Bring Home the Bacon? I Don't Think So

To all my fellow southern ladies and gents, brace yourself. This post might make you rethink that Sunday bacon! 

Today we will be taking a deeper look into why God may have encouraged his children not to eat swine. Honestly, I don’t know if you will be eating any either after reading this!

Swine from a Biblical Perspective:

Alright, we are going to take an interesting journey through scripture so get your Bible ready! First, thing we see in the scripture about swine, is that God ordained swine as unclean:

Leviticus 11:7-8: And the swine, though he divides the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you. Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcase shall ye not touch; they are unclean to you.

Then, in the book of Isaiah, we see additional mentions of the act of swine consumption being referred to as something that God was very upset with (Isaiah 66:17, Isaiah 65:4). We also see indications of God describing people who do not live Godly, or who are lacking Godly characteristics as being like Swine (Matthew 7:6, Proverbs 11:22, Luke 15:11-32). And of course, one of the most iconic mentions of swine is when Jesus cast out demonic spirits from a man and allowed them to enter into a herd of swine (Mathew 8:28-32, Mark 5:11-14). 

Makes you rethink eating that deviled ham, doesn’t it?

Okay, now we are going to take an interesting journey here for a minute, so stay with me and keep all of these scriptures in mind!

A Deeper Look Into Why Immoral Humans Were Compared to Pigs?

Photo credit: Depiction of King Nebuchadnezzar Made by William Blake

Everyone knows that swine will eat just about anything, and that they can sometimes live in very dirty conditions. For this reason, many suspect God was paralleling their physical uncleanliness to those who are spiritually unclean, but I think the moral picture goes far beyond this.

Don’t you find it interesting that the two animals the scripture frequently compared those living in sin too were dogs and swine?

Matthew 7:6 “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”

Proverbs 11:22: “ Like a gold ring in a pig's snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.”

Proverbs 26:11:"As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly."

Revelations 22:15: “For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie."

There are about 5 or more mentions of dogs and swine separately in the scriptures. 

If you did not know already, pigs are very similar to dogs in terms of their intelligence, and how they bond with humans and their own kind. 

Notice that God specifically chose to parallel worldly humans to intelligent animals that seem to have great emotional aptitude, but being a beast, they lack our intuitive moral understanding of right and wrong. They only consider how to survive in this world, and therefore they act accordingly.

(Side note- This serves as a great reminder for us not to live in our flesh, as if we are a beast who do not know right from wrong, only here for mere earthly survival).

These intelligent creatures that lack good judgement serve as the perfect picture of humans devoid of their moral consciousness. 

We actually see this manifestation happen in scripture literally. Do  you remember the story in the Bible about a rebellious king named Nebuchadnezzar?  He constantly turned away from God and was concerned with worldly desires. As a result, God made him become a beast of the field.  The king was made to walk on all fours, eating grass like an animal. He was still in the same physical body, but he did not have the full consciousness or “understanding” of a human. God was essentially giving Nebuchadnezzar over to his fleshly, carnal nature (Daniel 4:31-37).

We also see a similar repeat of this in the New Testament with the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. The son was desperate to get access to his inheritance before due season. His father allowed him to do so, and he quickly used his money to fulfill his appetite for the world. Eventually, at the climax of his corruptible, carnal living, he was left with nothing, and found himself eating along side swine, feeding himself with the same husks they were eating.

No wonder that in the New Testament we see Peter refer to those who live in corruption as ‘Brute Beasts’ (2 peter 2:12). 

I write this to say, I believe that God did not detest certain animals due to their nature, but rather, the moral comparisons to carnal humans that they represented. Essentially, he used these parallels to remind his children not to walk in their flesh and be focused with earthly things, and instead walk in the spirit by focusing on things above, which beasts are incapable of doing.  Are you living like a beast? Or are you focused on what separates us from them?

Lastly, to add to the moral tone, it is also important to note that scientific studies have  been conducted which show that, like dogs, pigs are capable of expressing intricate human oriented behaviors and emotions [4]. It is interesting that in the west, consumption of dogs are little to none, but consumption of their emotional pig counterparts, is commonplace. God has compassion for all of his creatures, but I am sure he noted that domesticated pigs were a bit more aware of cruelty.

Okay, now lets look beyond the moral tone.

Physiological Reasons Not to Eat Swine:

Pigs are Oddly Similar to Humans:

Honestly, when we look at science, it makes even more sense why God used pigs as a comparison to humans who are living in the flesh. Pigs are intelligent creatures, devoid of human consciousness who happen to share a lot with us biologically. I guess you could say they serve as too good a representation of what a human would be like if they had fully given over to their fleshly, carnal nature.  

