Does Ham Make You Tired? The Truth Behind the Myth

Ham is a popular deli meat that people love to eat in sandwiches, wraps, salads and more It’s tasty, convenient and versatile But some people claim that eating ham makes them feel tired and sluggish afterwards. Is there any truth to this myth? Let’s take a closer look at the reasons why ham may or may not make you tired.

What is Ham?

First, let’s start with what ham actually is. Ham is a cut of meat from the hind leg of a pig that has been cured, smoked or cooked in some way. The curing and smoking process helps preserve the meat and gives ham its characteristic flavor

There are several different types of ham including:

  • Country ham – Dry cured and smoked, very salty
  • Baked ham – Cooked and glazed with sweet or savory glaze
  • Honey ham – Glazed with honey
  • Spiral cut ham – Sliced diagonally in a spiral cut
  • Deli ham – Precooked and pre-sliced
  • Prosciutto – Italian dry cured ham

Ham contains protein, fat, sodium, vitamins and minerals A 3 oz serving of sliced ham contains about

  • 120 calories
  • 4g fat
  • 15g protein
  • 500mg sodium
  • Small amounts of iron, potassium, zinc, vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and B12

So in terms of nutrition, ham contains protein for energy, some vitamins and minerals and sodium. Now let’s look at reasons why it may or may not make you tired.

Does Ham Contain Tryptophan?

One common theory is that ham contains tryptophan which makes you tired. Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses to produce serotonin and melatonin – hormones that regulate sleep.

Turkey is often blamed for making people sleepy after Thanksgiving meals because it naturally contains tryptophan. But does ham also have this effect?

Surprisingly, ham does not actually contain much tryptophan. A 3 oz serving of ham only has about 1/5 the amount of tryptophan found in an equivalent serving of turkey. And studies show your body would need much more tryptophan than this to cause drowsiness after a meal.

So the tryptophan in ham is unlikely to be the reason for tiredness and lethargy. There must be another cause.

Does The Saltiness Make You Tired?

Another possible culprit in ham’s sleep inducing reputation is its high sodium content. Ham is classified as a “processed meat” which means it contains certain preservatives and a higher sodium level than fresh meats.

During the curing process, ham is treated with salts, nitrates, nitrites or other preservatives which all contribute to its high sodium content. A 3 oz serving of deli ham can contain 500-1000 mg of sodium.

Consuming foods high in salt does cause fluid retention in the body. This can potentially lead to bloating, weight gain, increased blood pressure and yes – fatigue.

So if you notice yourself feeling sluggish and tired after eating salty processed ham, the high sodium is likely to blame. Too much sodium intake disrupts fluid balance in the body and causes depletion of nutrients and dehydration – all factors that can result in low energy.

Large Ham Meals Are High in Fat

In addition to sodium, another potential way ham could lead to tiredness is if you consume a large portion that’s high in fat. Many holiday and Sunday meals feature a big baked ham as the centerpiece. When you pile on servings of ham with buttery or creamy sides like mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, biscuits and gravy – it adds up to a high fat meal.

Eating a meal high in fat causes your body to direct blood flow to the stomach and intestines to help digest it. This diverts blood flow away from your brain and muscles, leading to feelings of sluggishness while your body digests. The more fat you consume, the more pronounced this effect.

So overindulging in a big high-fat ham meal causes food coma type symptoms like brain fog, sleepiness, lack of motivation and fatigue. Be mindful of reasonable portion sizes and balance the ham with vegetable sides to reduce fat and sodium.

Other Factors That Could Contribute to Fatigue

While the saltiness and fat content are the most likely reasons, there are some other factors that may come into play with ham making you tired:

  • Added nitrates/nitrites – These preservatives may cause slight vascular dilation and blood pressure drops in sensitive individuals.

  • Histamines – Ham and some cheeses contain histamine produced by bacteria during fermentation. Histamine can cause headache, flushing and fatigue in histamine-intolerant people.

  • Tyramine – Cured meats contain tyramine which can interact with MAO inhibitors and cause hypertension and migraines.

  • Dehydration – Salty sodium-rich foods like ham may cause fluid loss and dehydration if you don’t drink enough water.

  • Blood sugar spike – Large portions of ham may spike blood sugar levels, leading to fatigue when blood sugar drops again.

While most people tolerate ham just fine, these factors may explain tiredness in individuals sensitive to any of the above.

Tips to Counteract Ham Fatigue

If you notice that you often feel tired and sluggish after eating ham, try these tips to counteract the effect:

  • Moderate portions – Don’t overindulge in large servings of ham in one sitting. Aim for 3-4 oz portions.

  • Balance with veggies – Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables to balance out the sodium and fat.

  • Stay hydrated – Drink plenty of water before, during and after eating ham to counteract sodium and fluid loss.

