Pork is one of the most popular forms of meat globally, with many Americans wanting to name bacon the national food of the U.S. Despite its popularity, it’s essential to understand the potential correlation to various health issues, going into more detail later on in the post.
Reasons Not To Eat Pork | Can Pork Be Good For You? | Should You Avoid Pork?
Reasons Not To Eat Pork
There are many reasons people choose to refrain from eating pork. Here are the top reasons:
Parasites and Viruses From Pigs
Pigs are often carriers of parasites and viruses. This is because pigs eat anything, such as insects, animal carcasses, and even feces. As a result of these unhealthy eating habits, pigs are known for being carriers of the following viruses and parasites:
- Paramyxoviridae. Paramyxoviridaes are single-strand viruses linked to measles, mumps, and respiratory tract infections. In addition, the menangle virus, a new virus in the Paramyxoviridae family, was found to transfer to humans from infected pigs.1 First discovered at an Australian piggery in 1997, this virus’s symptoms include a rash with severe influenza-type symptoms.
- Nipah virus. The Nipah virus is a single-strand virus in the Paramyxoviridae family. It can be transmitted to humans from animals, contaminated food, or person-to-person. In 1998, a deadly virus outbreak among pig handlers in Malaysia was the Nipah virus’s first known reported case. Autopsies on the deceased victims found extensive thrombosis (blood clots) and parenchymal necrosis (abnormal growth) in their central nervous systems.2
- Hepatitis E virus (HEV). Hepatitis E is an infection that causes inflammation in the liver. The virus is transmitted from feces or consuming raw or undercooked pork. HEV was more prevalent in China, with contact with pork and various pig products as “an important mode of HEV transmission.”
- Taenia solium tapeworm. Taenia solium is a pork tapeworm common in areas where pork is consumed. Humans are the primary host, while pigs are the secondary hosts. The tapeworm is transmitted to pigs via human feces and then back to humans via uncooked or undercooked pork that contains tapeworm cysts. Once consumed by humans, the cysts reside in the intestines, growing into adult worms. These tapeworms could lead to cysticercosis, a disease that could cause seizures or damage to muscles and the eyes. Symptoms of taenia solium include nausea, vomiting, lethargy, headache, blurry vision, weakness, confusion, and seizures.
- Swine flu. The swine flu is a respiratory infection caused by the H1N1 virus. Influenza virus can be transmitted from pigs to humans, humans to pigs, and humans to humans. Swine flu can be transferred to humans by eating undercooked meat or not handling it properly. Symptoms of swine flu tend to occur 1-3 days after exposure. Common symptoms are sore throat, runny nose, fever, diarrhea, headache, body aches, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting.
Pork May Be Bad For Your Heart
Eating too much pork could increase cholesterol levels. In a recent study, heavy consumption increased trimethylamine N-oxide, a compound potentially linked to heart disease.3
Increased Cancer Risk
Studies indicate a possible link between pork and cancer. One potential reason for this is how it is prepared: cooking red meat at high temperatures (such as frying or barbequing) increases levels of heterocyclic amine, a compound believed to increase cancer risk.4 A study on HCAs found that more than ten HCAs are produced when heating meat or fish. These HCAs developed colon, breast, and prostate cancers in animal tests.5 Another area of concern is processed meats. Salami, hot dogs, bacon, ham, canned meats, jerky, sausage, and sausage are processed meats that may contain chemicals such as sodium nitrite. Nitrite may damage cells and transform into cells that cause cancer.
Conditions For Farm-Raised Pork
One option for those who want to eat pork is farm-raised pork. The conditions of farm-raised pork tend to be healthier for the pigs and the overall environment. They can roam in the pasture and eat healthier foods like herbs, acorns, grass, and roots. Many are fed food with healthier scraps, such as apples and avocados. In addition, farm-raised pigs aren’t given hormones and have access to sunshine and fresh air. As a result, their meat is higher in minerals and micronutrients.
On the other hand, conventionally raised pigs are forced to eat foods they aren’t designed to eat, such as corn, grain, and soybean. They are often given antibiotics, and much of their feed is laced with potentially dangerous pesticides. Two pesticides in particular, chlorpyrifos and carbaryl, have been shown to affect protein levels in the developing brains of mice and “induce persistent adult behavior and cognitive impairments.”6
Can Pork Be Good For You?
While many are skeptical about consuming pork because of the abovementioned issues, it has many health benefits. Here are a few of the top benefits of eating pork:
Pork Is High In Protein
Pork is a good source of high-quality protein. However, protein can’t be created by the body, so it must be obtained via external food sources. The primary benefits and uses of protein include the following:
- Store and transport molecules. Oxygen is transported throughout the body via the protein hemoglobin. Another protein, ferritin, is often combined with iron and stored in the liver and tissues throughout the body.
- Source of energy. Protein can be used as an energy source when carbohydrate stores are depleted.
- Hormone production. Protein plays a role in creating a few hormones. For example, insulin (the hormone that regulates blood sugar) and secretin (key in the digestive process) are two protein hormones.
- Antibodies. Antibodies are formed by proteins designed to protect the body from illness, infection, and disease.
- Enzymes. Enzymes are proteins that carry out various functions in the body. These functions include food digestion, supporting brain functions, detoxifying the blood, providing cellular energy support, breaking down toxins, and healing processes in the body.7
- Muscle growth/body composition. A study on pork consumption found that diets high in pork protein may “have favorable effects on body composition.” However, the same study found no difference in BMI or any other maker between beef, pork, or chicken diets.