We share striking similarities with them in regard to our anatomy and physiology. We even metabolize nutrients and respond to various diets similarly [1]. 

This makes pigs one of the best candidates for animal based research studies. Pigs are even being genetically altered in a way that allows them to present with various human diseases that are not fully natural to pigs. Allowing researchers to study the progression of such diseases outside of a human host, but within a very similar biological environment [1]. 

Also, you may have heard of humans who live thanks to pig organs. Pig heart valves have been used for human heart valve replacements for years, and with this new gene editing technology discussed above, they may continue to become even more commonplace [2]. 

To prove just how similar we are to pigs, two geneticists at the Illinois University’s Department of Animal Sciences (Lawrence Schook and Jonathan Beever ) have been studying the genome of pigs and comparing it to humans. After reviewing the data from one of their studies, one of the researchers stated, "We took the human genome, cut it into 173 puzzle pieces and rearranged it to make a pig," said Schook. "Everything matches up perfectly. The pig is genetically very close to humans." [3]. 

This simplistic phrase encompasses very detailed and complex research findings, but further stresses the similarities between humans and swine. 


Side Note: In case you are curious, I do not believe that we evolved from pigs. Every time there is a new study saying that we share similar DNA with animals such as fish, monkeys, or pigs etc., someone says that we must have evolved from them. I do not believe this. However, I do believe that DNA represents the very fabric that God used to make the physical aspect of His creation, and some of organisms have similar formulations. 

Anyway, back to the topic! It is no wonder that the evil spirits wanted to go into the swine, right?! They probably saw the pigs as a win-win not just because they were conveniently located, but at least they could be in a similar biological environment.  And perhaps God found it even more detestable for humans to eat something that was biologically so similar as well. 

Neurological Disorders, Parasites, Viruses, and Metabolic Diseases??

Food Borne Illness: 

We shouldn’t be surprised that an animal we share so many similarities with is capable of transmitting so many diseases  to us [5]. 

Let’s throw out some fancy numbers for fun. Did you know that there is estimated to be 525,000 cases of foodborne illnesses directly related to pork consumption each year in the U.S[6]!?

Just to name a few: Salmonella, Hepatitis E, Yersiniosis (fun fact, this bacteria has been found a lot in the 'Chitlins' of swine), Staphylococcus Aureus, enterotoxin, Norovirus, Typhimurium, Trichinella. [6]

These pathogens are nothing to play with. Salmonella is a highly drug resistant strain, Hepatitis E can result in serious liver damage, and can increase mortality in pregnant women by up to 30%  [5,7,]. Not to mention most of the infections listed above can cause one or more of the following symptoms: diarrhea, severe gastrointestinal cramping, vomiting, and Nausea.

Also, do you remember the swine flu outbreak in 2009? Yeah, well as the name suggests, that came from pigs. The CDC also put out a warning just last year concerning another strand of swine flu that has a very high probability of turning into a human pathogen [8]. It does not end there either, research is showing that there are a slew of other viruses from pigs that might not be too far away from being transmitted to humans [9,10]. In fact, these studies credit our close, and ongoing relationship with pigs through farming and consumption, as one of the biggest risk factors. So many humans are in constant contact with swine, that the probability of viruses being able to infect a human host, is higher. 

Yet pig consumption continues to be on the rise, especially in wealthier nations[10]. Makes you think, if we had continued to follow God's dietary laws,  how many diseases would have been prevented?

This One Will Blow Your Mind:

Speaking of more diseases, this one will blow your mind, literally. Workers who had direct exposure to pig brains during butchering in enclosed spaces, were found to present with an inflammatory neurological condition called polyradiculoneuropathy, which can result in motor and reflex deficits, muscle weakness, and pain. [11] Research is also finding that the effects of this condition can be ongoing, requiring immunosuppressive therapy [12]. 

This phenomenon results from proteins in the pig brain that aerosol when cut, and are then inhaled. It just so happens that these proteins share a very close resemblance to ones found in human neuronal pathways, and once they get to where they need to go, our immune system gets confused, and attacks them, leading to this presentation. [13]

You may be saying to yourself, hmm what other neurological disorders might pork be associated with? 

Multiple sclerosis for one, appears to have had a small window of interest. Studies dating back more than 20 years ago found that nations such as Germany, which have a very high per capita intake of pork, have significantly higher rates of Multiple sclerosis than nations like India, with little pork intake [14]. Of course, there are a lot of conflicting factors that can affect disease risk per country, so more studies with clinical trials are needed.

