February 1, 2012

Processed meats, like spam, linked to Diabetes Risk

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It’s spam, not SPAM (specifically), that shows a link to diabetes risk. SPAM is a brand-name pork product. The lowercase term is used to describe any kind of processed, canned meat. Native Americans who often consumed these processed meats in a can had a two-fold increased risk of developing diabetes over those who ate little or none, according to a U.S. study.

The rate of diabetes among Native Americans is particularly high  considering almost  half the population has the condition by age 55. This study examined the consumption of canned meats in Native American reservations. Canned meats are a common food on reservations, one subsidized by the government .

None of the survey participants had diabetes at the start of the study. The average age of study participants was 35. They answered questions about diet and other health and lifestyle factors.

A follow-up survey, after 5 years, found that 243 people had developed diabetes. Among the 500 people in the original study group who ate the most canned processed meat, 85 developed diabetes. In contrast, among the 500 people who ate the least amount of spam, just 44 developed the disease.

Sodium nitrate (NaNO3) and its close relative sodium nitrite (NaNO2) are preservatives that are found in  processed meats. The same preservatives that extend the shelf life of canned meats can impair the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. This may lead to numerous conditions that adversely affect the the body.  

The consumption of processed meat, such as spam, but not unprocessed red meat, was associated with higher risk of diabetes in American Indians. The extenuating circumstances of a rural population at high risk of diabetes with limited access to healthy foods give plausible reason to conclude that the American Indian population is at a higher risk for developing diabetes.

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