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Jungle Beat: SPAM -- Convenience Food or Killer?

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I suppose I shouldn't criticize something I've never tried. But to a non-meat, natural foods enthusiast like me, SPAM just seems like an abomination.

When did the popularity begin? And why is it so popular in Hawaii? And most importantly -- what's in it?

A Brief History

The Hormel Company has been making SPAM since 1937. They developed it as an inexpensive, convenient, tasty lunchmeat. It caught on quickly, becoming the best-selling lunchmeat in the United States by 1941. Soldiers fighting World War II in Europe filled up on 15 million cans of the stuff every week, making it the most-consumed protein in their diets. World leaders at the time credited SPAM with helping to win the war!

SPAM spread to other countries after WWII and today it's manufactured in 41 countries. Currently, 122 million cans are sold around the world, with the U.S. topping the list at 90 million cans, or three cans every second. Hawaii's claim to fame is that we have the country's highest consumption of this food at about seven million cans a year. Some people make a mockery of sushi by rolling it into something called musubi.

The website madehow.com enlightens us to the fact that because this canned meat product doesn't need refrigeration, it became popular in far-flung areas such as Hawaii and Guam, where "fresh meat {was} difficult to obtain or expensive." In the days before jet airplanes, canned meat must have been a godsend to remote populations, who apparently forgot how to fish for the abundant protein in their waters. My question is this: with our current knowledge of what a good diet should contain, why does SPAM remain so popular? Is it such an ingrained part of the modern Hawaiian culture that people are simply too used to it to give it up or to make any healthy changes? Or doesn't everyone know this? Well, World War II is over, folks, and refrigerated jets fly here every hour of every day, bringing fresh and frozen meats of all kinds. Let's get over this canned meat addiction and declare a ban on SPAM.

Ingredients and Nutritional Value

SPAM contains ham, chopped pork shoulder (90 percent), salt, flavorings and preservatives that are mixed and cooked under vacuum pressure. There's also sugar in SPAM. The preservative sodium nitrate, which is also a salt, is added as a preventative: it's also what makes SPAM pink.

The good news is that the U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn't allow any non-meat fillers, pig snouts, lips or ears in lunchmeat. But salt is a problem: just one two-ounce serving supplies 57 percent of humans' recommended daily consumption of this mineral. Diabetics, especially, must be concerned about their sodium intake. In a 2010 article in the Hong Kong Standard, the salt in SPAM was implicated as a risk in "high blood pressure, heart and kidney disease, even stomach cancer."

The nutritional content of a two-ounce serving includes 174 calories, 15 percent or 140 calories of which come from fat. It does deliver seven grams of protein but has 767 milligrams of sodium, or .027 ounce. It also contains small amounts of calcium, vitamin C, 39 milligrams of cholesterol and 3 percent iron. The carbohydrate content is low at 1 percent, or 2 grams (.07 ounce). It contains no dietary fiber or trans fat.