questions and answers

With so much information about the importance of having a healthy diet, it’s easy to get lost. That’s why in this section we answer some of the most frequent questions about the nutritional quality of cooked ham. Because cooked ham and a balanced diet taste good.


Are all cooked hams the same?

The range of cooked hams is very varied. Besides its different commercial categories (premium, first and second), the production process determines the end result of the product. Consequently, you can find cooked hams made with a long-maturing traditional process, which results in a superior organoleptic result, and others made using an accelerated process, which considerably optimises the yield of the product, with or without added phosphates, cooked on or off the bone, tinned or bagged, smoked, etc. Obviously, the quality between them all is different.

Compared with other meat products, cooked ham is among the most suitable for people who have to keep an eye on their cholesterol. Like all products of animal origin, cooked ham contains cholesterol but it’s one of the meat products that has the least, as it is basically lean (2% fat). It also has very positive nutritional values: source of proteins of high nutritional value, high iron and vitamin B12 content, etc. Remember, though, that eating meat should be part of a balanced and varied diet.

Due to its pleasant texture and nutritional qualities, it’s advisable for all kinds of people. In the case of older people, it’s ideal for enriching their diet with proteins. As for children, in the middle of their growth stage, eating it is a good idea thanks to its wealth of proteins and iron. Its iron content is also beneficial for women in general, as a lot of studies have shown that along with a lack of calcium, iron deficits are common in women.

Almost the whole of the pig has been used for many thousands of years, although the origins of eating cooked ham are hard to place exactly. In any event, we can say that it’s the most usual way of making ham in cold Europe, or the ‘Europe of beer’ as it’s known, and that it became known in Spain after the 1940s.

Although the name comes from Yorkshire in England, it’s curious that this name was chosen as generic for all cooked ham when York ham is, in fact, a very specific speciality that comes in a whole piece, like cured ham. The ‘official’ name of what is popularly known as York ham in Spain is cooked ham.

It’s risky and improper to put foods in competition with each other as they all complement one another. In any event, as a redder meat, cooked ham provides more iron and its levels of fat can be as low as those of poultry.

People with problems of high blood pressure and who follow a low-salt or low sodium content diet should not eat too much cured or cooked ham. In effect, ham has a high sodium content due to the injection of brine a mixture of salt, sugar and water – during the production process. If 100 g of pork contains 70 mg of sodium, the same weight in cooked ham can contain 930 mg. In any event, these figures should be put in context as many foods cooked with salt have about the same amount of sodium. Other processed foods have worse figures: 1,100 mg for cured ham and 1,200 mg for Burgos-type cheese. Therefore, people with high blood pressure should not eat cooked ham to excess as 100 g of ham contains 2.2 g of salt (sodium chloride), which would represent 30% to 40% of a person’s daily limit. In any event, the option exists of eating salt-free or low-salt cooked ham, replaced in the latter case by potassium chloride, to the detriment, it has to be said, to the taste.

Coeliacs are people with a gluten intolerance, a protein that is found in wheat, barley, oats and rye. If they eat gluten, it causes an injury to the fibres of the small intestine, which affects its ability to absorb nutrients from foods. In principle, cooked ham does not have any class of cereal. It is, though, a good idea to avoid inferior qualities and second- and third-category cold cuts as starches are added to them that may be wheat. It would also be a good idea to consult the lists published by the Federation of Coeliacs Associations to make sure that the cooked ham you buy doesn’t include any traces of gluten..

Gastroenteritis is simply an intestinal infection, so anyone affected should eat easily digestible food. This is the case of cooked ham, where its proteins are already pre-digested when eaten.

The main difference lies in the fact that the production of cooked ham doesn’t include additional fats (like in the case of cured pork loin and salted ham). They are pieces of lean meat to which other non-meat ingredients are added (basically salt and water and, depending on the quality of the product, some starches and authorised additives). Therefore, unlike other sausages (cooked Catalan botifarra, mortadella, etc.) made up of an amalgam of meats and fats, its fat content is quite a bit lower and it’s richer in proteins

Only the addition of starch or wheat, corn and potato starch is allowed in the production of cold cuts. Between 2.5% and 8% at most.

It’s worth pointing out that ham is a lean meat so anyone who’s watching their figure can eat it as a source of quality proteins and a very moderate amount of fat. Generally speaking, cooked ham contains more water – which has zero calories and less fat than the same weight in raw pork.

Although the more natural, the better (easier to find in higher categories), all the additives that are used are authorised and none of them has any special counter-indication. Contrary to widespread belief, the term ‘additive’ does not necessarily refer to ‘artificial’ products and, under no circumstances, to harmful products. Most of the additives that are used are natural: antioxidants such as vitamin C, gelling agents, etc., and they are usually used to attain a good texture and good final colour. However, all additives are authorised and they should also be included on the product label, expressed with a code: an E letter followed by three numbers.

Additives are expressed as a code that starts with the letter E, a common mark on all authorised products in the European Union After the letter, the first number shows the type of additive: 1 for colourings , 2 for preservatives, 3 for antioxidants… up to 9 for sweeteners. The second number indicates a sub-classification of each type of additive. For example, colourings will have a 0 for yellow, a 2 for red, etc. The third number identifies a specific component in a group, such as the red colourings group.

Despite what its name suggests, cooked ham or sweet ham only has a small amount of sugars, which will depend on its commercial category. It is the amount that is added when the brine is prepared that is subsequently injected into the ham. These small amounts only represent between 6 and 12 Kcal per 100 g.

The following table shows the composition of cooked ham.
Composition of cooked ham (per 100 g)
Energy (Kcal): 100 – 110
Proteins (g): 18 – 20
Carbohydrates (g): 0.5 -1.5
Fats (g): 1.0 – 3.0
Cholesterol (mg): 45 – 50
Iron: 1.0 – 2.0

Just like milk, meat naturally contains different minerals, including phosphorus. When phosphates are added to ham, it is only increasing this dose, which can go from 4,500 ppm (P2 O2) to 7,500 ppm at most. With phosphates, which are by no means harmful, the product’s ability to retain water is improved. In other words, ham without phosphates normally has less water and will, therefore, have a drier texture.