The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a ham as the cured leg of pork. Cured ham can be ready to eat or require cooking, and you can purchase whole hams for the holidays or find sliced ham in the deli section of supermarkets. Ham can be a nutritious option as an occasional part of a balanced diet, although it does have some drawbacks.
Good Source of Protein
A 3-ounce portion of cured ham provides 21 grams of protein. The recommended daily allowance for protein is 56 grams for men and 46 grams for women. Protein is an essential nutrient for maintaining muscle mass and repairing your body tissues, and it is a filling nutrient that can help suppress hunger. Cured ham contains 5 grams of fat and 133 calories in a 3-ounce serving, making it a lower-fat, lower-calorie protein source than a similar serving of fresh ham, which has 8 grams of fat and 179 calories.
A 3-ounce portion of cured ham contains 1,128 milligrams of sodium. Eating a high-sodium diet can lead to high blood pressure and increase your risk for heart disease, kidney disease and stroke. Healthy adults should have no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. Cold cuts, such as sliced ham, are among the top sources of sodium in the typical American diet. Fresh meat is lower in sodium, and a 3-ounce portion of cooked fresh ham contains only 54 milligrams of sodium.
Zinc and Niacin in Ham
A 3-ounce portion of ham provides 2.2 milligrams of zinc, or 15 percent of the daily value for zinc, and 4.3 milligrams of niacin, or 21 percent of the daily value for niacin, based on a 2,000-calorie diet. Zinc is an essential component of many enzymes that carry out your body’s functions, while niacin, or vitamin B-3, is essential for metabolizing fat and carbohydrates. Eat your ham with whole-wheat bread for extra niacin and low-fat cheddar cheese for extra zinc.
Sodium nitrite, potassium nitrite and nitrates are preservatives commonly added to cured ham to prevent the growth of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. However, the Diet and Cancer Report states that frequent consumption of these chemicals can increase your risk for colorectal cancer. Processed meat may also increase your risk of developing esophageal, lung, stomach and prostate cancers. To lower your risk, choose fresh pork instead of cured ham, and look for packages of ham that do not contain nitrites or nitrates in their lists of ingredients.
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- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Ham and Food Safety
- Diet and Cancer Second Expert Report: Foods and Drinks
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: National Nutrient Database
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010
- FDA: Guidance for Industry: A Food Labeling Guide (14. Appendix F: Calculate the Percent Daily Value for the Appropriate Nutrients)
- Linus Pauling Institute: Zinc
- Linus Pauling Institute: Niacin
Natalie Stein specializes in weight loss and sports nutrition. She is based in Los Angeles and is an assistant professor with the Program for Public Health at Michigan State University. Stein holds a master of science degree in nutrition and a master of public health degree from Michigan State University.