While pork is an excellent protein source and is also rich in nutrients like B vitamins, zinc, selenium, and iron, turning pork into sausage can overturn some of its health benefits. While pork loin is naturally low in saturated fat and sodium, the same can't be said about pork sausage.
Most pork sausage is made from pork butt or shoulder, which have a higher fat percentage than the leaner cuts of pork. In addition to more fat, they can have large amounts of sodium added as preservatives and flavor enhancers. But, not all pork sausage is created equally. Between breakfast sausage, ground sausage, or links to grill for dinner, dietitians recommend a few brands of pork sausage as a healthier choice when the craving strikes, as well as several to limit or steer clear of.
How we chose the healthiest pork sausage
Pork sausage is notorious for being unhealthy, so when choosing the healthiest brands, we looked closely at these factors:
- Saturated fat. Depending on the cut of pork used, which isn't usually noted on the packaging, the fat content of the sausage will be different. Choosing a sausage with saturated fat lower than 25 % of your daily value is ideal for healthy pork sausage. For reference, the daily value of saturated fat is around 20 grams.
- Sodium. Sodium is added to pork sausage for preservation and flavor enhancement. You'll see it listed on the label in various forms, including salt, monosodium glutamate, sodium diacetate, sodium phosphate, and more. Choose pork sausage with less than 20% of the daily value (DV) of sodium (2,300 milligrams) per serving.
- Ingredients. While avoiding all preservatives and additives in foods is impossible and unnecessary, choosing pork sausage with the least amount of additives is ideal. Seasonings, spices, and some salt are all that pork sausage really needs. Extra colorings, sugars, and various preservatives only decrease the healthfulness of the sausage.
Read on to learn about the specific brands dietitians encourage you to try and some that they recommend skipping over. Then, for more healthy grocery tips, check out the 10 Unhealthiest Breads To Leave on Grocery Store Shelves.
The 5 Best Pork Sausages
Best: Applegate Classic Pork Sausage
One serving is a generous three sausage links and has 25% DV of saturated fat and 17 % DV of sodium. They also contain zero nitrites or nitrates from additives or vegetable sources, which are additives associated with higher rates of breast, ovarian, and colorectal cancers.
Best: Swaggerty's Breakfast Sausage Patties
One Swaggerty's Breakfast Sausage Patty has 23% DV of saturated fat and 15 % DV of sodium. While these sausage links contain a few types of preservatives for freshness, their sodium is under 20% DV per serving, making them a better choice than most.
Best: Pederson's Ground Italian Sausage
Pederson's Ground Italian Sausage is different from most pork sausage brands, as it's free from preservatives. They use salt as a seasoning, which adds up to only 12% DV of sodium per serving.
It's also free from added sugars and MSG and comes from vegetarian-fed and humanely-raised pigs.
Best: Omaha Steaks Breakfast Sausage
Omaha Steaks Breakfast Sausage is one of the healthier pork sausages you can buy, as each serving has only 18% DV of saturated fat and 20% DV of sodium.
"They're known more for beef than for pork, but their breakfast sausage links are rated 4.7/5 stars by customers, and they have half the saturated fat of brands like Jimmy Dean," says Sydnee Mostek, RDN, ACSM-EP, co-founder of Rooted Wellness Academy.
Best: Johnsonville Original Breakfast Sausage Patties
Johnsonville Original Breakfast Sausage Patties are an incredibly healthy option if you're sticking to the small serving size. Most pork sausages have a serving size of 45-55 grams, the serving size on this label is only 32 grams, so keep that in mind.
If you want a large portion of two patties, you'll get 25% DV of saturated fat and 19% DV of sodium, which is still healthier than most pork sausage options on the market.
The 5 Worst Pork Sausages To Buy
Worst: Johnsonville Italian Sausage Links
Johnsonville Italian Sausage Links top our list for one of the worst pork sausages to buy.
"One link provides you with 14 grams of protein, but with that, you also get 8 grams of saturated fat and over 25% of your daily sodium needs," says Alyssa Pacheco, RD of The PCOS Nutritionist Alyssa.
Worst: Bob Evans Maple Pork Sausage Patties
A two-patty serving has 30% DV of saturated fat, 19% DV of sodium, and three grams of added sugars. "These high levels of saturated fat and sodium can contribute to an increased risk of heart disease and high blood pressure when consumed in excess," Chun adds.
Worst: Jimmy Dean's Fully Cooked Maple Pork Sausage Links
Jimmy Dean's Fully Cooked Maple Pork Sausage Links are one of the unhealthiest pork sausage products with extremely high saturated fat, sodium, and added colorings and preservatives.
"With 26 grams of fat and 9 grams of saturated fat per three-link serving, you're at nearly half your daily recommended value of saturated fat," says Megan Huff, RD, LD, cardiac ICU dietitian.
"A diet high in saturated fat can contribute to increased cholesterol and negatively impact heart health," adds Huff.
Worst: Smithfield Maple Breakfast Sausage
When words like "premium" are plastered on a label, it can make us assume the product is healthier or better for us in some way. This isn't often the case, especially with Smithfield Maple Breakfast Sausage.
Three sausage links add 35% DV of saturated fat and 33% DV of sodium to your day.
Worst: Farmland Original Pork Sausage Roll
With green packaging and images of farmland in the background along with claims of no added hormones and no artificial colors or flavors, you might believe that the Farmland Original Pork Sausage Roll is a healthy option.
But one look at the nutrition facts label, and you'll see why dietitians want you to limit this sausage. One serving has 45% DV of saturated fat and 24% DV of sodium. Eating this sausage doesn't leave much room for staying in the recommended limits of saturated fat or sodium for the day.