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Home arrow Nutrition arrow Healthy Eating arrow Ham 101: Is It Healthy? Nutrition Facts and Benefits

Ham 101: Is It Healthy? Nutrition Facts and Benefits

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Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
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Fact checked by Edna Skopljak, MD
Last update: May 11, 2023
8 min read 880 Views 0 Comments
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Ham is a popular food that goes with almost anything. You can have it in sandwiches, wraps, or salads, but is it actually healthy?

is ham healthy

Creating a balanced diet can be challenging when you don’t know what healthy foods to include. 

Ham is a popular food that causes debate among dieters. It’s a versatile meat that can complement wraps, green salads, and vegetable-based stir-fries. You may be tempted to pick some up at the grocery store, but you should know what is in ham.

Processed meat isn’t the best for nutrient-dense meal plans. There are certain ingredients that could pose health risks to people who already have problems. Delving more into ham’s nutritional profile can give you an idea of how healthy it is.

Keep reading to discover whether you should add ham to your balanced diet. 

Is Ham Healthy? 

Is Ham Healthy?

It depends. Ham can be healthy in moderate amounts, but most red and processed meats should be monitored on a balanced diet. It’s recommended you avoid cured ham whenever possible and stick to meats like chicken, lean beef, turkey, and pork loin. 

Sodium is the main ingredient that can make ham unhealthy. This is due to the cooking process that turns plain ham into cured meat. You should limit your ham consumption if you want to cut salt out of your diet or avoid health problems like high blood pressure and kidney disease.

Ham is made by covering the dry pork leg with salt and herbs. Over the space of a few months, that meat gets left to cure. Some methods also include soaking the meat in liquid brine containing nitrates and nitrites, which are chemical compounds that enhance the flavors. 

A study found that these compounds increase the risk of cancer. Too much sodium can also promote heart attacks and strokes in those with a weakened cardiovascular system. 

Ham does still contain nutrients like vitamin B, selenium, iron, and potassium. However, the risks of sodium and preservatives in processed food are not worth damaging your health.

5 Health Benefits of Ham 

You might wonder if plain, cured, or canned ham is healthy on a diet. Fortunately, there are some advantages, but you have to remember that ham is processed red meat. 

Here are some health benefits of eating ham: 

#1 Good for muscle growth 

Ham is one of the best sources of lean protein on a diet. People who are strength training may consume this meat just to meet their daily protein intake for muscle growth. Your body needs this nutrient to maintain muscle mass and strengthen bones to prevent degeneration. 

You can pair deli ham or cured ham with other protein sources. Some of these might be chicken, salmon, eggs, tuna, or halibut

It’s important to get at least 50–80 grams of protein a day, even if you aren’t trying to build muscle. This ensures you’re getting enough energy to keep your bones, muscles, and joints strong.

#2 Source of B vitamins

Studies prove that B vitamins can help boost your metabolism. A fast metabolic rate can burn more calories and help you lose weight on a diet. 

These vitamins also release energy from carbs and fat while transporting nutrients and oxygen to important organs. You can experience less fatigue when exercising or simply navigating your day.

#3 Could increase your energy 

Ham contains energizing nutrients like iron, vitamin B12, and carnosine. Research suggests that carnosine increases brain cell activity. This could improve your energy levels throughout the day. 

Moreover, iron supports oxygen transportation to the brain. You can have better concentration without feeling fatigued. 

#4 Can support weight loss

Ham can support your weight loss because it’s low in calories. Eating fewer calories helps your body to burn fat around stubborn areas like the face, stomach, and thighs. Even though losing weight is one of the health benefits, you shouldn’t rush to consume processed meats on a diet.

Instead, eat more foods like chicken, spinach, oatmeal, grapefruit, watermelon, blueberries, and lean beef to lose body fat. 

#5 May reduce inflammation 

Only certain types of ham can reduce inflammation in the body. Spanish-style cured ham, and Jamón Ibérico could protect you from high blood pressure. However, even though it’s possible for ham to reduce inflammation, you should avoid it if you currently have inflammatory problems. 

2 Downsides of Ham 

Since ham is processed meat, there are bound to be some disadvantages. Make sure to consider these before adding ham to your balanced diet. 

Below are some downsides to eating ham: 

#1 High in sodium 

Sodium is blamed for many heart-related problems. A study found that too much sodium increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. 

There are many high-salt foods, including ham, that encourage your body to retain more water in the bloodstream. This will restrict blood vessels and damage the heart due to poor blood circulation. 

You should always stay below 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. People who already have high blood pressure or weakened heart functions should take special care in limiting sodium. 

#2 Processed food 

Processed meats have been linked to high cholesterol and weight gain. This is because they contain more artificial ingredients compared to regular food. Cured ham uses added salt, sugar, and oil to enhance the flavors, which isn’t good for protecting your long-term heart health. 

