Corned beef definitely isn't the most nutritious cut of meat out there, so it's something you probably want to enjoy once in a while — like on St. Patrick's Day! — rather than making it a regular feature on your dinner rotation.
While each corned beef recipe is different from another, the cured meat packs a decent amount of calories, total fat and sodium even just by itself.
But it's not just that. Most corned beef also contains a preservative called sodium nitrate. While it appears that small amounts are OK to eat, the jury is still out on what effect larger amounts can have on your health over time. Find out if corned beef is bad for you and how to include it as part of a healthy diet.
Corned Beef Calories and Nutrition
The USDA defines 2 ounces of cooked corned beef — which contains beef, water, salt, sugar and sodium nitrate — as a serving. Here's the nutritional breakdown:
- 129 calories
- 12 grams of protein
- 9 grams of total fat
- 4 grams of saturated fat
- 67 milligrams of cholesterol
- 1 gram of carbohydrates
- 549 milligrams of sodium
But keep in mind that this is for a 2-ounce serving. With larger portions, you could be taking in way more calories, fat and sodium than you intend.
Of course, if your corned beef recipe has added ingredients, the nutrition facts will change based on what you're putting in. For example, corned beef hash, which also contains potatoes, will have significantly more carbohydrates than corned beef and cabbage, which is a low-carb dish.
Sodium in Corned Beef
One of the major concerns with corned beef is its sodium content, which is especially important if you have high blood pressure.
According to a March 2015 report published in Circulation Research, a sodium intake of more than 5,000 milligrams per day is linked to an increased risk of adverse cardiac events, like heart attack, in people who already have high blood pressure.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day — or even better, no more than 1,500 milligrams per day, especially for those with high blood pressure.
While an occasional corned beef meal isn't likely to cause a problem — especially if you're following a diet that consists of mostly whole foods — your overall intake of sodium is something that you want to pay attention to. If you're eating a lot of processed foods and cured meats, you may be taking in more sodium than you realize.
Be Wary of Sodium Nitrate
Before refrigeration was a thing, people used to preserve the meat used to make corned beef by dry-curing it in pellets of salt that were about the size of a kernel of corn, according to the Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. That's how corned beef got its name.
Nowadays, corned beef is made with sodium nitrate — a chemical preservative that's also responsible for its pinkish color. But while the jury is still out on the health effects of sodium nitrate, there's some research that indicates the preservative can have some negative health effects.
According to a June 2017 study in the European Food Safety Authority, eating too much sodium nitrate is linked to an increased risk of developing hypothyroidism, or an underachieve thyroid gland, by interfering with the way the thyroid absorbs iodine, an essential mineral.
Sodium nitrate might damage your blood vessels, which can cause hardening and narrowing of the arteries — a condition known as atherosclerosis that can lead to heart disease, stroke, peripheral artery disease and kidney problems, per the Mayo Clinic. Sodium nitrate may also interfere with the way your body uses sugar, a problem that can increase your risk of diabetes.
- Mayo Clinic: "Does the Sodium Nitrate in Processed Meat Increase My Risk of Heart Disease?"
- Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences: "Why Is Corned Beef Pink?"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Corned Beef"
- European Food Safety Authority: "Re‐Evaluation of Sodium Nitrate (E 251) and Potassium Nitrate (E 252) as Food Additives"
- Circulation Research: "Sodium Intake and Cardiovascular Health"
- Frontiers in Endocrinology: "Sodium and Its Role in Cardiovascular Disease – The Debate Continues"