Benefits of eating ham
Ham is a traditional product in the Spanish diet. There are records dating back to Roman times on eating cured ham, just like we know it today. Fun fact: the remains of a fossilised ham were found in ancient Tarraco.
According to a study carried out for the 9th World Ham Conference, drawn up by Kantar Worldpanel, this product can be found in 92% of Spanish homes, making it an important food product that is also consumed all year round. But is it healthy to eat ham?
It is fair to say that, for some time, ham has been labelled as food rich in fat and salt. At La Estrella del Jamón, we would like to clarify this because, according to its nutritional analysis, this is a very healthy product to include in our everyday diet, as demonstrated by Dr Mario Estévez, from the University of Extremadura, in his paper at the aforementioned conference.
Source of protein and vitamins
Ham is a rich source of protein with high biological value, es decir, que contienen los 9 aminoácidos esenciales no sintetizados por nuestro organismo y que debemos incluir en nuestra dieta. Fruto además de su proceso de curación, se produce una fragmentación de las proteínas en aminoácidos –see post on White dots in the ham– leading to enzyme action that also makes it easier to digest. In every 100 g of ham, we can easily find between 30 and 35 g of these proteins. In turn, ham is also an excellent source of vitamin B, above all B1 (thiamine), providing around 52% of the recommended dietary allowance, as well as B3, B6 and B2 (providing 42, 29 and 18% of the RDA, respectively). In addition, ham also contains anti-oxidants such as taurine.
In addition to the iron – which helps to transport oxygen – which is a type that is easy to absorb into the body, ham also provides a large number of minerals. They include zinc (that helps the autoimmune system work properly), potassium (eases communication between nerves and muscles), magnesium (helps enzyme activity), phosphorous and calcium (both helping to form teeth and bones). This quantity of minerals makes ham a good food to prevent osteoporosis or anaemia among other diseases.
Salt and fat
Nobody can criticise ham’s assets based on its high content in proteins, vitamins and minerals, but it is questioned for the quality of its fat and its quantity of salt. The latter is inherently linked to making the ham. Let’s say that it’s not possible to cure ham traditionally in Spain without using salt. However, the ham industry has come a long way in production processes. The use of cold chambers and controlled humidity in the first phases of the process –see post on post-salting or settling processes of the ham-, critical in terms of food safety, have made it possible to gradually reduce the quantity of salt to still get a cured product. In the case of La Estrella del Jamón, our Teruel ham D.O.P. Sierra Lindón barely has 2.47 g of salt for every 100 g of product. So, for example, if we think about the quantity of ham we put in a sandwich, that might be 45-50 g, the quantity of salt we ingest is between approximately 1.10 and 1.25 g. According to the WHO, the recommended daily allowance for salt should not exceed 5 grams for a healthy adult and 3 for anyone with high blood pressure. What’s more, the BACCHUS project involving UCAM researchers, such as Dr José Abellán, director of the Cardiovascular Risk Chair, has obtained results demonstrating the effect of some peptides present in long-cured meats that, in addition to fighting high blood pressure, might have an effect on controlling diabetes. Just like salt, every good ham contains fat. However, the quantity of fat in the ham is not as high as often thought, usually between 15 or 16 g for every 100 g of product. In addition, more than 50% of it is unsaturated fat (both mono and polyunsaturated), mainly oleic acid (present in olive oil or walnuts) with levels between 40-45% in the case of white pigs and between 56 and 58% in acorn-fed Iberian pigs. This type of fat is good for your heart, helps production of what is known as good cholesterol (HDL) and reduces the bad version (LDL).
In short, in the right quantities, ham is the perfect food to adapt to any diet and at any age, not only due to its nutritional qualities but, of course, because of its amazing flavour.