Back in the day when none of us knew any better, Spam — in all of its mottled, chunky-textured, shelf-stable glory — seemed like a relatively harmless, utterly convenient and seriously budget friendly foodstuff, and for all intents and purposes, it actually was. There’s no denying that the tinned meat product came to the rescue of countless homemakers during a time in our nation’s history when the impossibly drawn out, post-World War II economic depression continued taking its toll on families, lifestyles and overall demeanors. Suddenly, affordable dinnertime pizzazz was once again within reach – a fact that made many a family cook and avid meat-eater kick up their heels in celebration.
Hormel, the brainchild behind the edible protein-packed creation, ultimately earned countless Spam fans – in fact, the rectangular meat’s enduring pop culture presence has for numerous decades not only been felt stateside and abroad but everywhere in between. From Monty Python’s 1970s comedic ode — which ultimately paved the way for the title of a subsequent mid-90s Broadway play called Spamalot – all the way to an ever-changing array of kitschy consumer trinkets and Spam’s integral involvement in Hawaiian ‘sushi’, there’s been no stopping the shelf stable amalgam of assorted pork morsels bound together with potato starch. Oh, but it’s so much more than that. If you’ve ever had a deep curiosity about what Spam really is and whether or not you should actually be eating it, the following facts should clear up all the haze:
SPAM – WHAT THE HECK IS IT?
Jay Hormel set his sights on making the most of underutilized pork shoulders, and after a long recipe tweaking process and refined storage technique, he scored a veritable jackpot with Spam, a catchy name that referenced the ‘spiced ham’ loaf found within. Years later, the meaty mealtime staple would be made with a combination of finely chopped pork shoulder as well as additional cured ham… but wait, there’s more! Traditional Spam also contains salt, sugar, water, potato starch and sodium nitrate.
OKAY… SO NOTHING TO WRITE HOME ABOUT, RIGHT?
If you’re partial to highly processed meat products such as hot dogs, sausages and certain deli meats, then yes, very little about Spam may seem terribly earth-shattering. However, when you look below the surface, you begin to realize that a single 2 ounce portion provides the body with a sizable amount of:
- FAT: 16 grams of fat to be exact, 6 of which are saturated — you know… the triglyceride-laden kind that bumps up low density lipoprotein/overall blood cholesterol levels, placing greater strain on the cardiovascular system. Plus, it’s connected to the development of many of our modern culture’s most deadly cancers.
- SALT: The USDA recommends that healthy adults consume less than 2,300 mg of salt every day and those 50+ years of age or individuals who are diagnosed with persistent ailments such as chronic kidney disease, hypertension or diabetes just 1,500 mg daily. Given that a 2 ounce portion of Spam contains 790 mg of sodium, you might just want to keep a blood pressure monitor within arm’s length…
- SODIUM NITRATE: While fat and salt aren’t exactly demonic when consumed in moderation, once sodium nitrate enters the picture, things become more than a little iffy. This popular meat preservative is admittedly great at staving off the growth of botulism bacteria – the life threatening toxin that can lead to paralysis and even respiratory failure – but studies have found that the nitrate preservatives in a modest 50 gram portion of processed meat are a significant risk factor for coronary heart disease and diabetes. Hormel isn’t forthcoming about the actual sodium nitrate content in each 2 ounce portion of their canned hammy blend, but based on their admission of sky-high levels of plain old sodium, it’s probably safe to say that your organs could conceivably take a beating.
WHAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE?
To be fair, Spam can actually be perceived as a somewhat green product since it utilizes cuts of pork that are normally deemed less than desirable — you know, what some might view as dog food worthy — so if you’re a huge ‘nose-to-tail’ proponent, then every time you tuck into a fried Spam sandwich (or a hot dog for that matter), you’re technically doing your part to lighten the burden on our landfills. On the other hand, that menu choice – if indulged in on a regular basis – could likely come at the sacrifice of your internal organs… but as an occasional guilty pleasure? Perhaps. Canned foods are also guilty of carrying the toxic chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) which has been linked to a host of health issues. So, you decide.
Image via lovelihood
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