Can You Eat Pork While Pregnant?

Protein is critical for a baby's development. Though plant-based sources of protein, such as beans, legumes, and peanut butter, as well as dairy sources, like cottage cheese, yogurt, and milk, also provide some protein, they're no match for the protein found in meat (via WebMD).

Technically, pork is considered red meat, even though it's often touted as "the other white meat." Yet the health benefits fall somewhere between chicken and beef. Although pork is higher in fat, calories, and sodium than chicken, it does have similar nutrients. Three and a half ounces of pork has over 25 grams of protein, a vital nutrient during pregnancy.

According to Mayo Clinic, a pregnant person needs 71 grams of protein daily, so one serving of pork supplies over one-third of the daily recommended amount. When consumed in moderation, pork can be part of a healthy diet. But, during pregnancy, there are some things to consider when eating pork.

Undercooked pork can harm you and your baby

Even if you don't sit down to a meal of pork chops or fresh ham, you may still be consuming pork in your daily meals. Pork is found in many different dishes and also shows up in the form of bacon, hot dogs, and sausage. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it's actually the most consumed meat in the world.

However, despite its popularity, there's no way around the fact that pork comes from pigs that commonly harbor parasitic worms, including roundworm, hookworm, pinworm, and tapeworm (via babyMed). If the pork you eat is undercooked, there is a potential for worms to pass from the meat into your intestinal tract.

This can be dangerous and result in infection. It's particularly harmful during pregnancy because it can infect both mother and baby. Babies born with salmonella, a bacterial infection, can suffer from diarrhea, fever, and meningitis (via March of Dimes). 

A parasitic infection, toxoplasmosis, can cause serious complications in the baby, including blindness and brain damage (via CDC). Listeria is also possible from undercooked pork and can result in miscarriage, preterm labor, and stillbirth.

How to eat pork safely

With such dire risks, you may want to skip eating pork while pregnant. However, you can ensure that the meat is safe by cooking it well. First off, it should never be pink. When pork is cooked thoroughly, the meat will be white. According to the Food & Drug Administration, fresh pork and ham must reach an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees F, followed by a three-minute resting period, in order to be thoroughly cooked.

Besides the risk of food-borne illness when eating pork during pregnancy, another thing to consider is that the meat is also high in fat and sodium (via Healthline). Yet, when consumed in moderation, there isn't a higher risk of heart disease from eating pork. When choosing pork products, avoid bacon and sausage, which contain sulfates and sulfites (via Pregnancy Food Checker). It also helps to choose lean cuts.

If ever in doubt whether the pork is cooked sufficiently, it's better to skip it.