Is Eating Ham Healthy? Health Benefits And Possible Side Effects

Written by Aparna Mallampalli

Pork meat or ham is consumed especially for its taste. Ham is preserved by smoking or salting to increase its shelf life. It is mostly known as a form of red processed meat. But it does have some important nutrients too. Does this make ham safe for regular consumption? Or should you still practice moderation? We uncover the truth about ham in this post. Keep reading.

What Is Ham?

The red meat of the rear leg of a pig is known as ham. It is generally preserved by a technique called curing. It is preserved using both dry and wet methods. Many consume it during Easter in several cooked varieties. While traditional curing methods used salt, modern methods add nitrites too. Spices are added after curing to enhance the flavor. The ham is later hung in a dark place for 2 to 12 months depending on its variety.

Is Ham Healthy?

Ham is generally available in processed forms and is a red meat variety. Consuming it in very limited quantities and choosing unprocessed varieties may offer some benefits. But taking it daily, in excess, may not be a healthier option. Hence, knowing the calorific values of the different types of ham hay help.

How Many Calories Does Ham Contain?

Type Of HamCalories
Slice126
Ground60
Cup203
1 pound658
Deli353
Baked (1 oz.)30
Can ham (50 g)90
Spiral (3 oz.)130
Smoked (3 oz.)130
Sandwich139
Honey ham70

We have included the nutritional profile of ham in the next section. Continue reading.

Ham Nutrition Facts

  • Fat: 3.15 g
  • Carbs: 0.27 g
  • Protein: 16.7 g
  • Sodium: 1040 mg
  • Phosphorus: 261 mg
  • Zinc: 1.25 mg
  • Potassium: 425 mg
  • Iron:0.58 mg
  • Copper: 0.05 mg
  • Magnesium: 18.8 mg
  • Selenium : 20 mcg

All values are sourced from USDA

Ham is available in different types. We have listed them below.

Types Of Ham

  1. Deli Ham: This ham variety is cured. It is generally packaged as slices. It is also known as luncheon or cold-cut meat.
  2. York Ham: This ham is made from the leg of a white pig. It is generally dry-cured.
  3. Smithfield Ham: This ham is cured in Smithfield, Virginia, and hence the name.
  4. Gammon: This ham variant is slightly cured. It must be completely cooked before serving.
  5. Prosciutto: This is considered the finest sliced ham. It is also known as Italian dry ham. It is generally served uncooked.
  6. Jamon: This type of ham is especially popular in Spain. It is one of the longest cured ham varieties. It has an intense flavor and less moisture content.
  7. Honey-Glazed Ham: This ham type is prepared by heating with honey or sugar syrup. Spices are also added to enhance the flavor.
  8. Country Ham: This ham is mostly associated with the southern part of the United States. It is heavily salted, cured, and smoked. It is mostly served at dinners.
  9. Chopped Ham: This ham type is chopped into the finest pieces and mixed with seasonings and spices to enhance the flavor. It is then made into loaves.
  10. City Ham: This ham variant is precooked and slightly cured. You should heat this ham before serving.
  11. Black Forest: This ham variant is believed to have originated in Germany. It is smoked, cured, and fatty (⅕th of the ham is fat).
  12. Limerick Ham: This ham type is boiled in spices and cider and then baked. It is very popular in Ireland.

Irrespective of the type, ham intake is believed to have certain health benefits. We have discussed them in the following section.

Health Benefits Of Ham

1. Is Rich In Beneficial Nutrients

Ham has a significant amount of zinc and meets 9% of the daily requirement. Research shows that zinc is an important micronutrient for human metabolism that catalyzes many enzymatic reactions and helps in the regulation of genes. Ham is rich in protein, which is proven to offer an array of health benefits. Research shows that protein, when coupled with high calcium diets, can benefit bone health.

2. May Help Maintain BMI

Some research suggests people consuming red meat (including ham) may have a lower BMI when they also include more vegetables in their diet. Red meat intake was also inversely associated with blood pressure. However, it is highly recommended to consume ham in moderation. Those with a sedentary lifestyle are recommended to consume ham even less frequently.

3. May Help Reduce The Risk Of Thyroid Disease

Selenium is a trace mineral required for various metabolic processes in the body. The selenium in 3 ounces of roasted ham is known to meet 76% of the daily requirement of the nutrient. Studies have shown that selenium deficiency may cause thyroid disease. The high selenium content in ham may help in this regard. However, moderate consumption is highly recommended.

4. May Promote Satiety

Ham is a good source of dietary protein. Studies have shown that diets rich in protein can significantly promote satiety and also aid in weight loss. A high protein intake may also help treat metabolic syndrome and address obesity to some extent. However, moderate consumption of ham is key due to its calorie-dense nature. More research on the satiating effects of ham are warranted.

5. May Help Maintain Muscle Mass

The high protein content in ham may also help maintain muscle mass. Research shows that dietary protein intake, and the resulting increased availability of plasma amino acids, stimulates muscle protein synthesis. Increased muscle protein synthesis can lead to improved muscle mass, strength, and function over time.