Also, a diet risk analysis performed in patients with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) found that pork was highly correlated with the disease, but again more studies are needed.[15]. 

Although the exact causative agents between swine intake and neurological conditions are unknown, the similarities between symptoms seen in polyradiculoneuropathy and conditions like Multiple Sclerosis and ALS, make me wonder if there are certain proteins found in some swine that are to blame. It is well known that molecules which mimic our own, can confuse the immune system leading to autoimmune disease presentations[13]. This phenomenon is known as molecular mimicry. Perhaps soon we will find that there are other compounds in swine tissue that may increase neurological disease risk through this process. After all, we do share a lot in common with swine to begin with.

Anecdotally, I will add that in clinical practice when I encounter patients with autoimmune diseases who frequently consume pork, the first thing I encourage them to work on is elimination of  their swine intake. Typically, they will experience significant improvement in their symptoms during this time. 

Cancer Causing Agents:

Pork also contains compounds such as nitrates and nitrites, which give cured meat like ham and Vienna sausages their distinct pink color.  This compound, when it comes in contact with stomach acid, can form nitrosamine, a potential carcinogen associated with colon and stomach cancer. Nitrosamines can also be formed when meats are cooked at high temperatures. It is the reactivity of the nitrites and the animal proteins together that form this compound [16].

Interestingly, similar compounds are  found in nitrogen rich vegetables also, however,  the same risk for cancer is not commonly observed. This may be due to the different amino acid and general protein content of most vegetables. Vegetables also typically have a higher antioxidant content which protects them not only against harmful reactions during cooking, but our biological environment as well [16]. 

*That was my plug to encourage you to eat more veggies! 

A lot of Other Toxins We Don’t Know About:

Many people love to point out that swine do not sweat. This is a very well known fact, and  has a lot to do with why they commonly cover themselves with mud to cool down. Sweating is a very important detoxification pathway for humans, and this difference between us and pigs, makes me wonder just how many toxins do swine carry besides pathogens?

Well, they can carry a lot!  A study conducted in Serbia did a toxicological assessment of swine kidneys and found them to contain high levels of mercury, cadmium and arsenic [17].

Another study looking at the occurrence of harmful pollutants in fattened pigs in the Czeck Republic, found high levels of DDT (a compound found in pesticides), PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls -compound used in industrial and commercial products such as electrical wiring) as well as high levels of mercury, cadmium, arsenic, and lead. These pollutants were found not only in the kidneys of pigs but also their muscle, subcutaneous fat, and livers [15].  PCBs especially are very toxic compounds that can result in neurological disorders, and many of the above compounds have been associated with immunological deficits, kidney, and or liver disease amongst others[18]. 

However, we have only begun to discover the prevalence of these toxins in swine, and how they can affect humans.  These compounds are of particular interest to me as a dietitian, and I can tell you that we are finding them all throughout our entire food chain, so I wouldn’t be surprised if our swine in the U.S have the same contaminants.

General Disease Risk

Also, you may have heard that pork is high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. This is all true, in fact pork is one of the fattiest cuts of meat, but chicken with the skin is not too far behind [19]. It is no surprise that with it's nutrition profile, frequent pork intake is associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, obesity, other metabolic diseases , gastric cancer, and H pylori [20, 21].

Incase you wanted numbers, just two slices of bacon will give you 10% your daily value of  fat, and sodium . Even more if you are limiting these two nutrients due to medical reasons. Six percent of that fat  is from the kind that can raise your cholesterol, and the rest of the fat in bacon is typically rich in omega 6, a very inflammatory type of fat. If you have arthritis, you may not want to over do it.

Also, I worked at Cracker Barrell in college so do not lie to me and say you only have one or two slices, or that bacon is your only source of fat at breakfast! Had to have some fun there, shout out to Cracker Barrel, I know people have to enjoy themselves sometimes.

Overall, the best thing pork has going for it nutritionally is it's micronutrient content. Pork is rich especially in B vitamins like thiamin, and trace minerals like chromium and selenium, however you can get some of these same nutrients from foods like fowl, fish, and even certain nuts.


My fingers have rambled long enough but it is clear that pork, though tasty, may contain bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxic trace metals, carcinogenic compounds, and a negative nutritional profile.  Yet again we see that God was not only using food in the Old Testament to set a moral standard, but to also protect the health and well-being of his children. I hope this post really encourages you to rethink pork. God willing, you are a child of God and He dwells physically within you as His temple. This is a high calling, and while no foods are considered morally unclean anymore, it is still best we aim to limit intake of things we know may be harmful for our bodies. 

Much love! Stay tuned for more reads!

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Written by
Ciara Dove-Reid, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

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