Consider using yogurt or pineapple in the marinade for additional tenderizing enzymes that can break down tough fibers without the need for extra fat.

Updated Cooking Techniques:

  • Instead of the traditional vertical spit, which often involves cooking meat with added fat, use a grill to achieve a similar charred effect with less fat.
  • If you're cooking indoors, a grill pan can be a great alternative to mimic the flavors of outdoor grilling.
  • Bake or broil the marinated meat in the oven after a brief sear, which can help drain excess fat while still maintaining a crispy outer layer.

Homemade Over Store-Bought:

  • Preparing Al Pastor meat at home allows you to control the ingredients and avoid preservatives and excess sodium found in pre-packaged versions.
  • When making the Al Pastor sauce or seasoning, use fresh ingredients and herbs to avoid the hidden sugars and salts in commercial seasoning blends.

Smart Serving Suggestions:

  • Serve Al Pastor meat with a side of vegetables or a fresh salad to balance the meal with fiber and nutrients.
  • Use whole grain or corn tortillas if making tacos, which can add fiber and additional health benefits compared to refined flour tortillas.
  • Top your Al Pastor with fresh salsa, avocado, and a sprinkle of cheese instead of sour cream or heavy sauces to keep the dish lighter.

By adapting these healthier preparation methods, you can turn Al Pastor meat into a more nutritious and guilt-free dish. Not only do these tips help in minimizing the intake of unhealthy fats and additives, but they also permit the indulgence in the rich flavor profile that makes Al Pastor so beloved. Incorporating leaner proteins, utilising healthier cooking methods, and serving with nutritious sides can transform this traditional Mexican favorite into a dish that fits well within a balanced diet.

Remember to always consider individual dietary needs and consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian if you have specific health concerns or dietary restrictions.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, vegetarians can enjoy similar flavors by using meat substitutes like jackfruit or mushrooms marinated in Al Pastor spices and cooked using similar methods. These ingredients mimic the texture of meat and absorb the marinade's flavors, providing a vegetarian option that aligns with the traditional dish's taste profile.

Al Pastor can be keto-friendly as it is high in protein and fat, with low carbohydrate content when the meat is consumed without typical accompaniments like tortillas. To ensure it fits into a ketogenic diet, it's important to prepare the marinade with minimal sugars and serve the meat with keto-approved sides like leafy greens or non-starchy vegetables.

For those with heart health concerns, consuming Al Pastor in moderation is key. Choosing leaner cuts of pork, trimming excess fat, and using healthier cooking methods such as grilling or baking can reduce the saturated fat content. Pairing Al Pastor with heart-healthy sides like vegetables and incorporating sources of unsaturated fats can make it more appropriate for a heart-healthy diet. Always consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice.

Al Pastor meat is traditionally marinated with ingredients that can be high in sodium, making it potentially unsuitable for a low-sodium diet. However, homemade versions of the dish can be modified to reduce the sodium content by using less salt and opting for low-sodium seasonings. It's advisable to consult with a nutritionist to tailor Al Pastor recipes to meet a low-sodium dietary requirement.

Ask a question about Al Pastor Meat and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • increased ldl cholesterol levels
  • raised blood pressure
  • potential allergic reactions to additives
  • overeating leading to weight gain

Possible long-term side effects

  • increased risk of coronary heart disease
  • atherosclerosis
  • hypertension
  • cardiovascular disease
  • increased risk of certain cancers, particularly colorectal cancer

Ingredients to be aware of

  • saturated fats
  • dietary cholesterol
  • sodium
  • nitrates and nitrites
  • phosphates
  • artificial food colorings


  • high in protein
  • source of antioxidants
  • anti-inflammatory effects
  • may improve glycemic control
  • nutrient-rich marinating ingredients

Healthier alternatives

  • leaner cuts of pork
  • skinless chicken or turkey
  • grill cooking method
  • fresh herbs and citrus-based marinades
  • homemade versions of al pastor

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Uptons Seitan Strips

  • High in protein
  • Convenient bulk purchase
  • Versatile meat alternative
  • Suitable for vegans
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Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-12-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-12-2024

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