Editor's Note: We at POPSUGAR recognize that people of many genders and identities have vaginas and uteruses and experience pregnancy, not just those who are women. For this particular story, we interviewed experts who generally referred to people with vaginas and uteruses and experience pregnancy as women.
When my best friend got pregnant for the first time, her gestational diabetes caused her to google nearly everything she put in her mouth. In most cases, the food in question was safe to eat, but one morning, she googled, "Is it safe to eat bacon during pregnancy," and I woke up to a dramatic phone call, my friend informing me between frustrated tears that our Sunday brunch would not only be mimosa-less but also bacon-less. "How dangerous could it really be? It's literally just bacon!" she cried into my ear. Unfortunately, bacon really can be that dangerous for pregnant people. Board-certified doctor of obstetrics and gynecology Maryam Tarsa, MD, and board-certified doctor of family medicine Joel Fuhrman, MD, shared the four main reasons pregnant people should avoid bacon.
- Bacon is a class-one carcinogen.
Ever wonder why it's safe to eat pork during pregnancy but not bacon? Well, unlike pork, bacon is a processed meat and is therefore full of nitroso compounds. This classifies it as a carcinogen, the effects of which are heightened for pregnant people. "The consumption of bacon, hot dogs, pastrami, and lunch meats, even prior to conception in women, increases the risk of childhood cancers, autism, and brain tumors in their offspring," Dr. Fuhrman told POPSUGAR. Even if the package features "healthier" buzzwords such as "naturally smoked," "organic," or "no sugar added," the bacon still isn't any safer for pregnant people to eat.
- It's a breeding ground for listeria.
Listeria is a foodborne bacteria that can cause serious illness in pregnant people, people older than 65, and those with compromised immune systems. Listeria commonly grows in cold cuts, hot dogs, and, of course, bacon, so it's the number one reason Dr. Tarsa advises pregnant people avoid processed meats altogether. However, she also acknowledged that pregnancy cravings are no joke, so if you feel like you absolutely must eat bacon, Dr. Tarsa's advice is to put it straight in the refrigerator or freezer at zero degrees after buying it, then when you fry it, make sure you're heating it to the steam point, 165°F, because listeria can live even in refrigerated meat.
- It messes with your hormones.
According to Dr. Fuhrman, bacon is "hormonally unfavorable." Hormone regulation is especially important in pregnant people, particularly during the first trimester, in which HCG hormones — the ones that your body produces to maintain the pregnancy — are at their highest. "When you eat a lot of bacon, it pushes up hormones, fat storage hormones, and growth hormones like IGF-1," Dr. Fuhrman said. The IGF-1 hormone, which stands for insulin-like growth factor 1, is crucial for childhood growth, as it promotes normal bone and tissue development. It's hard to believe a strip of bacon could put your baby's growth in jeopardy, but it's a real concern that Dr. Fuhrman always stresses to his patients.
- It contains excess cholesterol that impairs your blood flow.
"Eating habits obviously affect pregnancy tremendously, and one thing about eating prepared food is that you ought to know what's in it," Dr. Tarsa said. In addition to the sugar, salt, and chemical additives, bacon is extremely high in cholesterol. High cholesterol is a health concern for anyone, but even more so for anyone who's pregnant. When excess cholesterol is introduced to the body, it's stored away, and what results is impaired blood flow to the key organs, which is not something you want when you're carrying a baby.
For a healthy pregnancy, Dr. Tarsa and Dr. Fuhrman both agree it's important to look at all the nutrition facts on everything you eat, even food you already think is safe. You'd be surprised at how many preservatives and harmful ingredients are present in your favorite foods — not just bacon. The general rule of thumb for pregnant people according to these two doctors is to stay away from anything highly processed, but feel free to indulge in fresh foods — and as much vegan bacon as your heart desires!