Nutrition Facts of Ham 

Ham is a powerhouse when it comes to vitamins and minerals. You should learn more about what it contains to determine whether it’s suitable for your current diet and goals. 

Here is the nutritional information for 100 grams of ham

Nutritional value (per 100g)

Calories/Nutrient (per 100g)Amount
Calories (kcal)145
Net Carbs (g)1.5
Fiber (g)0
Sugar (g)0
Fats (Total)5.53
Protein (g)20.9
Cholesterol (mg)53

Source: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/167871/nutrients 

Low in calories

Ham is a low-calorie food that could benefit weight loss diets. Consuming fewer calories means your body has to burn more stubborn fat to function properly. You can enjoy cooked or chopped  ham with other low-calorie foods like sea bass, lettuce wraps, spinach, and rice crackers. 

High in proteins 

Processed red meat tends to be high in lean protein. This is great for people who are trying to achieve muscle growth and fast recovery rates after exercise. It’s recommended that adults get at least 50–80 grams of protein a day if they want to maintain strong bones and muscles. 

Low in saturated fats 

One of the best things about ham is the low saturated fat content. Saturated fat is harmful and can potentially increase the risk of heart disease when consumed excessively. Therefore, eating ham is safe if you want to avoid high-fat foods, but just remember that it’s still processed meat. 

Low in carbs 

Most people following the lazy keto diet can eat ham with their meals. This is because ham is low in carbs and won’t disrupt the fat-burning process during ketosis. However, just be aware that ham does still contain preservatives and a high amount of sodium, which isn’t good for your heart. 

Rich in vitamins and minerals 

Ham contains important minerals like iron, selenium, potassium, and vitamin B12. Research suggests that selenium can decrease your risk of certain cancers. However, don’t forget about the sodium content, as high-salt foods trigger blood pressure spikes in those with hypertension.

Ham vs. Canadian Bacon

Here is a comparison between ham and Canadian bacon: 

 Ham Canadian bacon 
OriginNo definite originAmerican 
ServingHam goes with any dish, but mainly sandwiches and vegetable stir-fries Canadian bacon is a traditional breakfast item 
Calories per 100g145110
Protein per 100g20.9g20.3g
Total fats per 100g5.53g2.62g
Net carbs per 100g1.5g1.34g
Sodium per 100g1,200mg 751mg 
Cholesterol per 100g53mg48mg

Source: Ham, Canadian Bacon 

Homemade Ham Recipe 

You should make your own ham at home to avoid unnecessary ingredients. Just make sure to portion this meat evenly to ensure you’re not eating more than your body needs. 

Here are the ingredients and directions for a homemade ham recipe: 

Ingredients 

  • 4–5lbs pork leg 
  • Water to cover ham in a bowl
  • ½ cup sea salt
  • 4 tbsp curing salt 
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1 tbsp pickling spice

Directions

  1. Put the pork leg in a large bowl and fill it with water until it covers the pork. 
  2. Add the sea salt, honey, pickling spice, and curing salt to the bowl. Make sure to stir the water gently to ensure everything is mixed. 
  3. Cover the bowl with a lid and stick it in your refrigerator for 4–5 days to settle. 
  4. On day 5, remove the ham from the bowl and rinse. 
  5. Put the pork in your chosen saucepan (has to be big enough) and fill it with water. 
  6. Bring the water to a boil, preferably over medium heat. 
  7. Simmer for 25–30 minutes or until the inside of the meat reaches 68°C. 
  8. Let the pork cool for around 30 minutes once it’s done. 
  9. You can serve it straight away or keep it in the refrigerator for a later date.

For those who want more healthy recipes, consider getting some nutrition apps. You can find a range of comprehensive meal plans that cater to your health and weight goals. Certain apps are also designed to support the keto diet and intermittent fasting routines for weight loss. 

FAQs 

Is ham considered red meat?

Yes, ham is considered red meat because it has a dark color before being cooked. This means it has been processed alongside other meats like bacon, beef, pork, and veal. Eating too much red meat is bad for your health, so it’s worth consuming ham in moderate amounts.

Is ham a good source of protein?

Ham is a great source of protein and can benefit anyone who is strength training. This is because protein fuels muscle growth and recovery times. Just make sure you’re getting protein from other healthy sources on your balanced diet, like chicken, eggs, or cottage cheese.

Is ham fattening?

Certain versions of ham aren’t fattening or harmful to weight loss. This is because ham is usually low in calories, saturated fats, carbohydrates, and added sugar. However, just be wary of the sodium content since too much salt can damage your heart and liver health.

Conclusion

Ham is a lean source of protein and can offer many micronutrients. You can enjoy this meat with green vegetables and whole-wheat wraps to fuel your health. One downside to ham is the very high sodium content, so always be aware of that when adding ham to your balanced diet.

Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
The article was fact checked by Edna Skopljak, MD
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HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
HR_author_photo_Edna
Fact checked by Edna Skopljak, MD
Last update: May 11, 2023
8 min read 880 Views 0 Comments
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