Is Ham Healthy?
Ham can be part of a healthy meal, but eat it in moderation
Most of the meat in your diet should come from lean poultry and fish, but that doesn't mean you can't include other meats, like ham, in your meal plan too. Ham is a great source of protein and provides a few essential vitamins, so it offers plenty of nutritional value. It can be salty, however, so pick up a lower-sodium variety of ham as a healthier choice for your family.
Moderate Calories and Plenty of Protein
The primary nutrient you want from meat is its protein, and ham delivers. A 3-ounce portion of broiled ham supplies 13 grams of protein for 105 calories, while four slices of deli ham provide 9 grams of protein for just 56 calories. Protein nourishes your lean muscles and promotes healthy immunity. And it's also crucial for growing kids, since protein supplies the amino acids your child's cells and tissues need to develop. Ham can be surprisingly lean, too, so you'll get your protein without too much fat. A 3-ounce portion of broiled ham has 4 grams of fat, while the deli ham has 2 grams.
A Good Source of B Vitamins
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Ham also supplies plenty of B-complex vitamins, a family of nutrients that help you (and your children) break down food into energy. Since they're important for metabolizing nutrients like carbs and protein, B-vitamins help support your family's active lifestyle. And certain B-vitamins, like niacin (also called vitamin B-3) also promote healthy nerves. Ham has a handful of each of the B vitamins, but it's an especially good source of niacin. A 3-ounce serving of broiled ham, for example, has 3.6 milligrams of vitamin B-3. That's about one-quarter of your niacin needs for the day, and up to 60 percent of the recommended niacin intake for your children, depending on their ages.
Watch Out for Sodium
Where ham looks less-than-healthy, though, is its sodium content. Because it's a cured meat, ham is typically very salty. A serving of broiled ham, for instance, has 1,132 milligrams of sodium, which is most or all of the total daily sodium allowance for children. Sodium triggers fluid retention, and it can cause high blood pressure – a risk factor for heart disease – for both you and your kids. Serving your children salty foods affects their overall food preference, explains the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means feeding your kids salty foods may make them crave more salt, whereas reducing the amount of salt in their diet will naturally steer them toward a healthier, lower-sodium diet.
Serving Ham Healthfully
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Get the health benefits of ham without the health risks by opting for a low-sodium variety, and always check the label to compare different varieties to get the type lowest in salt. Additionally, you can keep your family's sodium intake in check by treating the ham as a garnish for your meal, rather than the main course. Instead of packing a meaty ham and cheese sandwich for your kids, for example, make a veggie sandwich and chop one thin ham slice into pieces to mix in – your kids will still get that ham flavor, but you'll be able to make a fraction of a serving last across an entire meal. Chop an ounce of roasted ham to use as a topping for salads, or add it to your family's favorite homemade veggie soup for added protein and flavor.
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- USDA NND: Ham, sliced, pre-packaged, deli meat (96%fat free, water added)
- USDA NND: Pork, cured, ham and water product, slice, boneless, separable lean only, heated, pan-broil
- Linus Pauling Institute: Niacin
- Linus Pauling Institute: Sodium (Chloride)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: High Sodium Intake in Children and Adolescents: Cause for Concern
Sylvie Tremblay holds a Master of Science in molecular and cellular biology and has years of experience as a cancer researcher and neuroscientist. Based in Ontario, Canada, Tremblay is an experienced journalist and blogger specializing in nutrition, fitness, lifestyle, health and biotechnology, as well as real estate, agriculture and clean tech.