If you're a fan of pork but have heard that it has negative effects on the digestive tract, you needn't worry -- clean, well-cooked pork meat doesn't have detrimental effects on health. Instead, you digest it as you would any other animal protein. Some pork, however, may be contaminated with parasites that can harm the digestive tract.
Pork isn't fundamentally much different than any other animal meat. Because pork meat doesn't tend to show the "marbling" common in beef -- this occurs when fat deposits form in the muscles themselves and makes the meat less lean -- it's easier to trim fat from pork than from beef. Like all animal meats, however, pork contains a mixture of protein and fat. You digest these two components separately.
The first component of pork that your digestive tract starts breaking down is the protein. Assuming you eat a lean pork cut, the majority of the calories in the meat will come from protein, which is the molecule that makes up the muscle and large portions of nonmuscle cells. You begin digesting pork protein in the stomach, explains Dr. Lauralee Sherwood in her book "Human Physiology" and continue digesting it in the small intestine.
It's a bit more challenging to digest fat than it is to digest protein because fat isn't water soluble so it doesn't easily mix with digestive juices; however, bile salts from the gall bladder emulsify the fat, causing it to mix with water. Enzymes in the small intestine can then go to work on the pork fat, breaking it down so you can absorb it. By the time a pork meal reaches the end of your small intestine, you've absorbed the majority of the fats and components of protein.
While most cuts of pork pass through your digestive tract with no effects other than to cause normal digestive function, some pork can be contaminated with roundworms, which lead to intestinal infection. This infection, called trichinosis, causes abdominal cramping, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms, explains PubMed Health. To avoid trichinosis, it's important to cook all pork thoroughly -- don't ever consume pork that contains pink meat in the middle.
- “Human Physiology”; Lauralee Sherwood, Ph.D.; 2004
- PubMed Health: Trichinosis