The Trouble With Ham

Paul likes ham. I mean, he really likes it. Every day he has at least one ham sandwich. He’s been making the same lunch for about fifteen years – a cookie, a carrot, a baggie of pretzels, and ham on sourdough with mustard on both pieces of bread and cheddar cheese. Every now and then, if he really wants to stir things up, he adds a piece of roast chicken or turkey. But there is always ham. You can be sure of that.

He’s a utilitarian eater and in general, I’m in favor of his lunch-making ham-eating habits. After all, it has got to be better (for the bank account if nothing else) than eating out every day.

But the other day I was in bed, listening to some morning disc jockey talk about a study that followed 120,000 men for 6.3 years and identified a significantly higher risk of stomach cancer for men who ate more than two servings of processed meats per week.

Uh-oh. I walked straight from our room to the computer in the kitchen and Googled the study. Nothing. Paul stood at the counter, making his death sandwich. I reminded him how good a tuna sandwich could be. He slapped a slice of cheddar into his mouth and looked at me suspiciously.

Later, when I was dressed and sitting at my desk, I resumed the search. I still couldn’t find anything about this study but I did find a bevy of other ham-related information. I’m guessing the evil of processed meats has something to do with nitrates but I’m not sure what. Here’s what I learned. 

Sodium nitrate is added to meats in the curing process to delay the development of bacteria, rancidity, odors and, to bring out the meats flavor and color. The American Cancer Society states that “Nitrates and nitrites are substances commonly found in cured meats. They can be converted by certain bacteria, such as H. pylori, into compounds that have been found to cause stomach cancer in animals.” (link to study)   

I guess there’s some common sense to be applied here. Too much of any one thing can be bad. A ham sandwich every day for fifteen years can’t be right. Even too much broccoli can be bad (makes me gassy, sorry, TMI, anyhoo…).  

One study of 175,000 men conducted by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) found that over nine years, 20 percent of men with the highest intakes of processed meat were 12 percent more likely to develop prostate cancer. When the researchers broke the men’s diet information down further they found that white processed meats, like poultry cold cuts, were not linked to a higher risk of prostate cancer. (link to study)

This is the point where I officially become not okay with the ham-sandwich-every-day program. I’ll sing the praises of tuna salad (I know, mercury) or almond butter and apple butter mixed with miso paste. Or, if that’s too weird for him, which it is, why not just a plain PB&J? It’s not just for kids. I’ll offer to buy his favorite jam. Notice, I offer to go to the store but that’s all.

Another study of 200,000 men and women conducted by biochemist Ute Nothlings found that those who consumed the greatest amount of processed meats had a 67 percent higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer than those with the lowest consumption. A diet rich in pork and red meat also increased pancreatic cancer risk by about 50 percent. The American Meat Institute claims that this study has not been peer-reviewed. (link to study)

By now it’s clear that Paul’s long-standing ham-eating habit must be broken.

When I told one of my HMN friends about all this she said, “Well, the good news is that he’s clearly a creature of habit. You can be sure he’ll never leave you – at least not alive anyway.” There’s always that.

Maybe I’ll even start making his damn sandwich.

5 thoughts on “The Trouble With Ham

  1. Patricia C Smith

    On NPR the other morning, they had this guy (Dr. Harry Balzer)who predicts food trends. Because it was the end of a decade, he was talking about ten year cycles. The “new thing” for the last ten years was yogurt–individual portions, many flavors, healthy. a variety of delivery forms–tubes! But here’s the bad news. When asked what people will most likely be eating in ten years, he said “ham sandwiches.” He’s basing this on experience: most popular food in 1980, ham sandwiches. 1990, ham sandwiches. 2000–well, you get the drift. He won’t predict the bread, but it will be a ham sandwich.
    Paul is both a throwback and ahead of his time.
    And he’ll never leave you!

  2. admin Post author

    Paul will be so psyched to hear this. Maybe someone will come up with a more healthy ham. Can you work on that Patricia, coming up with that healthy ham? Thanks in advance! 🙂

  3. Patricia C Smith

    I suppose organic turkey ham won’t do it–and, anyway, that has preservatives, right?
    Raise your own pigs? Josie would love a little piggy! Oh, but then they go to slaughter…

  4. Barb

    Very interesting. My dad ate deli meat sandwiches almost every day of his life and he died of eosphageal cancer at age 66. I never heard anything about any of this lunchmeat versus cancer stuff, but I know avoiding those lunchmeats is a good thing. Hmmm…

  5. Jenn

    I love how I can giggle through this whole story. You are hilarious! “death sandwich”… hah! so my question is: is Xmas ham (honey baked whatever) the same as deli meat ham?

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