If you have diabetes, you may be curious about whether you can eat ham. Generally, ham and other pork products are fine for people with diabetes because they are low in carbs, but there could be other things in ham that aren't very good for your heart health.
Read more: A Healthy Diet Can Help Manage Type 2 Diabetes — These Are the Best and Worst Foods to Eat
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Ham and Diabetes
As part of the protein group, ham is typically low in carbs, the nutrient that has the largest effect on blood sugar levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Carbohydrates break down into glucose, a simple sugar, which increases your blood sugar much more than protein and fat. If you have diabetes, you may need to limit your carb intake or eat consistent levels of carbohydrates throughout the day to manage your blood sugar levels adequately.
Note that there's one type of ham that slips over into a higher-carb category and that's honey- or brown sugar-glazed ham because of all the sugars that go into the glaze.
Let's take a look at all the nutrients you're likely to find in plain ham.
According to the USDA, a 3-ounce serving of boneless cooked ham has about:
- Calories: 127.
- Fat: 6 grams.
- Saturated fat: 2 grams.
- Protein: 17 grams.
- Carbohydrates: 1 grams.
- Sodium: 1,146 milligrams.
Looking over that breakdown, you might begin to see that there are some areas of concern such as salt and saturated fat.
Fat and Sodium Content
According to Blake Metcalf, RD, CDE, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with Morrison Healthcare in Fort Smith, Arkansas, "Ham will likely have varying amounts of saturated fat and sodium, which could be problematic if eaten in excess."
People with diabetes are at increased risk of heart disease, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and pork products, such as ham, bacon and sausage, that contain both fat and sodium may not help heart health.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting saturated fat to 6 percent of daily calories. Saturated fat plays a role in driving up cholesterol levels, which can clog arteries.
Fat aside, the amount of salt (sodium) in processed pork products from ham to bacon and sausages can be a problem because they can increase blood pressure in salt sensitive individuals, according to a scientific statement published by the AHA in the September 2016 issue of Hypertension.
Because high blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease, the American Diabetes Association recommends in its May 2019 consensus report in Diabetes Care that you keep daily sodium intake under 2,300 milligrams — be aware that a 3-ounce slice of ham has about half the salt you should have in an entire day.
However, Metcalf says, "If a person can keep their saturated fats and sodium under control and they like ham, then they should continue eating it." Think of it as a balancing act and decide what you'll give up to enjoy that ham.
Processed Meats and Cancer
Another downside of ham and other processed red meats is that they may increase your risk of colon cancer, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization.
But a study review published in November 2019 in the Annals of Internal Medicine added uncertainty to the IARC conclusion. It found that, based on existing studies, proof of processed meats' role in cancer is low. Still, many health organizations, including the National Cancer Institute, stand by their position, especially on cured red meats, like salami and bacon.
Healthier Alternatives to Ham
Looking for slash your saturated fat intake? You can still enjoy pork products.
According to the USDA, natural pork is a leaner and lower-salt alternative to processed pork products like ham, bacon and sausages. Cuts like pork chops, pork tenderloin and pork steaks are tasty and easy to prepare, and you can cut away all visible white fat before cooking.
Read more: 6 Health Risks of Eating Too Many Processed Foods
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Manage Blood Sugar"
- USDA: “Ham, Smoked or Cured, Cooked, Lean and Fat Eaten”
- Blake Metcalf, MS, RD, LD, BC-ADM, CDE, dietitian, certified diabetes educator, author, manager, Morrison Healthcare, Fort Smith, Arkansas
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke"
- American Heart Association: “Saturated Fat”
- Hypertension: "Salt Sensitivity of Blood Pressure: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association"
- Diabetes Care: "Nutrition Therapy for Adults With Diabetes or Prediabetes: A Consensus Report"
- International Agency for Research on Cancer: "Red Meat and Processed Meat: Iarc Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks To Humans Volume 114"
- Annals of Internal Medicine: “Reduction of Red and Processed Meat Intake and Cancer Mortality and Incidence: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Cohort Studies”
- National Cancer Institute: “Red Meat and Processed Meat Consumption”
- USDA: “Pork, Tenderloin, Baked”