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One Major Side Effect of Eating Ham, Says Dietitian

Keep this in mind during your Easter celebrations.

With Easter right around the corner, you may be starting to plan your holiday menu. While eggs, fruit, and pastries are common breakfast and brunch items to enjoy on Easter Sunday, one of the most popular holiday proteins is ham.

Whether cubed and added to a salad, thinly sliced for an omelet addition or enjoyed as the primary protein on your plate, ham in all forms will make the menu for many families. Ham contains valuable nutrients and can be a convenient protein; however, one major side effect of eating ham is water retention.

According to the Farmers' Almanac, ham became a popular Easter food due to seasonality. Pigs were slaughtered and cured in the fall, and by the time Spring came around, families were ready to finish off their winter cured meats.

Outside of timing, ham may be a popular Easter food because it is often purchased fully cooked, making it a convenient option for family gatherings, and it is a lean protein packed with flavor.

Much of the flavor in ham comes from its high salt content. The curing process uses salt, and the USDA states that 3-ounces of cured ham contains 830 milligrams of sodium. For reference, the American Heart Association recommends adults consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, which means one serving of ham will provide over one-third of your total daily recommended intake!

sliced ham on wooden cutting board and rosemary and olive garnish

With the concentration of sodium found in ham, one of the symptoms you may notice is water retention. Swelling or puffiness in the ankles, hands, and feet are some of the less serious side effects of water retention. While it may be hard to take your rings off after a high sodium meal, your body will usually get rid of the excess sodium over the next several hours.

However, this water retention can be much more serious for those with specific health conditions. For example, high sodium intake can exacerbate water retention for those who have high blood pressure, further increasing the pressure in their vessels and leading to a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. A high sodium intake may also increase calcium loss from bones, and if prolonged over a period of time, this could mean serious bone health issues.

While most people will only experience mild discomfort from swelling in their extremities following a high sodium meal, it is important to stay mindful of total sodium intake to reduce the risk of further complications. If you are going to have a high sodium food, like ham, try to pair it with lower sodium side dishes, and foods rich in potassium. Fruits and veggies are sources of this electrolyte that helps to counter sodium in the body.

Additionally, drink plenty of water as fluids can flush excess sodium out of your system. Moderation is helpful, too, and if you are concerned about the sodium content of ham being served at your Easter get-together, enjoy a small portion and load up on other low-sodium foods.

Melissa Rifkin, MS, RDN, CDN
Melissa is a Connecticut-based registered dietitian with over 15 years of experience, including clinical and outpatient settings, and runs the popular nutrition education Instagram account, Confessionofadietitian. Read more about Melissa