Vegetables with slices of pork loin
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The meat case of your local supermarket is overflowing with selections of pork, from chops to rib roasts to ribs, pork bellies, pigs' feet and packages of a tubular cut known as the pork tenderloin. This long, thin, low-fat piece of meat comes in a simple, plastic-wrapped package and, as its name implies, is the most tender of the pork cuts if prepared correctly.

Nearby are the prepackaged, seasoned, brined, cured, marinated, smoked and other tasty configurations of pork tenderloin created in the commercial kitchens of companies like Smithfield. Lean pork often dries out when cooked, so Smithfield offers a line of flavorful marinated tenderloins that stay supple and juicy but contain high concentrations of sodium. Combat the high sodium content and still enjoy cooking with the myriad flavors offered by Smithfield via a few simple, healthy strategies.

Meet the Smithfield Company

The Smithfield Packing Company was born in the 1930s in Smithfield, Virginia, with a focus on producing quality cured hams. According to the company's website, the process hit home with the American appetite, and it didn’t take long for Smithfield hams to start appearing on tables throughout the country whenever a celebration took place.

As with most forward-thinking companies, Smithfield has branched out and developed other products, with the majority revolving around pork. Responding to the demands of busy families, working parents and a new generation of young adults who are finding joy in the kitchen, the premarinated Smithfield pork tenderloin has become a quick, convenient answer to the eternal question, “What’s for dinner?”

Enter the Smithfield Marinated Tenderloin

The pork tenderloin sits high up in a pig’s anatomy, tucked between the shoulders and the back legs. As a pig develops, all the tenderloin needs to do is go along for the ride. It's a muscle, but it's not really exercised and develops little connective tissue and fat, making it extremely lean and tender. Since fat adds flavor to a piece of meat, external flavorings are often added to enhance the mild taste of a tenderloin. This is where Smithfield's premarinated selections come in.

Whether it's marinated in mustard, honey, mesquite, smoked bacon, cracked black pepper or one of the many other Smithfield flavor packages or it's the company's Original Recipe pork tenderloin, seasonings have been added prior to packaging the product to enhance its flavor and make it juicier. The old directive to cook pork till well done to kill the trichina nematode, which causes trichinosis, has been superseded. The USDA now recommends cooking pork to a safe internal temperature of 145 F.

It was this practice of overcooking that led to the creation of exotic marinades for pork. After all, the overdone pork tenderloin needed something to replace the juices, taste and flavor that were cooked out of it.

Preparing a Smithfield Pork Tenderloin

The best way to maintain the juicy interior of a Smithfield tenderloin is to sear all sides in a hot skillet and then slow-roast it in a low-heat oven at 275 F until the interior temperature reaches 145 F. Pouring a little chicken stock in the bottom of the roasting pan adds moisture, keeping the tenderloin supple.

Or you could opt to reverse the process by slowly roasting the tenderloin first in a 275 F oven until it reaches an internal temperature of 145 F and then searing it for one minute on all sides. Letting the meat rest for 15 minutes after cooking also enhances its flavor by allowing the internal juices to settle within the roast instead of pouring out onto the cutting board.

Another technique is to cut the tenderloin into 2-inch fillets and grill them on both sides until a lovely crust appears. These tournedos may be served with a simple salad and grilled vegetables for a low-calorie meal. Or dice the meat, stir-fry it with a host of fresh vegetables and serve over quinoa or brown rice, a more nutritious choice than white rice. The preseasoned meat will likely dominate the taste of your dish, so go easy on additional seasonings.

A Word of Caution

The marinated Smithfield pork tenderloin, although lean, low in calories and big on taste, contains a heavy dose of sodium. In fact, according to the USDA, 80 percent of the sodium in American food comes from processed and prepared foods. The Institute of Medicine has called for a significant reduction in sodium levels in food processed in America, so it’s wise to note that the nutrient sodium levels in enhanced pork are significantly elevated over those without such enhancements.

Smithfield's Original Recipe pork tenderloin has 260 milligrams of sodium in a 4-ounce serving, about four times the sodium in a nonmarinated piece of meat. You could wash off some of the marinade to lower the sodium level, but you’ve already paid for it so washing it off doesn’t make sense.

Sodium-Mitigation Strategies

To help lighten the sodium load, decrease your tenderloin portion size and reduce or eliminate salt from any accompanying dishes. Consider serving a simple salad of tomato, avocado and kale, in addition to preparing other vegetables that are high in potassium, such as baked sweet potatoes, cooked spinach and steamed broccoli, to counterbalance the sodium in the marinade. Go easy on breads, which may be a significant source of sodium if you overindulge, and remember to drink plenty of water to keep your system hydrated. Add fresh fruit for a nutritious choice at any meal.