Is Ham Nutritious?

What you should know before consuming a deli sandwich or holiday meal. Ham is a frequent sandwich and omelet ingredient for many people, as well as a holiday staple. The answer to the question of whether it is as healthy as poultry is no. Primarily due to the fact that ham, which is produced by curing pork leg, is a type of processed red meat. Surprised? Learn more about the health effects of this pork product by reading on.

Ham Dietary Facts

Ham is red meat typically preserved with additives to extend its shelf life. As a result of its processing, ham has both health advantages and disadvantages. Among them: ham

  • Is an excellent source of nutrients.
  • It may raise the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease
  • Influences life expectancy
  • Is detrimental to the environment

Ham Nutrition

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, curing is a process where salt, sodium, potassium nitrate, nitrites; and sometimes sugar, seasonings, phosphates, and other compounds are used to preserve meat (USDA). This process reduces bacterial growth and improves the flavor of pork, but it also alters the nutritional profile and classifies ham as processed meat.


3.5 ounces of cooked ham contains 139 calories, 5 grams of fat, 22 grams of protein, and 1 gram of carbohydrates, according to the USDA. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the same amount, or approximately five thin slices, contains 1290 milligrams of sodium, which is more than half of the recommended daily allowance.

Excellent Source of Nutrients

According to the USDA, ham contains a few notable nutrients, including 28 micrograms of selenium. According to the National Institutes of Health, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for selenium for most adults is 55 micrograms (NIH). Selenium is essential for thyroid function and cell protection against damage and infection.

In addition, ham is an excellent source of B vitamins. According to the USDA, there are 0.56 milligrams of thiamin (vitamin B1) in 3.5 ounces of ham. According to the NIH, the RDA for thiamin for most adults is about 1.2 mg. Thiamine aids in the development and growth of cells.

According to the NIH, ham contains a significant amount of niacin (vitamin B3), with 5.2 mg of the 14 mg RDA for adults. Niacin assists the body in converting food into energy.

Ham is also rich in vitamin B6, which is essential for metabolism, and vitamin B12, which helps maintain healthy blood and nerve cells.

Ham also contains a healthy quantity of phosphorus. There are 247 mg of phosphorus in 3.5 ounces of ham, which is more than a third of the NIH’s daily recommendation. Phosphorus is a mineral present in all body cells. However, it is predominantly in teeth and bones.

Despite its benefits, ham is ultimately unhealthy due to its classification as both red meat and processed meat, both of which are known to cause the following negative health effects.

May Increase The Risk of Developing Cancer

The International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) classifies processed meats, such as ham, as carcinogenic to humans, meaning that sufficient evidence indicates they cause colorectal cancer. Red meat, on the other hand, is classified as a “probable carcinogen” due to its association with an increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer.

According to the World Cancer Research Fund, there is substantial evidence that consuming both red and processed meat causes colorectal cancer. It is recommended to consume no more than three portions of red and processed meats per week.

Although the exact reason why processed red meat poses a cancer risk is unknown, there are several hypotheses. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, smoking and cooking meats at high temperatures can generate cancer-causing chemicals. Moreover, according to a 2019 study published in Nutrients, the nitrates and nitrites added during the curing process can cause cancer in humans.


May Increase The Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Some research indicates that consuming red meat, especially processed red meat such as ham, may increase the risk of developing heart disease.

For instance, a 2020 study published in BMJ analyzed the diets of over 40,000 individuals and found a link between the consumption of processed and unprocessed red meat and an increased risk of coronary heart disease. This also appears to be true for women. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2020 found that red meat eaters had an increased risk of cardiovascular disease-related death.

One possible explanation for the correlation is: According to the American Heart Association, red meat contains saturated fat, which can raise LDL cholesterol levels, a risk factor for heart disease.

Eating red meat may also increase blood levels of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), a chemical linked to cardiovascular disease. According to a study published in 2019 and cited by the National Institutes of Health, red meat eaters appear to have three times as much TMAO in their blood as white meat eaters or vegetarians.

According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 3.5 ounces of ham contains more than half the recommended sodium intake, and a high sodium diet is known to increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.

Ham Could Influence Life Expectancy

In addition to cancer and cardiovascular disease, consuming less processed red meat may be associated with a longer life span. A study published in Nutrition in 2021 found that a county’s average life expectancy is greater the less money it spends on processed red meat.

Negatively Impacts the Environment

Ham and other red meats are among the most harmful to the environment. According to the United Nations, 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by livestock production.

And although this may not appear to be directly related to your health, environmental health and public health are closely related. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that environmental degradation promotes the spread of infectious diseases, water-borne illnesses, and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. In other words, reducing your consumption of ham can benefit not only the environment but also your long-term health.


A Brief Overview

Ham increases the risk of conditions such as cancer and heart disease, but no single food can make or break your health. If you can’t stomach the idea of giving up ham forever, the American Institute for Cancer Research suggests reserving it for special occasions (AICR).

AICR recommends pairing ham with disease-preventing foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and pulses (beans and lentils) when consuming ham. You can also replace some of the deli meat in your sandwich with fresh poultry, fish, or high-protein plant-based alternatives such as beans and hummus.

  • How do you think the processing methods impact the overall healthiness of ham?

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