Is Corned Beef Healthy? Calories, Nutrition and More

Corned beef is OK as an occasional treat, especially if you're sticking to the proper serving size.
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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.

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Corned beef is a cut of meat, usually brisket, that is pickled in seasoned salt brine and sliced for sandwiches or served as a main course. The cured meat packs a decent amount of calories, total fat and sodium even just by itself.

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Most corned beef is made with 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 consists of beef, water, salt, sugar and sodium nitrate — as a serving. Here's the nutritional breakdown:

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  • ​​Calories​​: 129
  • ​Total fat​​: 9 g
    • ​Saturated fat​​: 4 g
    • ​Trans fat​​: 0 g
  • ​​Cholesterol​​: 67 mg
  • ​​Sodium​​: 549 mg
  • ​Total carbs​​: 1 g
    • ​Dietary fiber​​: 0 g
    • ​​Sugar​​: 0 g
  • ​​Protein​​: 12 g

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.

Corned Beef and Cabbage Calories and Nutrition

Many people eat corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick's Day, but this festive meal does not come from Ireland's holiday menu. Corned beef and cabbage began as an Irish-American tradition in the early 1900s, according to the University of Florida Health Communications.

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Per the USDA, serving of about 1 1/2 cups of corned beef and cabbage will give you:

  • ​​Calories​:​ 222
  • ​​Total fat​:​ 9 g
    • ​Saturated fat​:​ 4 g
    • ​​Trans fat​:​ 0 g
  • ​Cholesterol​:​ 25 mg
  • ​Sodium​:​ 730 mg
  • ​​Total carbs​:​ 22 g
    • ​Dietary fiber​:​ 2 g
    • ​Sugar​:​ 5 g
  • ​Protein​:​ 12 g

Cabbage makes for a low-calorie side dish, but some cooking methods and recipes are healthier than others.

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Boiling vegetables causes the water-soluble vitamins to leach out into the water, but microwaving or steaming veggies helps to preserve these nutrients, according to Harvard Health Publishing.

Butter adds saturated fat to your corned beef and cabbage, so you can substitute it with a heart-healthy fat, such as olive oil.

Tip

If you serve cabbage with corned beef, avoid adding extra salt. Instead, flavor your cabbage with your favorite low-sodium seasonings, such as black pepper, garlic and bay leaves.

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.

Taking in more than 5,000 milligrams per day is linked to an increased risk of heart attack in people who already have high blood pressure, according to a March 2015 report in Circulation Research.

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 — 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.

Sodium Nitrate in Corned Beef

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 corn kernel, per 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.

Eating too much sodium nitrate is linked to an increased risk of developing hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid gland, by interfering with the way the thyroid absorbs iodine, an essential mineral, according to a June 2017 study in the ​European Food Safety Authority.

Sodium nitrate has been linked to blood vessel damage, 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's linked to an increased risk of diabetes.

Is Corned Beef Healthy?

Enjoying corned beef as a holiday meal or occasional treat is OK, but you should keep in mind that it's high in sodium and saturated fat — two nutrients that are bad for the heart — before making this dish a regular part of your menu.

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 has potatoes, will have significantly more carbohydrates than corned beef and cabbage, which is a low-carb dish.

The bottom line: Corned beef can be bad for you if you eat it every day or if you prepare it with less-nutritious ingredients.

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