SPAM has been a staple in American households for decades, but with an increasing consumer focus on health, its ingredients are coming under the microscope. The meat comes in a can and is convenient, but may not be the best for your health.
In this article we’ll review the ingredients in SPAM, explain why we think it’s bad for you based on medical research, and offer some healthier grab-and-go meat alternatives.
What Does SPAM Stand For?
Interestingly enough, the company actually doesn’t disclose this! On their website they state that the origins of the company name are “only known by a small circle of Hornel Foods executives.”
What is SPAM Made Of?
SPAM now has several different products, but the most popular is called SPAM Classic and has used the same six ingredients since the company’s inception: pork, salt, water, modified potato starch, sugar and sodium nitrate.
Pork obviously makes up the majority of SPAM, while the other ingredients are mostly for taste and preservative function.
One can of SPAM Classic contains 1,080 calories, 42 g protein, 6 g added sugar and 4,740 mg sodium.
The serving size is listed as only 2 ounces, which we feel is deceptively low. Food companies often list a very small serving size because it makes the dosage of certain ingredients look better on the label.
For example, many Americans are watching their sodium intake, so by splitting a can of SPAM into 6 “servings” the company gets to report that a serving only contains 790 mg of sodium. Realistically the vast majority of consumers will eat more than ⅙ of a can in one serving, and consume a lot more sodium than 790 mg.
Is Spam Bad for You?
SPAM doesn’t provide very much nutrition value for the calories it contains. As evidenced by the Nutrition Facts label, there aren’t many vitamins and minerals and you can attain a much higher dose of these by eating a healthier meal like a salad or beans and rice.
One of the main reasons we believe that SPAM is bad for you is because it’s primarily composed of processed meat. We know from medical research that processed meat consumption is associated with increased risk of various types of cancer.
SPAM also contains added sugar for taste. Added sugar has essentially zero nutritional value and is one of the few ingredients that’s nearly universally considered to be harmful in medical studies. Generally you want to avoid added sugar as much as possible and even reduce its intake to 0. Natural sugars from fruits and vegetables in moderation are fine.
Another reason we consider SPAM to be an unhealthy food is because of its salt content. 4,740 mg of sodium is a very high amount for one can, and so even if you only eat half the can (6 oz) you still get 2,370 mg of sodium. That’s more sodium than is recommended for an entire day based on RDA guidelines.
Sodium intake and health is a complex topic and sodium isn’t necessarily bad, but we believe that this high of a potential intake in one sitting isn’t a healthy choice, especially considering so many Americans have high blood pressure and metabolic disorders.
Is SPAM Lite Healthier Than SPAM Classic?
Many consumers think that SPAM Lite is healthier than regular SPAM because it has lower calories, but we would disagree with that assessment.
SPAM Lite is mostly formulated with processed, conventionally-raised meat just like SPAM Classic, and actually has more preservative ingredients.
It does have slightly lower sodium, but overall we would say that SPAM Lite is no healthier than regular SPAM.
If you’re set on eating a ready-to-go meat product, we recommend considering a grass-fed jerky without added nitrates.
Grass-fed meat products are more nutritionally dense and healthier than conventionally raised animal products.
Added nitrates, which are preservatives, are thought to be one of the reasons why processed meat is associated with increased cancer risk, but the research on this is still early.
Consumers who have issues with blood pressure may want to look for a jerky which is lower in sodium, but specific dietary guidelines are best discussed with your doctor.
Sardines are another prepared option which are convenient and a lot healthier than SPAM in our opinion. As we discussed at length in our article on fish oil supplements, whole fish products are extremely high in omega-3 fatty acids (much more so than meat).
Omega-3s are associated with reduced inflammation and reduced cholesterol, which are two issues many Americans battle with.
We recommend sardines in water rather than in oil or salt. Another health benefit of sardines is they’re quite high in calcium due to the bones of the fish.