Processed Meat Linked to Diabetes (Maybe Not)

A new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that processed canned meat – more affectionately known as spam – could double your risk for diabetes.

The study involved 2,000 Native Americans, a high-risk demographic for type 2 diabetes. Statistics show, in fact, that almost one in two Native Americans will have diabetes by age 55. So it makes sense to conduct studies and figure out what’s triggering this chronic disease.

According to Amanda Fretts, the study’s lead author and a researcher at the University of Washington School of Medicine, spam has become a staple on reservations due to its long shelf life, particularly since many Native Americans have limited access to grocery stores.

I should also mention the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food assistance program provides this spam. That it’s free might be another reason to stock up on it.

Back to the study: when it began, none of the participants had diabetes. A five-year follow-up survey, however, revealed 243 of the 2,000 Native Americans had developed diabetes.

Of the 500 people in the original study who ate the most canned meats, 85 had developed diabetes.

On the other hand, among the 500 people who ate the least amount of spam, 44 developed diabetes.

Researchers noted that people who feasted on spam more often also tended to be overweight.

Despite these statistics, Fretts said the study could not prove that eating processed meats contributed to the increased risk of diabetes. “I think there needs to be more follow-up,” she said.

I’m not a fan of spam and other processed meats. They’re often filled with gluten, sugar, and God knows what else. If you’ve ever eaten a hot dog or sausage and wondered what was in it, chances are you don’t want to know. Particularly not while you’re eating it.

That said, I want to know exactly what else these people ate for five years besides the spam that potentially contributed to diabetes.

My guess is, with limited funds and access to grocery stores, the spam eaters weren’t eating organic broccoli and sipping green tea. Instead, they likely consumed all sorts of processed crap and guzzled sugary sodas that, like spam, have a shelf life of forever.

In other words, I’m not a fan of spam, but neither am I convinced it was the culprit in these Native Americans’ diabetes surge.

I also want to point out researchers did not find that unprocessed meat also triggers diabetes. I’m happy they said that, because I believe meat gets unfairly stigmatized regardless of its source.

As you know, a world of difference exists between spam and healthy meats like grass-fed beef, wild salmon, and free-range poultry. In other words, a McDonald’s cheeseburger is a whole different ballgame than a grass-fed steak.

Red meat in particular has been unfairly criticized for potentially creating diabetes. Again, let’s go back to the drawing board: what else were these people eating besides the meat in these studies?

If the standard American diet is any indication: lots of carbs. And you know what carbs do well. They raise insulin. Eventually your cells get burned out from insulin overload. Insulin resistance and subsequently diabetes are often the result.

Now, let’s say you have a grass-fed steak with spinach and a salad. You guessed it: you don’t have that insulin surge and all its subsequent metabolic problems.

My point is, I don’t think meat – processed or not – is the problem. It’s all the other crap people eat combined with that meat that leads to diabetes.

One more thing: many of these studies that indict red meat for diabetes use conventional meat, not the far healthier grass-fed beef that’s richer in omega 3s, conjugated linoleic acid, and other nutrients.

My verdict: skip the sugar and processed carbs, choose the highest-quality meats, eat plenty of leafy green vegetables and low-glycemic fruits, and you’ll dramatically reduce your diabetes risk.