The modern sandwich contains everything from hummus to grilled eggplant or tofu, but the all-time bestseller in the sandwich world is still the humble combination of deli ham and cheese. The trouble is that eating too much deli ham might increase your risk of some serious medical problems. You don't have to completely eliminate deli meats like ham from your diet, but keep your serving size in check and rethink how often you indulge yourself at the deli counter.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's ChooseMyPlate program, a serving of cold cut sandwich lunch meat like deli ham is 1 ounce, or a slice that's 1/8 inch thick, approximately 4 1/2 inches long and 2 1/2 inches wide. This amount is equivalent to 1 ounce of other cooked meats like beef, pork or poultry, 1 ounce of fish or shellfish, 1/2 ounce of nuts, one whole egg or 1/4 cup of cooked beans or tofu.
If you're the average woman on a 2,000-calorie diet, consume about 46 grams of protein each day. To get the right amount, aim to get 5 1/2 ounces of protein-rich foods each day. It's easy to go way over this recommendation: by putting two or three slices of deli ham on your afternoon sandwich, you've already fulfilled 36 to 54 percent of a full day's protein intake. Too much protein will contribute to weight gain if you're not controlling your overall caloric intake.
A single slice serving of deli lunch meat ham contains approximately 302 milligrams of sodium. That may not seem like much, but consider that a healthy woman should have no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day, and only 1 ounce of deli ham would supply 13 percent of this limit. If you're on a sodium-restricted diet, each slice of deli ham gives you 20 percent of your daily limit. A diet that regularly contains too much sodium increases your risk of several medical problems, including stroke and heart disease.
The more servings of processed meats like deli ham you eat each day, the more likely it is that you'll end up with diabetes, cancer or heart disease, warns the Harvard School of Public Health. A study published in "BMC Medicine" in 2013 found that eating processed meat was strongly linked to a greater risk of dying from cancer or heart problems. Another study, published in the "Archives of Internal Medicine" in 2012, demonstrated that for every serving of meat like beef or pork you eat, you increase your risk of dying from heart disease.
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: What Counts as an Ounce Equivalent in the Protein Foods Group?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Protein
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Basic Report -- 07028, Ham, Sliced, Packaged (96% Fat Free, Water Needed)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Where's the Sodium?
- Harvard School of Public Health: Protein
- BMC Medicine: Meat Consumption and Mortality -- Results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition
- Archives of Internal Medicine: Red Meat Consumption and Mortality -- Results from 2 Prospective Cohort Studies
Michelle Kerns writes for a variety of print and online publications and specializes in literature and science topics. She has served as a book columnist since 2008 and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Kerns studied English literature and neurology at UC Davis.