Among food products that have become popular in the US, SPAM food takes pole position as one of the most popular food products of all time. Let’s take a look at the numbers to understand how it has carved a category of its own. Annually, 122 million cans of SPAM are sold in the US, and it is forms the diet in 30% of the households in the US. With such a huge base of users, it certainly is a winner in terms of numbers. However, there are claims and counterclaims that SPAM is unhealthy. Buyers are often confused, caught in the midst of this debate. So, Is spam healthy? Is it safe to eat, or will it create health complications? It is time to get out the facts and look beyond superficial claims to answer the question conclusively and in an unbiased manner, from a health perspective. Let’s take a structured approach to get to the truth.
What is SPAM? Is spam healthy?
SPAM is a food product that comprises six ingredients – pork, potato starch, salt, sodium nitrite, sugar and water. The product witnessed incremental improvements over the years and is presently available in more than 44 nations worldwide. Despite the bad press associated with it, it is quite popular with a die hard following. Sales of SPAM cans spiraled during recession when other options were far too expensive and beyond the reach of the common man. The ability of the manufacturers to keep the products costs low was mainly as a result of using pork shoulder as the source for the pork meat. Pork shoulder was considered as a byproduct which was not particularly a favorite among buyers of pork meat. By utilizing this portion and mixing it with other ingredients the manufacturer was able to turn it around and make it a low priced, popular recipe that soon shipped globally.
This now brings us to the question – Is spam healthy? Let us take at the category of the product to get a better perspective. SPAM is processed meat. All processed foods are generally regarded as unhealthy. This because the manner in which the meat is processed and canned makes it a lot different from fresh meat. The addition of chemicals is generally necessary in the processing, and this causes health hazards. For instance, certain illnesses are linked to processed meat – hypertension, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), heart ailments and stomach/bowel cancer. It is important to add here that are no conclusive findings that categorically link these diseases to the consumption of processed meat. Studies typically look at cases of people with these conditions and ascertain their eating habits. This forms the basis for the linking of processed meat with these diseases. However, the large number of people with the disease and similar eating habits has been the basis for the linking.
Is spam healthy? What is the role of sodium nitrite in processed meat?
The process of canning SPAM involves the following – pork meat is grounded, following which it is flash cooled and blended with other ingredients, in mixers. This moves through a conveyor pipe to be filled in cans which are sealed, stored and shipped. Here, sodium nitrite is one of the ingredients in SPAM, used as a preservative. It is used to ensure that the preserved meat retains its red/pink color. It is also used for stopping the growth of bacteria, which is responsible for possible food poisoning. The flavor is also maintained by preventing the meat from turning rancid which is mainly because of oxidation. Sodium Nitrite is synthetically made unlike sodium nitrate which is a natural substance created as a result of photosynthesis. It is believed to contain cancer causing substances that are attributed to the Nitroso compounds that are formed from sodium nitrite. Naturally occurring forms of nitrate are beneficial for health, as the intake quantity is moderate. However, when used as a preservative, the possibility of stronger concentrations are high, which pose a health hazard. Before we conclusively answer the question – Is spam healthy – it is time to look at how nitrosamines are formed. N-nitroso compounds, are created when the processed meat is exposed to high temperatures during preparation of the canned products. The possibility of adverse health conditions are attributed to these N-nitroso compounds – including cancer of the bowel.
Is spam healthy? What is nutrition breakup of SPAM in typical servings?
A typical serving size of 50 ounces of SPAM delivers Sodium that is actually one third of the recommended daily intake of Sodium. Similarly, every serving of the same portion delivers 15 grams of fat. While other nutrients are healthy, some of the required nutrition is missing – such as proteins. This does not make it the most nutritious food product. Additionally, the possibilities of adverse health effects put it in a category of not the most desirable of food products.
High sodium intake is linked to high blood pressure. Individuals who suffer from hypertension are advised to cut down the amount of salt/sodium in food. However, SPAM delivers as much as one third of the recommended daily dietary intake. And it is impossible to separate sodium from food products. As a result, a double serving will seriously impact the health of individuals who are advised to cut down sodium intake. Healthy individuals who cut down on sodium/salt intake in other food products can take limited portions of SPAM without being affected by the high levels. There is no binary response to the question Is spam healthy because the outcome differs from individual to individual. For instance, a healthy person can consume limited portions of SPAM and control intake of sodium/fat in other products. This will prevent adverse effects from the nutrient profile of the product. Individuals who are diagnosed with conditions such as high blood pressure, or heart ailments would do well to stay away from SPAM.
Regardless of the health condition of the individuals, the effect of sodium nitrite will be the same on all individuals who consume SPAM. Therefore it is possible to broadly classify SPAM in the following manner – it as not the most healthiest of options for all individuals, it is relatively safe for healthy adults when consumed in moderation with controlled intake of sodium and it is unhealthy for individuals with pre-existing conditions. Individuals who are advised to stay away from fat should avoid SPAM as the fat content is relatively higher when compared to fresh meat products. As a result of higher fat, the amount of calories consumed with multiple servings of SPAM makes it unhealthy.
Why Is spam healthy? Why is there a call to avoid SPAM?
SPAM preparation is one of the most convenient. It does not require much time and effort to prepare it. This makes it popular and is one of the reasons why it is sought after, in addition to the low costs. And this is precisely why there is a call for individuals to avoid it. Its convenience makes it popular among users for routine and repeat preparation. Individuals who consume SPAM as a matter of routine and those who take multiple servings of SPAM will put themselves at the risk of health complications over a period of time. Bottomline – SPAM consumption in moderation among healthy individuals is relatively safe, while it is unhealthy for individuals with restrictions on diet.