Ham contains a healthy dose of protein and iron, but the type of ham you eat influences how nutritious the meat is. Lean deli ham is low in fat and makes a tasty sandwich, but it contains a large amount of sodium. Cured ham steaks contain small amounts of calcium and potassium, but can be higher in saturated fat than deli ham. Ham can be an occasional part of your healthy eating plan, however, if you know what to look for.
A 3.5-ounce serving of deli ham contains 3.6 grams of fat, of which less than 1 gram is saturated. A 3.5-ounce serving of ham steak contains 4.25 grams of fat, of which 1.4 grams are saturated. A diet high in saturated fat contributes to unhealthy cholesterol levels by raising harmful LDL numbers and lowering beneficial HDL numbers. You should restrict your intake of saturated fat to between 7 and 10 percent of the total number of calories you consume each day.
A 3.5-ounce serving of lean deli ham supplies 16.5 grams of the 46 to 56 grams of protein you need each day. The same serving of deli ham provides 1.6 milligrams of the 8 to 11 milligrams of zinc required on a daily basis. Zinc supports proper wound healing and boosts your immunity. Deli ham supplies a good dose of niacin for proper digestion, and potassium for a normal heart beat. A serving of ham steak contains 19.6 grams of protein and 2 milligrams of zinc. A ham steak supplies niacin and potassium as well, but in smaller doses than lean deli ham.
The large amount of sodium in most kinds of ham is a nutritional drawback to the food. The daily upper limit of sodium for most healthy adults is 2,300 milligrams. Adults over age 50, individuals with heart problems and African Americans should restrict sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams or less each day. Too much sodium can increase your risk of developing heart disease and can also contribute to an elevated risk of stroke, kidney disease and hypertension. A 3.5-ounce serving of deli ham contains 1,203 milligrams of sodium and a serving of ham steak contains 1,269 milligrams.
Cured deli ham and ham steaks contain nitrates to help preserve the meat and improve the flavor. Consuming large amounts of nitrates can cause methemoglobinemia, which occurs when your red blood cells aren't able to transport oxygen through your body properly. The nitrates in cured meats can also be broken down into nitrosamines, which are carcinogens and might be linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancer.
Opt for lean ham and look for varieties that are low in sodium. Certain brands of deli meats offer reduced-sodium ham, which increases the nutritional value of the food. Many brands also manufacture deli meats that don't contain nitrates. These varieties of ham are better for you as well. Use lean ham to make a protein-packed sandwich, or chop it into small pieces and add it to your breakfast omelet. Add ham chunks to a pasta salad, or scatter pieces over a tossed green salad to add a healthy dose of protein to your diet.