The fat of Iberico bellota ham contains over 55% oleic acid (a mono-unsaturated fatty acid). Rigorous scientific studies have shown that these fats exercise a beneficial effect on cholesterol in the blood by increasing the amount of good (HDL) cholesterol and reducing bad (LDL) cholesterol. Only virgin olive oil has a higher oleic acid content.
The total proportion of unsaturated fatty acids in cured Pata Negra hams that have consumed a diet of acorns is over 75%, making it the most "cardiohealthy" of all animal fats, even healthier than some fats of plant origin. The breed of pigs is not the only explanation; their staple diet of acorns and grasses also plays an important role.
In addition to its beneficial effect on cholesterol, Iberico ham provides proteins, vitamins B1, B6, B12 and folic acid, all highly beneficial for the nervous system and proper functioning of the brain. It is also rich in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant, and in minerals such as copper, essential for bones and cartilage; calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus and finally, selenium, which has been attributed with antiaging properties.
With regard to calories, 100 grammes of Iberico bellota ham provides less than 250 kcal (roughly the same as bread) meaning that, eaten in moderation, it can be included in low calorie diets.
It is also an excellent substitute for red meat: 100 grammes of ham contain 43 grs. of protein.
The salt is virtually the only part of the ham that is a little unhealthy. To reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, the WHO recommends a maximum daily salt intake of 5 grams (even less for children and adolescents) but the global average is twice this amount, lying somewhere between 8 and 11 grams.
Iberian ham has the lowest salt content of all hams (between 2.5% and 4.5%), followed by Serrano ham (5%), Bayonne ham (5.5%) and Parma ham (5.7%). The secret lies in the genetic make-up of the Iberian pig, as its marbled fat and the higher pH levels of its meat prevent the salt from penetrating. When compared to other food products, it is on a par with Roquefort cheese or olives, for example.
Unfortunately, salt is a necessary ingredient in the production of ham, as the meat would rot without it. It also acts as a flavour enhancer; a ham with less than 2.5% salt content would taste insipid and even have an unpleasant texture on the palate.