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Here's How Much Sodium And Additives Are In Pre-Cooked Hams

Smoked ham with rosemary and mustard. Selective focus.
Smoked ham with rosemary and mustard. Selective focus.
A Smithfield spiral sliced ham
A Smithfield spiral sliced ham

After Christmas, Easter is the biggest time of year for ham. A look at the increased number of giant hams at the supermarket is a testament to this fact. If you’re planning on buying a ham this year, there’s something you should think about first: what exactly is in that pre-cooked, store-bought ham? The ingredient list is longer than you might expect.

We got to the bottom of this for you. Here are the lists of ingredients for three common store-bought brands of ham. They have varying lengths of ingredient lists. Take a look:

Smithfield Brown Sugar Cured Spiral Sliced Half Ham

Ingredients: Water, Contains 2% or less Dextrose, Salt, Potassium Lactate, Corn Syrup, Sodium Phosphates, Brown Sugar, Sodium Diacetate, Sodium Erythorbate, Sodium Nitrite.

A 3-ounce serving contains 760 mg of sodium. That’s 32 percent of our daily intake value (DV). The DV sets limits and recommendations on what constitutes a healthy intake based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Hormel Premium Hardwood Smoked Spiral Sliced Bone-In Ham

Ingredients: Cured with Water, Salt, Potassium Lactate, Dextrose, Modified Potato Starch, Dehydrated Pork Stock (Dehydrated Pork Stock, Natural Flavors), Sodium Phosphates, Sodium Erythorbate, Sodium Nitrite.

A 3-ounce serving contains 820 mg of sodium. That’s 34 percent of our DV.

Hillshire Farm Brown Sugar Cured Spiral Sliced Ham

Ingredients: Glazed with water, brown sugar, yellow corn meal, xanthan gum, spices, caramel color. Cured with water, brown sugar, contains 2% or less of: salt, sodium lactate, sodium phosphate, sodium diacetate, natural flavors, modified corn starch, spice extractives, sodium erythorbate, sodium nitrite.

A 3-ounce serving contains 1,050 mg of sodium. That’s 44 percent of our DV and more than a Big Mac, which contains 950 mg.

Now that you’ve seen them all listed out, let’s get to the bottom of what’s what. The first three ingredients below are found in all of the hams listed above. The next four ingredients are found in one or more. You’ll notice that sodium shows up in more than one form.

1. Sodium Phosphate is a sodium salt of phosphoric acid and is a common additive in processed meat. It helps keep meat moist, which is one quality a lot of people want in their ham..

2. Sodium Erythorbate is the sodium salt of erythorbic acid. It is a food additive used to keep food fresh.

3. Sodium Nitrite is used as a preservative to fight the growth of harmful bacteria. Chances are you’ve probably heard about sodium nitrite and how you’re supposed to stay away from them. Nitrites have been linked to cancer.

4. Potassium Lactate is a mineral salt that is used as a flavoring agent and a humectant, which means it helps food retain moisture.

5. Sodium Diacetate is a salt of acetic acid. It is food preservative used as an antimicrobial agent.

6. Dextrose is a simple sugar derived from corn. It is used widely in packaged foods as a sweetener.

7. Corn Syrup. Yup, it shows up in our hams, too.

8. Xanthan Gum, which also aids the bacteria that grows on broccoli, is a very popular food additive. It’s often used as a thickening and emulsifying agent.

Here’s the biggest takeaway you can glean from all this: There is a lot of sodium in your store-bought ham. And there are also a lot of preservatives. And sugar. If you don’t want all those extra ingredients in your holiday ham, you might want to consider making your own and controlling the amount that you add. We have a lot of recipes that are completely feasible for even the novice cook. Check them out below.

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