  • Limit fat – Avoid piling on high-fat sides like cheese, mayo and buttery starches. Opt for lean proteins and fresh veggies instead.

  • Watch carbs – Higher carb sides may spike blood sugar, leading to energy crashes. Prioritize non-starchy veggies and healthy fats.

  • Get moving – Go for a short walk after eating to get digestion going and blood flowing to counteract fatigue.

  • Sleep – Make sure you get enough high quality sleep to bounce back from any overindulgence.

Making smart choices to balance out your ham meals can help prevent that heavy, sluggish feeling. But if symptoms persist, you may want to limit processed deli ham and opt for lower sodium fresh ham options instead.

Healthier Low Sodium Ham Options

To enjoy ham’s great taste without the high sodium causing fluid retention and fatigue, check out these lower sodium options:

  • Fresh uncured ham, like pork leg or shoulder – contains 50-70% less sodium than cured ham

  • Nitrate-free ham – minimally processed without nitrates/nitrites

  • Low-sodium ham – contains 50-80% less sodium than regular deli ham

  • Prosciutto – Italian dry-cured ham is lower in sodium than American wet-cured ham

  • Ham steak – Cut from the ham bone rather than processed into deli meat

When buying fresh uncured ham, choose smaller portion sizes like ham steaks or pork chops. Then avoid additional seasoning so you control the sodium content.

For deli ham, read labels and compare sodium content. Look for low-sodium, nitrate-free options with at least 50% less sodium than regular deli ham. This reduces risk of fluid retention, while still letting you enjoy the convenience of sliced ham.

Healthy Low-Fat Ham Recipes

You don’t have to avoid ham completely to prevent fatigue. By cooking fresh ham yourself and using low-fat recipes, you can reduce the likelihood of energy crashes while still satisfying your ham cravings.

Here are some healthy ways to eat ham that won’t weigh you down:

  • Ham and Swiss Omelet – Whip up a light omelet with 1 oz diced ham, spinach and Swiss. Boost protein without the heaviness.

  • Ham Salad Wraps – Toss diced ham with light mayo, dijon, celery, parsley and pickle relish. Spoon into whole grain wraps with lettuce and tomato for a nutritious portable lunch.

  • Ham and Pineapple Kabobs – Thread lean ham cubes, pineapple chunks and cherry tomatoes onto skewers for a tropical grilled treat.

  • Ham Fried Rice – Sauté 1 oz diced ham in a little oil. Add cooked brown rice, peas, carrots and eggs. Quick and delicious low-fat dinner.

  • Ham and Apple Sandwiches – Layer sliced fresh ham, sliced apple, dijon and arugula between whole grain bread. Flavorful and filling without the fat.

By choosing less processed lower sodium ham options, watching portions and balancing with veggies and lean proteins, you can still enjoy ham without the tiredness and lethargy that often follows. Listen to your body’s signals and adjust your portions if ham leaves you feeling sluggish or bloated. But in moderation, ham can be part of a healthy diet without drag.

The Bottom Line

So does ham really make you tired? The high sodium content of cured deli ham along with large or high-fat ham meals can in fact lead to fluid retention, nutrient depletion and sluggish digestion – which may result in fatigue and sleepiness. However, by choosing leaner uncured ham options, balancing with vegetables and controlling portions, you can still incorporate some ham in your diet without the unwanted tiredness. While individual factors like sodium sensitivity may vary, being mindful about your ham intake and practicing moderation is key to avoiding the infamous ham-induced fatigue.

Sleepy After You Eat?


Why do I feel sleepy after eating pork?

Pork and mutton are high-fat and tough to digest. The more difficult a dish is to digest, the more fatigued you will feel afterward. So fatty pig steaks, mutton and pork sausages, or fatty sausages can leave you feeling sleepy after a meal, especially if you ate a lot.

What foods make you the most tired?

Highly processed foods, such as some packaged or canned foods, candy, boxed meals, and precooked meats are typically full of preservatives, additives, sodium, trans fat, and artificial ingredients that may slow you down.

Why do I get tired after eating?

An amino acid called tryptophan, which occurs in many protein-rich foods, helps the body produce serotonin. Carbohydrates help the body absorb tryptophan. For these reasons, eating a meal rich in both protein and carbohydrates may make a person feel sleepy. Tryptophan occurs in foods that are rich in protein.

What’s in ham that makes you sleepy?

Foods highest in tryptophan Chicken, pork and ham, not turkey, all have higher amounts of tryptophan per serving. Other foods, such as sunflower seeds and soybeans, are also high in tryptophan but people don’t typically eat a large quantity in one sitting. Edamame is one of the few exceptions – a cup contains 195 mg.

Leave a Comment