6. Has Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Studies show that Spanish dry-cured ham has active bioptides that possess anti-inflammatory properties. This particular ham may impair certain platelets that may otherwise cause inflammation. However, more quality research is needed in this regard.

These are the potential health benefits of ham. However, more research is warranted to substantiate them.

In the next section, we discuss the detailed process of how ham is made. Take a look.

How Ham Is Made

Raw pork is generally subjected to these methods for preparing ham.

Ham is generally made by using any or all of the following processes.

  • Cutting

Ham is kept with bones, partially boned, or even boneless. Here, the shank end remains fattier and the butt end is lean. This makes the ham easier to slice. This is the most primary method used to prepare ham.

  • Curing

Curing is done in two methods. One is wet curing where ham is soaked in a solution of brine (saltwater). This curing is generally done before smoking the ham. The other method is dry curing where the ham is covered with a layer of salt and is cured until the ham absorbs the salt completely. It is then generally preserved.

  • Smoking

The ham is smoked for a unique flavor. It is generally smoked at 100o F for weeks to enhance its flavor.

  • Cooking

The ham is partially cooked or fully cooked. While partially cooked ham is heated up to 137o F, fully cooked ham is generally heated up to 148o F. The partially cooked ham is generally baked before serving, while the fully cooked ham can be served with mild heating.

  • Aging

This method is generally considered a mix of all types. Here, the ham is aged for an extended duration along with curing, smoking, and hanging. The duration may generally range from one to eight years. Aged hams tend to develop a mold on them that is generally scraped and washed before consumption. Aged hams are said to have a unique flavor and are comparatively expensive when compared to other types of ham.

Ham also can have some negative effects if consumed in excess. Read on to know more about the possible risks associated with ham consumption.

Side Effects Of Eating Ham

1. High Sodium Content May Increase The Risk Of Chronic Conditions

Ham is high in sodium and contributes to 43% of the daily value. The sodium content is even higher in processed ham varieties. Studies show that high sodium content can increase the risk of many chronic conditions like hypertension and cardiovascular and renal diseases. Hence, caution is advised if you are choosing processed ham varieties over other varieties.

2. May Cause Foodborne Illnesses

Meat varieties, especially pork, must be handled and cooked properly before consumption. This is to reduce the risk of any foodborne illness.  Studies show that trichinellosis is a major foodborne illness associated with pork. It occurs with the consumption of raw or undercooked pork. It is characterized by fever, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

3. May Increase The Risk Of Methemoglobinemia

Nitrates are generally used to process dry-cured ham. Studies show that these nitrates may cause methemoglobinemia, a potentially fatal condition where hemoglobin is oxidized to methemoglobin and loses its ability to bind and transport oxygen. Hence, caution is highly advised if you are consuming dry-cured hams.

4. May Increase Diabetes Risk

Recent studies have shown that long-term consumption of processed meat, especially red meat, may increase type 2 diabetes risk in both men and women. Hence, minimize consumption of processed red meats.

5. May Increase The Risk Of Dementia

Studies show that intake of highly processed and red meat is associated with an increased risk of dementia.

6. May Increase The Risk Of Cancer

Processed meat consumption is linked to colorectal cancer. Studies suggest that excessive consumption of red and processed meats may induce carcinogenesis and elevate the risk of cancer. The coloring agents and preservatives used to process meats may also elevate cancer risk.

Conclusion

The health benefits of ham are yet to be thoroughly researched. It does contain important nutrients that seem to offer some benefit. However, most ham that is available is usually processed – and processed ham may cause some serious adverse effects.

You may consume ham occasionally, and ensure it is minimally processed. Moderation is key. Speak to your doctor or dietician and find healthier meat alternatives that you may consume more often.

Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions

What is the healthiest ham?

Uncured, cooked ham preserved using celery juice and sea salt mixture with natural nitrites is generally considered the healthiest ham.

What is the healthiest meat to eat?

Unprocessed chicken or turkey are healthier. Fish is believed to be the healthiest of all meats. However, consuming meat in moderation is ideal.

Is ham healthier than turkey?

From a nutrition perspective, turkey is leaner than ham. But ham may taste better than turkey due to its texture.

Can people with diabetes eat ham?

Yes, people with diabetes can eat unprocessed ham, though in limited quantities. However, long-term consumption of processed ham may alleviate the risk of diabetes. Caution is advised.

How much ham is safe to eat?

Ham is processed meat, and eating it in excess may have undesirable effects. Hence, eating in moderation is key. Consuming around 2.3 to 2.5 grams per day is believed to be safe if you do not have any health conditions. Those with hypertension or heart disease may limit intake to 1.5 to 2 grams per day. However, research is limited in this regard. Consult your doctor for more clarity on the dosage.

Sources

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

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Aparna is a professor-turned-content writer with over 5 years of experience in life sciences. Her passion for writing and interest in the healthcare and wellness industry pushed her toward a career in content writing. She has a master’s in Microbiology and aims to use her knowledge of life sciences to break down complex information into easily understandable content for the readers. When she’s not working, Aparna loves cooking and collecting keychains.