IS HAM HEALTHY? HERE’S WHAT A NUTRITIONIST THINKS

Many of my clients consider ham a staple holiday food, as well as a common ingredient in omelets and sandwiches. Sometimes I get asked if the ham is as healthy as chicken. This is mainly because ham, which is made from cured pork leg, is a type of processed red beef. Surprised? Surprised?

Ham nutrition

The majority of American ham is cured. This is when salt, potassium nitrate, nitrites, and sometimes sugar are added to the meat to preserve it. This process not only reduces bacteria growth but also enhances the flavor of the pork. However, it can also alter the nutritional content and make ham processed meat.

Three ounces of cooked ham with the fat & bone removed has 104.4 calories and 16.2 grams of protein. It also contains less than one gram of carbohydrates. This same amount contains 966 mg of sodium (which is more than 42% of your daily values (DV).

Ham contains a few notable nutrients, including 21.3 mg (39% of your daily value) of selenium. This is an important nutrient that plays an important role in reproduction, thyroid function, and protecting cells against damage and infection. Ham is also a good source of thiamin, which accounts for 0.42 mg (35% of your daily DV). This helps cells convert carbohydrates into energy.

The main reason ham is not good for your health is its classification as both red meat and processed meat, which can cause the following adverse effects on your health.

Ham may increase the risk of cancer

Processed meats like ham are classified by the International Agency for Cancer Research (IACR) as carcinogenic to humans, meaning that sufficient evidence indicates they cause colorectal cancer the organization says. On the other hand, the IACR classifies red meats specifically as “probable carcinogens” since they have been associated with an increase in colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer.

The American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) and World Cancer Research Fund echo this sentiment stating, “there is strong evidence that eating red or processed meat are both causes of colorectal cancer.” In fact, research has found that consuming even small amounts of processed red meats like ham on a regular basis increases the risk of colorectal cancer, according to the AICR. That risk goes up proportionally with portion sizes.

While researchers aren’t completely clear on why processed red meat poses a cancer risk, there are a few theories. For one, smoking and cooking meats at high temperatures increase DNA-harming substances that could lead to cancer. Studies also suggest that the nitrates and nitrites added during the curing process form cancer-causing compounds in humans.

Ham may increase the risk of developing heart disease

Research suggests that eating red meat, especially processed red meats like ham, can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.

A 2020 study examined the diets and habits of 43,272 men. It found that eating unprocessed and processed red meat increases your risk of developing coronary heart disease. The same holds true for women. The same year, a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association showed that postmenopausal women who ate red meat were at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

According to the American Heart Association, one possible explanation is that red meat has saturated fat. This can increase “bad” LDL cholesterol, which could be a risk factor for heart disease.

Red meat consumption may also increase blood levels of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), a chemical that is linked to heart disease. According to a 2019 study cited National Institutes of Health, red meat eaters have three times the amount of TMAO found in their blood than those who eat white meat.

One serving of Ham contains almost half of the daily recommended sodium intake. A high sodium diet has been shown to increase the risk of high cholesterol, heart disease, and stroke.

Ham may increase the risk of developing heart disease

Research suggests that eating red meat, especially processed red meats like ham, can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.

A 2020 study examined the diets and habits of 43,272 men. It found that eating unprocessed and processed red meat increases your risk of developing coronary heart disease. The same holds true for women. The same year, a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association showed that postmenopausal women who ate red meat were at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

According to the American Heart Association, one possible explanation is that red meat has saturated fat. This can increase “bad” LDL cholesterol, which could be a risk factor for heart disease.

Red meat consumption may also increase blood levels of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), a chemical that is linked to heart disease. According to a 2019 study cited National Institutes of Health, red meat eaters have three times the amount of TMAO found in their blood than those who eat white meat.

One serving of Ham contains almost half of the daily recommended sodium intake. A high sodium diet has been shown to increase the risk of high cholesterol, heart disease, and stroke.

The bottom line

Although ham may increase your risk of developing heart disease or cancer, it is not the only food that can affect your health. When it comes to healthy eating habits, the frequency you eat a particular food is a key factor. The AICR suggests that ham can be reserved for special occasions if you are unable to stomach the idea of giving up ham forever.

If you do eat ham, make sure to pair it with other foods that are linked to disease prevention such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses, etc. Beans and lentils. You can also substitute deli meat for fresh poultry, fish, or plant-based high protein alternatives like beans and hummus.

Cynthia Sass is Health’s contributing nutrition editor. She is also aNew York Times bestseller and a private practice performance nutritionist who has consulted with five professional teams.

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