Is Eating Ham Bad for Your Health?

Updated on November 9th, 2020
Is Ham Healthy

Whether you prefer it deviled, honey-baked, or slapped between a rye, ham is one of the most inexpensive — and popular— ways to put meat on the table. But what you save in money now could end up costing you more later, as the downsides of ham make it an unhealthy choice to nourish your body.

Nutrients in Ham

Ham is rich in protein but low in fat, carbs, and fiber. It’s also low in calories when consumed alone. Just 57 grams (2 ounces) — approximately 3–4 thin slices — of ham provide:

  • Protein: 11 grams
  • Calories: 69
  • Carbs: 1.5 grams
  • Fat: 2 grams
  • Sugar: 1.25 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Selenium: 42–76% of the DV
  • Sodium: 26% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Zinc: 9% of the DV
  • Phosphorus: 11% of the DV
  • Iron: 3% of the DV
  • Potassium: 6% of the DV
  • Magnesium: 3% of the DV
  • Copper: 3% of the DV

Ham is incredibly rich in selenium, providing up to 76% of the DV per 57 grams (2 ounces), depending on the type. Selenium is an essential nutrient that aids DNA construction, reproduction, and defense from infections.

Compared with fish and poultry, pork products like ham are higher in thiamine, iron, and other B vitamins. Yet, pork may be lower in few nutrients than other red meats, like beef.

Ham also provides all 9 essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. Amino acids help develop proteins and play critical roles in gene expression, metabolism, and cell communication

What’s more, this popular red meat contains enough amounts of zinc, phosphorus, and potassium, which help your body fight infections, produce energy, and maintain cardiovascular health [3].

Furthermore, ham and other meats are an excellent dietary source of choline, carnosine, and coenzyme Q10 — compounds that aid cell messaging and energy production throughout your body [4].

Is Ham Healthy? Does ham have any health benefits?

Eating ham once in a while can provide several health benefits.

1. Rich in beneficial nutrients

Ham is rich in minerals, protein, and other nutrients that support optimal health. The most notable include:

1. Selenium 

Although evidence is scarce, selenium’s normal blood levels are linked to lower heart disease, thyroid disease rates, and some types of cancer.

2. Carnosine

This amino acid compound not only has anti-aging effects but may also offer antioxidant properties and brain function and enhance exercise performance.

3. Choline

This essential nutrient is particularly important for pregnant women, as it has positive effects on placental health and can enhance the choline content of breastmilk. 

4. Coenzyme Q10

Although more research is required, this coenzyme is related to improved outcomes for people with metabolic conditions and heart failure.

2. May support weight loss

Frequently eating foods with a low-calorie density can promote weight loss by aiding you to feel full for longer. Calorie density is a measure of calories concerning the volume (in mL) or weight (in grams) of a given food.

3. May help maintain muscle mass

Since other pork products and ham contain several amino acids, they’re often regarded as high-quality protein sources. Regularly eating these proteins may play a critical role in maintaining strength and muscle mass, particularly among older adults.

4. Certain types may minimize inflammation

Spanish-style Jamón Ibérico or Iberian ham comes from black Iberian pigs that eat a diet of corn and grains before grazing on grass, acorns, and herbs before slaughter.

The latest studies indicate that this kind of ham doesn’t increase your risk of chronic issues, such as cardiovascular diseases and high blood pressure, compared with other kinds.

Multiple studies even suggest that some of its compounds exert antioxidant-like effects that decrease the risk of endothelial harm and inflammation associated with high blood pressure. All the same, further research is required.

Know the Modern-Day Risks

Although modern hog-raising methods include antibiotics and disinfection procedures that can help keep the threat of food-borne illness at bay, ham nutrition’s disadvantages outweigh its advantages. It’s essential to understand the drawbacks of ham.

1. Trichinellosis 

This parasite is relatively rare in the United States today, thanks to legislation forbidding feeding pigs with meat waste products. The trichinella parasite passes through microscopic cysts encased in muscle meats like ham, which are then released when they contact stomach acid.

Curing, Smoking, or freezing won’t necessarily destroy the parasite, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

2. Other Parasites 

It might seem like raising your own pigs at home would produce the healthiest ham nutrition. However, pigs raised in non-commercial environments with access to the outdoors can get other parasites such as toxoplasmosis and large roundworms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

3. Carcinogens

Although ancient methods for ham-making involved smoke or salt, modern commercial ham generally includes additional preservatives, flavor and color enhancers, sugars, and binders, according to the USDA’s food database. Avoid processed meats, including bacon, ham, deli meat, and sausage, to lower your cancer risk.

4. Sodium 

The AHA (American Heart Association) sets the ideal daily intake at 1,500 milligrams and prescribes that you consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. According to the USDA, each 1-ounce slice of ham has 210 milligrams of sodium.

So if you pile 5 ounces of ham on your kaiser-roll sandwich, you’ve consumed 2/3rd of your optimal daily sodium intake at one sitting.

Bottom Line

Ham is a cut of pork that’s usually preserved and cured, although it’s also sold fresh. It’s rich in several beneficial nutrients and protein. However, frequently eating processed meats like ham can increase your risk of specific cancers. Thus, it’s wise to limit your intake and stick to less processed, fresh types of ham as part of a balanced diet.

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