Dr. Sunil - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Sunil

Is Ham Bad For You?

Also Known As: cured pork



Short answer

Ham refers to meat from the upper part of a pig’s leg. Ham provides some good vitamins, minerals and protein but it is high in cholesterol and sodium. Factory farming of pigs also poses a health risk.



Recommended Alternative

Long answer

Ham is the cut of meat from a pig’s hind leg. Unprocessed meat is referred to as fresh ham, but most ham goes through a curing process after which is it referred to as cured ham. Ham can be cured by salting the surface, immersing in brine with seasonings or injecting the meat with brine.  After ham is cured it can be smoked.

From a nutritional standpoint grass fed organic ham is a good source of riboflavin, vitamin B6, potassium thiamin, niacin, phosphorus, copper and selenium. Ham is a good source of protein but it is high in sodium and cholesterol. 

Because of the great demand for meat that comes from pigs, factory farming has become epidemic.  Pigs are raised in horrible unsanitary conditions and female pigs are raised in tight “gestation crates” and lay in their own filth. The excrement causes high levels of ammonia in the air and respiratory illness is common. The pigs are injected with antibiotics.  These drugs are now part of our food chain and due to the excess of antibiotics used there is substantial concern that antibiotic resistance will continue to rise in humans that consume meat.

Another product to avoid is processed deli ham. Deli ham has been treated with sodium nitrates that have been linked with cancer.  Nitrates are used to cure the ham and to prevent the growth of deadly bacteria.  Nitrates prevent spoilage and give ham its flavor.  Nitrates combine with the amino acids in the ham and create nitrosamines which are felt to be the main carcinogenic components. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO), concluded that processed meat can cause colorectal cancer in humans, classifying it as a Group 1 carcinogen. Deli meats are high in sodium which can pose a problem with cardiovascular issues-especially high blood pressure. Processing may also involve smoking of the ham which can lead to the formation of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).  PAH have the ability to block the protector gene that is associated with breast cancer-thus increasing the risk of this cancer.

Being an informed consumer is important when it comes to choosing what you ingest. Knowing the source of your ham is essential for making a healthy choice. If the pigs are pasture-raised and the pigs live in their natural setting eating pig-appropriate food, then ham can certainly be a nutritious part of your diet. Once it is properly raised it should also be preservative (primarily nitrates) free.



Possible short-term side effects

  • elevated blood pressure

Possible long-term side effects

  • possible carcinogenic compounds
  • high cholesterol
  • elevated blood pressure
  • weight gain

Ingredients to be aware of

  • sodium nitrates


  • good source of riboflavin, vitamin b6, potassium, thiamin, niacin, phosphorus, copper and selenium
  • good source of protein

Healthier alternatives

  • organic grass fed options

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Applegate Uncured Ham

  • No added nitrates
  • Family-sized pack
  • Natural ingredients
  • 10.5 oz quantity
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Dr. Becky Maes
Published on: 01-23-2018
Last updated: 12-15-2023

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Dr. Becky Maes
Published on: 01-23-2018
Last updated: 12-15-2023

Random Page

Check These Out!