Is the ham sandwich healthy and should it be banned? Dietitian Susie Burrell explains amid Cancer Council health warning

At the start of a new school week, it’s safe to say that nothing will anger overwhelmed parents more than poor execution. public health message warning of the dangers of school sandwich fillings.

Especially when the alternatives on offer include a Mediterranean vegetable pita or a turkey, avocado and apple pancake. let’s be honest, most adults don’t have as much time (or money) to invest in their own lunchnot to mention preparing a packed lunch (which will actually be eaten) for a number of young children.

But in the interest of public health, let’s cut to the chase: Should ham and processed meats in general be banned?

READ MORE: “In Defense of the Humble Ham Sandwich”

Susie Burrell explains how bad a ham sandwich really is. (Getty)

The World Health Organization classifies processed meats, including salami, sausages, bacon and devon, as grade 1 carcinogens, meaning increased consumption is associated with an increased risk of developing cancer , especially bowel cancer.

Red meat and processed meat contain chemicals that can damage the lining of the gut, which can lead to bowel cancer. The preservatives used in processed meat in particular also produce these chemicals.

As with many areas of nutrition, the reality is a bit more complicated.

Not everyone who eats processed meat will develop bowel cancer. Rather, whether or not individuals develop cancer will depend on a range of other variables, including genetics, habitual food intake, alcohol consumption, among other factors.

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Heart healthy foods
The World Health Organization classifies processed meats as grade 1 carcinogens.

In the diet of an individual who consumes large portions of red and processed meat, as part of a high fat diet with minimal fresh foods, the overall risk is higher. For someone who consumes a ham sandwich on wholemeal bread each day, along with seven to ten servings of fresh fruits and vegetables and minimal processed foods, the risk is significantly lower.

This is the challenge of targeting a single food within a mixed and varied diet.

There’s also a big difference in the range of processed meats you can find – some are low in fat, some are nitrate-free, and some have a lot more protein and less sodium.

They are not all and one the same thing, nor is it something that the studies on which these recommendations are based make any difference when making these general statements.

This does not mean that the ham is too healthy. It’s a processed food, it offers much less protein than other high-protein, less-processed foods like tuna or eggs, and it’s extremely high in sodium. As such, like many processed foods, it’s best eaten in moderation rather than as an everyday sandwich filling choice.

Even better would be to focus on improving the quality of lunch box contents in general, with higher quality wholemeal bread, more fresh fruits and vegetables, and fewer processed snack foods.

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Mother and daughter cutting a sandwich.
Better would be to focus on improving the quality of the contents of the lunch box in general. (Getty)

In this context, a few slices of ham a few times a week are less of a concern. Indeed, no pediatric dietician who is also a parent is naive enough to think that Moroccan cauliflower sandwiches are going to cut it with the average child.

So where are we? Should we stop buying ham?

The best advice is to mix up the sandwich fillings as much as possible, and whenever possible remember that whole protein foods, such as leftover chicken breast, eggs, tuna or salmon, are better options. Including processed meat in the sandwich that is lean and occasionally reduced in salt is probably better for our long-term health, as is increasing vegetable intake and choosing higher quality bread.

Better yet, let’s use public health messaging to target processed meat manufacturers to make better, low-salt, preservative-free products and create innovative products that are better for everyone’s health.

This is where the energy of public health organizations is much better spent and leaves the consumer message to clinicians who are much more knowledgeable about the everyday stressors the average family faces, especially when it comes to packaging. an attractive and nutritious school lunch box.

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Author Susie Burrel is a leading Australian dietitian and nutritionist, founder of shape meco-host of The nutritional couch Podcast and prominent media spokesperson, with regular appearances in print and television commenting on all areas of diet, weight loss and nutrition.

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