Is Iberian ham fattening?

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When we talk about "dieting", most of us think of a strict diet where we eliminate many food options due to their high fat content and caloric intake. There are also many questions surrounding one of the most highly coveted products in Spanish cuisine: Iberian ham, the product that we love so much and that makes our mouths water every time we hear the name. 

But at the end of the day, does Iberian ham really make you fat? How much can we eat without it noticeably affecting our weight and health? Below we will answer these and other questions. 

How many calories are in ham?

Because of the many different types of ham that exist and the diverse ways in which the animals are fed, where they come from and how the ham is produced, there is little consensus regarding the exact number of calories contained in this product. Practically speaking, taking into account several different references, a 100 gram serving of Iberian ham provides us with between 200 and 350 calories. 
 
Since Iberian ham has the fat infiltrated into the lean part, it is almost impossible to separate. However, we should remember that due to the way that Iberian pigs are fed, their fat is rich in omegas and has many health benefits, something that has been widely studied.

On the other hand, cured ham or Serrano ham offers us a lower caloric intake when we eat only the lean part, in which case the calorie count would be very similar to any other cured ham, turkey or chicken. However, if it's eaten with the fat then the caloric intake increases and actually surpasses that of Iberian ham. 

What makes Iberian ham a good choice to include in your diet?

Let's look at a few properties that Iberian ham offers us when we include it in our diet. Thanks to its high protein content, consuming ham increases the feeling of satiety and keeps us feeling full for longer when compared to other foods.
  • In comparison with other cured meats, Iberian ham has the least amount of salt, which allows us to retain less fluid, as long as our water intake is between 1.5 to 2 litres per day.
  • Its high protein content helps maintain muscle mass, which is essential to maintaining a good metabolism.
  • It is an extremely versatile food and goes well with other health foods that are part of a balanced diet and weight control, including: vegetables (sautéed, pureed, soups, salad), fruits (melon, pineapple and apple), eggs (Spanish tortilla or hard boiled egg), dairy (on pizza) and grains (sandwiches or risotto). 

What about the Mediterranean diet? 

Iberian ham is part of the Mediterranean diet and is considered to be an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO; this diet is known for being balanced, providing numerous nutrients and health benefits, with a variety of recipes, cooking styles and products.
 
Furthermore, the Endothelium and Cardiometabolic Medicine Unit at the Ramón y Cajal Hospital in Madrid, Spain has demonstrated with several studies that consuming Iberian ham in our diets provides many benefits, and doesn't make you fat!
 
Some nutrition specialists assure us that Iberian ham is a recommended product for any healthy diet, and recommend eating between 200-300 grams a week to replace other less healthy red meats that are usually part of our diet. 

What other health benefits does ham offer? 

Iberian ham is a low-calorie meat, approximately 15% of its content is fat and this fat is rich in monounsaturated acids, mainly oleic acid (which is also found in olive oil, another product in the Mediterranean diet), which helps to increase the levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL or "good cholesterol"), reduce those of low density lipoproteins (LDL or "bad cholesterol") and control blood triglyceride levels. In addition, Iberian ham is rich in protein, iron, magnesium, zinc, water and several vitamins, among which is vitamin B3 that helps to manage stress. 
 
Other favourable effects of Iberian ham for our health and, consequently, for our diet, have to do with its nutritional effects.  These are due to how the pig is fed, especially if it receives an acorn-based diet. The more natural the pig's diet is the better, as this fills the meat with nutrients that have powerful anti-inflammatory effects at the cardiovascular level, in addition to being antioxidants. On the rest of our website, you can find additional information on the nutritional properties of Iberian products.

Iberian ham is the healthiest cured meat with the least amount of saturated fat that exists; or, in other words, it's a true culinary gem. 

Any diet in particular?

One interesting fact - a few years ago, a weight-loss diet was published that was based on the daily intake of Iberian ham and wine in combination with various food and with which you could theoretically lose 4 to 6 kilos in 4 weeks. Sounds interesting right? Its creators sought to create a diet in which people wouldn't feel restricted and could follow it without cheating or sacrificing social activities that usually include both ham and wine, taking into account the benefits of both foods.

What about athletes?

It's a proven fact that there is a direct relationship between sport and food, more specifically, between sport performance and nutrition. Depending on the sport you practice or our own individual objectives regarding our bodies, the amount of proteins, carbohydrates and fats we need will vary. Thus, people who practice any sport must follow a diet that satisfies their nutritional needs in order for the organism to function properly and maintain itself, in addition to covering the additional energy expenditure resulting from the physical activity, while also helping to increase performance. 
 
The healthy fat that comes from Iberian ham provides beneficial energy for extended periods of physical activity. In addition, its high protein content helps muscle tissue to recover. In fact, an athlete's body mostly consumes carbohydrates and proteins during the physical activity, and the proteins provided by the Iberian ham are high quality and easy to assimilate. For all of these reasons, Iberian ham is an ideal food to be included in an athlete's diet, as it allows them to make up for the extra energy expenditure that occurs when practicing sport, and offers powerful cardiovascular and antioxidant benefits. 

One of many examples is that of José Ivars López, a Spanish mountaineer who has set a challenge that only 400 people have been able to achieve: to reach the top of the highest peaks on each continent in a period of five years; a challenge known as "The Seven Summits".

In an interview, he stated that Iberian ham is an essential part of his diet during the hard days on the mountain: "In altitude, energy consumption is much faster and we need to replenish our energy quickly. For this reason, I conducted a study that was managed by the ambassador of 5 Jotas in the United Kingdom and owner of Spanish Ham Master, José Sol, about the beneficial properties of ham during these expeditions. In addition, I also think about eating it at each peak so that the descent is easier," he said. 

Who and what quantities of ham should we consume? 

  • Those on a diet: when you feel like snacking, you can eat a bit of Iberian ham and not feel guilty. It's nutritious and leaves you feeling full; maximum 30 grams.
  • Children: cured ham is rich in sodium and the additive nitrite, so children are recommended to eat it in small quantities. Iberian ham is the healthiest, although a child under 4 years old shouldn't exceed 50 grams a day.
  • Adults: Iberian ham can be consumed for your main meals in smaller quantities than other red meats due to its high protein content. You can also enjoy it with a glass of red wine whenever you want.
  • Those with food intolerances: in these cases, you should not eat ham, as it usually contains traces of gluten or glutamate. If you're overweight, it's better to choose pieces without fat. 

In conclusion…


Now we know that we can consume Iberian ham without being afraid of getting fat, quite the opposite. However, if we're following a nutritional plan under the supervision of a specialist, a good idea is to ask them and clarify any questions you may have about consuming ham and the amount you should include in your diet, as well as any other food that is to our liking. 

What no one can deny is that sliced ham served with a glass of wine and a little bit of bread, once or twice a week, doesn't represent a significant caloric intake and is a viable and unquestionably tempting option for anyone. 

After having talked about all this, if you've worked up an appetite and you'd like to enjoy some Iberian ham, why not take a peak at the section of our online store and pick out a great ham for yourself?

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