Kidney Diet Tips

Preventing diabetes and kidney disease: Link to canned meat

Canned meats always show up on the list of high sodium foods. Products such as Spam®, Treat®, Vienna Sausage® and Potted Meat® are processed canned meat products represented on this list. Yet, it can be tempting to use canned meat products because they are inexpensive, convenient and a familiar dish to many kitchen tables.

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, investigating why the diabetes rate is so high in American Indians, reveals a link between processed canned meat products and the rate of diabetes. Nearly half of the Native American population has diabetes by the age of 55. Higher rates of diabetes mean higher rates of cardiovascular disease and kidney disease.

Researchers surveyed 2,000 Native Americans from Arizona, Oklahoma, North Dakota and South Dakota to determine potential reasons for high diabetes rates. The participants, average age 35 and without a diagnosis of diabetes, answered questions about diet, health and lifestyle factors. A five year follow-up revealed 243 of the participants had developed diabetes.

A link was discovered between intakes of processed meat. Spam® is included in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food assistance program, making it readily available to Native Americans on reservations. 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, 44 developed diabetes.

Amanda Fretts, the lead author and a researcher at the University of Washington School of Medicine and her colleagues found that this link did not show up when looking at unprocessed meat. Unlike the nearly double rate of diabetes with processed meat consumption, with unprocessed meat such as hamburger, cuts of fresh beef or pork people were equally likely to develop diabetes regardless of how much they ate.

Processed meat products range from 480 to 820 mg sodium per serving. In addition to sodium additives, some contain potassium chloride and sodium phosphate. Definitely not a kidney-friendly product!

Some of the reasons speculated for  such a higher diabetes risk include the very high sodium content of processed meat; or the fact that people who eat processed meat are heavier, with obesity leading to diabetes. Another school of thought is that chemicals in the food containers, such as Bisphenol-A, or BPA, a chemical found in plastics and the lining of food cans, may play a role. Finding the connections is not an easy task. More research and study is needed. The best advice to kidney patients and those at risk for kidney disease: leave processed meat products on the shelf.

Sara Colman, RD, CDE

Sara is a renal dietitian with over 20 years experience working with people with diabetes and kidney disease. She is co-author of the popular kidney cookbook "Cooking for David: A Culinary Dialysis Cookbook". Sara is currently the Manager of Kidney Care Nutrition for DaVita. She analyzes recipes and creates content, resources and tools for the kidney community. In her spare time Sara loves to spend time with her young grandson, including fun times together in her kitchen.