A ham and cheese sandwich can be nutritious or unhealthy, depending on the type of bread and cheese you use as well as the condiments you put on it. It provides fiber, protein, bone-strengthening vitamins and minerals and B-complex vitamins, which help your body metabolize fat, carbohydrates and protein from food. It is high in sodium and fat, however, and if you eat ham and cheese sandwiches daily, it could contribute to the development of high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
If you put three slices of ham on your sandwich, they provide 137 calories, 14 grams of protein and 7 grams of fat. Ham is low in most vitamins and minerals, but it gives you more than your recommended daily intake for vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium and promotes healthy bones and teeth. Ham also provides half of your daily requirement for thiamine and about one-sixth of the phosphorus, zinc and niacin you need each day. Unfortunately, it also has 1,095 milligrams of sodium. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends keeping your sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams a day, so a ham sandwich added to the other food you eat could cause you to exceed that recommendation.
The nutrient facts for cheese depend on the type you use. Hard, flavorful cheeses are generally more fattening that softer cheeses. Two slices of Swiss cheese have 213 calories, 15 grams of protein and 16 grams of fat, much of which is saturated fat. Two slices of reduced-fat mozzarella cheese have 144 calories, 14 grams of protein and 9 grams of fat. Either type provides about half of your recommended daily intake for calcium and vitamin D and more than one-fourth of the phosphorus, zinc and vitamin A.
Bread also varies in nutrient content. Whole-grain bread is higher in vitamins, minerals and fiber than bread made with refined flour. Each type of bread has about 135 calories, but two slices of multigrain bread have 5.5 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber. Two slices of white bread have 4.5 grams of protein and only 1 gram of fiber. Multigrain bread provides more than 10 percent of your daily requirement for magnesium, phosphorus and niacin, while white bread provides only about half as much of those nutrients.
Although a ham and cheese sandwich provides vitamins and minerals, it is not a heart-healthy food. On average, it has about 475 calories, 33 grams of protein and 22 grams of fat. The fat totals nearly 200 calories, meaning that 42 percent of the total calories of the sandwich come from fat. The Institute of Medicine recommends that fats constitute no more than 35 percent of your calories, so a ham and cheese sandwich is a high-fat food by the IOM's standards. If you add condiments such as mayonnaise to your sandwich, you increase its calorie content by about 57 and its fat content by about 5 grams. To get optimal nutrition from a ham and cheese sandwich, use low-fat ingredients and whole-grain bread.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Nutrient Database: Ham, Sliced
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Americans Consume Too Much Sodium
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Nutrient Database: Cheese, Swiss
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Nutrient Database: Cheese, Mozzarella, Part Skim
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Nutrient Database: Bread, Multi-Grain
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Nutrient Database: Bread, White
Maia Appleby is a NASM-certified personal trainer with more than 15 years of experience in the fitness industry. Her articles have been published in a wide variety of print magazines and online publications, including the Gale Encyclopedia of Nursing and Allied Health, New Moon Network and Bodybuilding.com.