Pork Is Rich In Vitamins
Pork is a good source of various vitamins and nutrients, including iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc. Pork also contains B vitamins, which are also essential for good health:
Vitamin B1 (thiamine). Vitamin B1 helps improve brain function, assists in digesting food, helps the body produce red blood cells and turns carbs into energy. The following ailments could increase the risk of a thiamine deficiency: dialysis, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, alcohol dependency, high dosages of diuretics, and old age.
Vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 plays a role in the production of neurotransmitters. These chemicals allow nerve cells and the brain to communicate, which is key for the smooth functioning of metabolic processes. A vitamin B6 deficiency is associated with increased homocysteine levels in the blood, which is linked to cerebrovascular disease and affects brain blood vessels. There is also a correlation between elevated homocysteine levels and toxic effects on central nervous system neurons.8
Vitamin B12. One hundred grams of pork can provide 70% of the body’s recommended daily vitamin B12. This B vitamin has several important functions, which include assisting with red blood cell formation, bone health, eye health, improving mood, brain health, healthy skin, and heart health. Researchers have noted that many vegetarians are at an increased risk of a B12 deficiency. Other studies indicate a higher deficiency of B12 in hypothyroid patients.10
Should You Avoid Pork?
Pork is one of the most popular meats in the world, but it’s not without controversy. Some religions forbid consumption, while others refrain from eating it because they believe it is unhealthy. Pork has been linked to several ailments, such as viruses, parasites, cancer, and heart disease. Many of the health issues associated with pork can be attributed to how it is prepared. For example, cooking pork over high heat can increase levels of heterocyclic amine, a compound believed to increase cancer risk. However, pork has many health benefits and is a good source of vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, B vitamins, and iron. Therefore, it can be an acceptable diet choice if consumed moderately and sourced from clean farms.
- A. W. Philbey, P. D. Kirkland, A. D. Ross, (et al.). An Apparently New Virus (Family Paramyxoviridae) Infectious For Pigs, Humans, And Fruit Bats. Emerg Infect Dis. 1998 Apr-Jun; 4(2): 269–271. doi: 10.3201/eid0402.980214. [PMCID:] PMC2640116 PMID: 9621197.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2640116/
- Kum Thong Wong, Wun-Ju Shieh, Shalini Kumar (et al.). Nipah Virus Infection Pathology and Pathogenesis of an Emerging Paramyxoviral Zoonosis. Am J Pathol. 2002 Dec; 161(6): 2153–2167. doi: 10.1016/S0002-9440(10)64493-8 [PMCID: PMC1850894]. PMID: 12466131.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1850894/
- Zeneng Wang, Nathalie Bergeron, Bruce S Levison, (et al). Impact Of Chronic Dietary Red Meat, White Meat, Or Non-Meat Protein On Trimethylamine N-Oxide Metabolism And Renal Excretion In Healthy Men And Women. Eur Heart J. 2019 Feb 14;40(7):583-594. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehy799. PMID: 30535398 PMCID: PMC6374688.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30535398/
- Natasa Tasevska, Rashmi Sinha, Victor Kipnis, (et al.). A Prospective Study Of Meat, Cooking Methods, Meat Mutagens, Heme Iron, And Lung Cancer Risks. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jun;89(6):1884-94. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.27272. Epub 2009 Apr 15. [PMID: 19369370 PMCID]: PMC2683000.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19369370/
- Takashi Sugimura, Keiji Wakabayashi, Hitoshi Nakagama, (et al). Heterocyclic Amines: Mutagens/Carcinogens Produced During Cooking Of Meat And Fish. Cancer Sci. 2004 Apr;95(4):290-9. Doi: 10.1111/j.1349-7006.2004.tb03205.x. [PMID: 1507258].https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15072585/
- Iwa Lee, Per Eriksson, Anders Fredriksson, (et al). Developmental Neurotoxic Effects Of Two Pesticides: Behavior And Biomolecular Studies On Chlorpyrifos And Carbaryl. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2015 Nov 1;288(3):429-38. doi: 10.1016/j.taap.2015.08.014. Epub 2015 Aug 24. [PMID: 26314619].https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26314619/
- Karen J Murphy, Barbara Parker, Kathryn A Dyer, (et al.). A Comparison Of Regular Consumption Of Fresh Lean Pork, Beef, And Chicken On Body Composition: A Randomized Cross-Over Trial. Nutrients. 2014 Feb 14;6(2):682-96. doi: 10.3390/nu6020682. [PMID: 24534884 PMCID]: PMC3942727.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24534884/
- R Malouf , J Grimley Evans. The Effect Of Vitamin B6 On Cognition. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003;(4): CD004393. Doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004393. [PMID: 14584010].https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14584010/
- Roman Pawlak, Scott James Parrott, Sudha Raj, (et al.), How Prevalent Is Vitamin B(12) Deficiency Among Vegetarians? Nutr Rev. 2013 Feb;71(2):110-7. doi: 10.1111/nure.12001. Epub 2013 Jan 2. [PMID: 23356638].https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23356638/
- Vitamin B12 Deficiency Common In Primary Hypothyroidism. J Pak Med Assoc. 2008 May;58(5):258-61. [PMID: 18655403].https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18655403/