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The Nutrition of Ham

Fitday Editor

Ham is a tasty alternative to beef, chicken and fish. It mainly comes from the hind legs of pigs, but the shoulder and butt are also used. It's often cured to add flavor and longevity. Although ham has a lot of sodium compared to other meats, it does have a good number of nutritional benefits. Before you decide not to add it to your dinner menu, take a look at the nutrition of ham.

Introduction to Ham

There are many ham varieties sold in meat markets and grocery stores. Some of the most popular are honey baked, smoked, country, deli sliced and luncheon meat hams. There are two distinct ways to make ham into the form you can recognize: wet-cured and dry-cured. The majority of store-bought hams are wet-cured and fully cooked. However, read the cooking instructions carefully; some may need extra cooking and preparation time.

Sodium Nitrate

When ham is cured, the meat is soaked, injected or rubbed with a brine. Brine is a combination of salt and water. The salt used is called sodium nitrate and it prevents bacterial growth in the meat. Some meat companies add sugar, preservatives and spices for a better flavor and to give it a longer storage life. The heavy salt content comes from this process. Salt content is different with each variety, but the average amount of sodium found in ham is a little over 800 mg per 3 1/2 servings. If you buy a ham not already packaged in water, soak or boil it for 4 to 12 hours prior to cooking. This is especially good for lowering the salt content in country ham.

High Protein Content

All meat has high levels of protein. Ham is pork meat and it has about 18 g of protein. Protein in beneficial in keeping you full longer. Eating 1 serving of low sodium ham 1 or 2 times a week could help you lose weight.

Vitamin and Mineral Content

Ham is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. The nutrients found in ham are:

  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Niacin
  • Pantothenic Acid
  • Potassium
  • Phosphorus
  • Riboflavin
  • Thiamine
  • Zinc

Cooking Preparations

According to the USDA, fully cooked and spiral ham should be heated at a temperature of 140 degrees F. Leftover ham, including spiral, needs to be reheated at 165 degrees F. This kills any bacteria that's grown on the meat. Uncooked ham should be cooked at 160 degrees F. Use a meat thermometer to be certain of the right temperature.


Excluding unopened canned varieties, cooked and uncooked ham is best when stored in a freezer. Unopened canned meat lasts up to 9 months in the refrigerator. Opened cans go bad within a week. If you purchase luncheon meat ham, eat it within 5 days or freeze it for up to 2 months. This includes deli ham.

Ham is widely used in the United States during the holidays and special occasions. It's also great for dinner or in salads. As long as you don't consume too much, it can be a good addition to your diet.

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