Baked Ham, Lightened Up

Baked ham can be healthy, but it can also be a sugar and sodium disaster. Learn to avoid the common pitfalls and how to create a healthier centerpiece for your holiday feast -- or for dinner anytime of year.
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When I used to teach at a culinary school, my bonus each year was a ham (I know, a ham!). Baked ham can be healthy, but it can also be a sugar and sodium disaster. Avoid the common pitfalls and create a healthier main course for your holiday feast -- or for dinner any time of year.

Nutrition Facts

First of all, yes, ham is a lean meat. Glazed ham -- with bone-in -- is about 190 calories and 11 grams of fat per serving (that's about 3 ounces). However, typical glazed ham recipes usually suggest a 1-pound serving per person, which ups those figures to 760 calories with 44 grams of fat. Also, a typical 3-ounce portion of ham has 860 milligrams of sodium (or about 36% of your daily sodium needs). Factor that towards a larger, more traditional portion and that puts you at about 150% of your daily sodium needs.

The Sugar

The sweet and savory combination of ham and fruit are an Easter favorite. Most folks make their homemade glaze with honey, brown sugar, raisins or even pineapples. Other fruits to try are pears, apples, cranberries, peaches or oranges. Rather than honey or fruit juice, why not make a glaze with whiskey or brandy? About 90% of the calories and alcohol are eliminated once the alcohol is cooked.

Of course, you can always use half the amount of brown sugar or honey, but sometimes you just want the real deal. If you just can't bear to de-sweeten your ham, consider lightening up some of your other sweet dishes -- maybe skip the marshmallows on your yams or forgo a sugar-heavy dessert.

The Salt

Traditional hams are smoked or cured, which is the main reason for those high sodium levels. Paired with sodium-heavy sauces such as Worcestershire or chicken broth, your sodium totals will skyrocket even more. The simplest trick is to cut the salty ingredients by half or go for the low-sodium version of usual ingredients (i.e. low-sodium chicken broth).

[Editor's note: check out some more salt-cutting tips from our readers below]

Size Does Matter!

Yes, it's a holiday, but portions still count on Easter (and you want leftovers, don't you?). As I said, traditional recipes often call for a 1-pound serving of meat. To keep calories, salt and fat under control, opt for a smaller-sized ham and slice it in small pieces. Aim for about 3-4 ounces of ham per person (that's about the size of your palm). Then fill up on fresh side dishes -- with all the spring veggies coming into season, there are many options.

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