Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Christmas 2018

Ham for the holidays: the challenge of choosing wisely

BMJ 2018; 363 doi: (Published 17 December 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;363:k5288
  1. Katharine Wallis, senior lecturer1,
  2. Nicholas Zwar, professor2
  1. 1Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
  2. 2Bond University, Gold Coast, Australia
  1. k.wallis{at}

A taste test for expensive jamón highlights the importance of asking the right research question, say Katharine Wallis and Nicholas Zwar

  • Jamón can be expensive

  • Depending on the taste

  • But if a man can’t tell the difference

  • It’s just a bloody waste

  • *

  • Jamón can be delicious

  • But it isn’t just the taste

  • Those pigs are walking olive trees

  • And better for your waist

Overindulgence at Christmas can blow both the budget and the waistline. Ham—though not to everyone’s taste or not in accordance with all personal, cultural, or religious beliefs—is often on the menu. It can be delicious, but cured meat intake is a risk factor for cancer, several chronic diseases, all cause mortality, and even mania. Choosing wisely and enjoying in moderation may be important.

Spanish obsession

In Spain, ham (or rather, jamón) is a national obsession. Jamón consumption dates back at least as far as the Roman empire. After Moorish occupation ended in the 15th century, eating pork found a special place in the hearts of Spanish people and was seen as a symbol of religious and political independence.

Traditionally at the time of the matanza (literally, “sacrifice”) in the early winter, family pigs were slaughtered and the hams cured with salt and air dried. Today there are …

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