Ham vs Turkey: Which Meat is Healthier for You?

The holiday season is prime time for indulging in delicious ham and turkey meals. But when it comes to your health is one better for you than the other? I compared the nutrition profiles of these two popular meats to find out which reigns supreme. Keep reading to learn whether ham or turkey is the healthier choice.

A Quick Overview of Ham and Turkey

Before diving into the nitty gritty details let’s start with a high-level view of these two meats

  • Ham – Ham refers to pork from the hind leg that has been cured, smoked, or both. It’s a ubiquitous cold cut and holiday staple, sold pre-cooked or ready-to-eat.

  • Turkey – Turkey is poultry from domesticated turkeys, typically oven roasted and eaten both hot and cold. It’s a leaner alternative to ham.

Both meats are tasty sources of protein enjoyed year-round in sandwiches salads soups and more. But nutrition-wise, there are some clear differences.

Comparing the Nutrition Facts

After analyzing the nutrition facts side-by-side, a few key differences between ham and turkey emerge:

  • Protein – Turkey contains significantly more protein than ham. A 3 oz serving of turkey has about 25g protein vs around 18g in ham.

  • Fat – Turkey tends to be lower in total fat and saturated fat compared to ham. For example, a lean smoked ham contains around 5g fat per 3 oz versus only 1g in roasted turkey breast.

  • Sodium – This is where ham falters. Ham is extremely high in sodium due to the salt used in processing. Just 3 oz of ham can have over 1000mg sodium. Turkey only has around 60mg sodium for the same serving size.

  • Nitrates – Ham contains preservatives like sodium nitrite to prevent bacterial growth. Turkey does not contain added nitrates.

So turkey edges out ham in some key healthy categories. But ham does have some nutritional benefits as well.

The Benefits of Ham

Though high in sodium, ham can be part of a healthy diet in moderation. Here are some of its nutritional perks:

  • Excellent source of protein – Ham still provides high quality, satisfying protein.

  • Contains zinc and iron – Ham provides more of these minerals than turkey.

  • Variety of B vitamins – Ham offers a good array of energizing B vitamins like B1, B12, niacin, and riboflavin.

  • Potassium – Ham contains more potassium than turkey, which helps regulate blood pressure.

Overall, ham offers lots of nutrition in compact servings. Those on low-carb, paleo or keto diets often rely on ham for meals. Just be mindful of portion sizes.

What Gives Turkey the Edge?

When comparing ham vs turkey, turkey comes out on top for several reasons:

  • Lower in sodium – Turkey only contains around 60mg sodium per serving, compared to over 1000mg in ham. This is crucial for those monitoring sodium intake.

  • Lower in fat – Turkey is significantly leaner, with a 3 oz serving containing around 1-2 grams of fat vs 4-8g in ham.

  • Lower in nitrates – Turkey does not contain added sodium nitrite like ham deli meat. Nitrites may be linked to cancer.

  • Higher in protein – You’ll get around 25g protein per 3 oz of turkey, great for building muscle. Ham has closer to 18g.

  • Rich in selenium – Turkey is a top source of the antioxidant mineral selenium, which supports immunity.

  • Versatility – Turkey can more easily be used as a lower-fat substitute for recipes calling for ham.

So for those focused on healthy eating, turkey generally aligns better with nutrition goals.

Health Impacts of Ham vs Turkey

The differences in nutrition profiles translate to some differences in potential health impacts as well.

  • Heart health – The high sodium and nitrates in ham make turkey better for heart health, as these factors increase risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.

  • Cancer – Studies link processed meats like ham to increased cancer risk, whereas turkey shows a neutral or potentially protective effect.

  • Diabetes – Replacing red and processed meats with poultry may lower diabetes risk. Turkey is favored over ham.

  • Obesity – Turkey’s lower fat content makes it better for maintaining a healthy weight.

Of course, ham can be enjoyed in moderation by healthy individuals as part of a balanced diet. But turkey offers clear advantages for those concerned about specific health conditions.

Tips for Enjoying Ham and Turkey Healthfully

At the end of the day, both ham and turkey can be part of a nutritious diet. Here are some tips for healthy enjoyment:

  • When buying ham, opt for low-sodium varieties to limit excess salt. Rinsing canned ham can also reduce sodium.

  • Stick to leaner ham options like 96% fat-free Black Forest ham to limit fat intake.

  • Enjoy ham and turkey in smaller portions as part of sandwiches, salads, omelets and other mixed dishes.

  • Roast or grill turkey skinless and trim visible fat to maximize leanness.

  • Include plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains along with moderate amounts of meat.

  • Limit consumption of processed meats overall, as recommended by health authorities.

The Verdict: Turkey is the Healthier Choice

When comparing ham vs turkey, turkey emerges as the healthier choice thanks to its lower sodium, fat, and nitrates coupled with higher protein. However, ham can absolutely be enjoyed in moderation as part of a varied diet. To maximize nutrition, look for low-sodium ham options and lean turkey cuts. With some savvy choices, you can savor the flavors of both meats while optimizing your health.

Think deli meats are healthy alternative? Studies suggest limiting consumption for health reasons


Is turkey healthier than ham?

While it’s higher in fat and cholesterol than ham, with about double the cholesterol, fresh turkey meat is richer in vitamins, protein, phosphorus, copper and magnesium.

Why should you eat ham instead of turkey?

Ham contains higher amounts of thiamine, also known as, vitamin B1, which enables the body to use carbohydrates as energy. In other words, Ham contains a vitamin that is essential for improving your metabolism! Ham also has low saturated fat content.

What is the healthiest lunch meat?

It’s true that whether you’re getting it fresh from the farm or (not-so) fresh out of a can or package: Not all meat is created equal. If you’re looking for the healthiest lunch meat option, choose the leanest cuts of deli meat possible, such as turkey, chicken breast, lean ham or roast beef.

What deli meat is not processed?

Fresh chicken, turkey, beef, pork and fish that have not been modified are considered unprocessed meats.

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