A popular deli meat and traditional Christmas addition, ham is a pork product preserved by curing. We asked registered nutritionist Kerry Torrens whether ham is a healthy meat to include in the diet.
What is ham?
Ham is a cut of pork taken from the higher section of the pig’s hind leg. It may be wet or dry cured, with or without smoking. Ham is purchased cooked and ready to eat, whereas gammon is sold raw and requires cooking.
Ham should not be confused with other types of pork products, such as luncheon meat, which is a finely minced pork combined with cereals, preservatives and flavour enhancers. Luncheon meat may be sold sliced and chilled or in cans.
Discover our full range of health benefit guides or check out some of our best leftover ham recipes and gammon recipes, from traditional ways to serve it such as our apricot & ginger ham, to using up every last bit of the joint with our spring greens & gammon soup.
A 100g serving of ham (premium) provides:
- 132kcal / 553kJ
- 21.2g protein
- 5.0g fat
- 1.7g saturated fat
- 2.2g monounsaturated fat
- 0.8g polyunsaturated fat
- 0.8g iron
- 2.1mg zinc
- 12mcg selenium
- 2.63mg salt
Salt levels vary depending on the methods of preservation and curing; other variables that may influence nutritional value include the feed and lifespan of the animal. It’s worth remembering that large-scale meat producers may bulk up their product by injecting it with water or brine to help keep the meat moist and succulent. This additional ‘weight’ may increase salt levels and will reduce intensity of flavour.
Top 5 health benefits of ham
1. Rich in protein
A lean source of protein, ham supplies all nine essential amino acids needed for growth and repair. As such, the protein is ‘high quality,’ being an easy form for our bodies to access and use. Including good levels of protein in the diet is especially important for the elderly, who may experience muscle loss known as sarcopenia.
2. Lower in saturated fat than beef or lamb
Beef and lamb and other meats from ruminants contain more saturated fat than pork. The majority of the fat in pork is healthy mono-saturated fat with small but higher levels of polyunsaturated fats compared to other red meats. This means pork, including ham, offers a more favourable fat content than most other red meats.
3. Source of B vitamins
Compared with chicken and white fish, pork products including ham are a better source of the B group of vitamins, such as B1, B3 and B6.
4. Good source of minerals
Rich in selenium, zinc, phosphorus, potassium and iron, ham may make a useful inclusion for supporting thyroid function, immunity, bone health and energy production.
5. Rich in energising nutrients
Is ham safe for everyone?
Processed meat like ham is especially high in salt, making it unlikely to be suitable for those following a low-salt diet. The process of curing and smoking may result in higher concentrations of known carcinogens, levels of which may increase further when the meat is subject to high-temperature cooking like roasting or grilling.
Some commercial hams are preserved using nitrate and nitrite-based preservatives, which is associated with colorectal cancer. For these reasons, the World Health Organisation suggests moderating your intake of processed meats such as ham, but also bacon, sausages, corned beef, etc. In addition to this, a high intake of red meat and in particular processed meat, may increase the death rate from all causes.
Although outbreaks are becoming less common, sliced deli meats such as ham may be at risk of contamination from bacteria like listeria. For this reason, certain groups may wish to avoid eating it. This includes expectant mothers, the elderly and very young.
Some people may be allergic to pork, with others sensitive to the preservatives, such as nitrates used in the production of processed pork products. Furthermore, pork is forbidden for those who are Jewish or Muslim.
Kerry Torrens is a Registered Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food