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Hot Dogs are Bad for You - But how bad are they?

Everyone knows hot dogs, cigarettes and greasy food is bad for you.

The Questions

How bad are hot dogs?

Is it possible to buy a healthier hot dog?

The Answers

Hot dogs aren’t nutritious – not even remotely. They’re made of processed meat and cholesterol-raising saturated fat and sodium.

The good news is if you read nutrition labels, you can find some hot dog wieners that are easier on your waistline and arteries. They're still not healthy, but they are better than the junk you are currently eating.

The average beef or pork hot dog (38 grams or kid’s size) contains:

110 calories
4 grams of saturated fat
350 milligrams of sodium

That is before the hot dog bun and any condiments.

“Jumbo Size” franks (75 grams)

approx. 230 calories
9 grams of saturated fat
740 milligrams of sodium

Shopsy’s All Beef Quarter Pounder (113 grams)

310 calories
11 grams of saturated fat (half a day’s worth)
1,120 milligrams of sodium (nearly a day’s worth for adults)

Indeed most hot dogs, buns and sugar-filled ketchup and other condiments are pretty bad for you. They raise your cholesterol and blood pressure numbers in an hurry. The heavy intake of processed meat – such as wieners, sausages, bacon, cold cuts – has been directly linked with a greater risk of colorectal cancer. So unless you want a doctor probing your bottom you might to avoid processed meats.

Also cooking meat to high temperatures (e.g. grilling hot dogs or frying bacon) forms heterocyclic amines, compounds shown to cause colon tumours in animals. Doing that with processed meats such as wieners also contain sodium nitrite, a preservative that helps prevent botulism food poisoning and gives cured meats their characteristic red colour, well its basically cooking your chemicals before eating them.

During cooking nitrite can also react with compounds naturally present in meat to form nitrosamines and nitrosamides, several of which cause certain cancers in humans and animals. Some weiner companies add sodium erythorbate (a form of vitamin C) to processed meat to inhibit this conversion and help minimize the risk - so they know their products are harmful, but they are trying to minimize that particular risk a bit... but what if the hot dogs you are buying don't contain vitamin C?

Even if you switch to chicken or turkey wieners you’ll still save saturated fat in the hot dogs. However most chicken or turkey wieners contain no more than two grams of saturated fat per serving so that at least is reducing the fat content. However it will still have lots of sodium.

Butterball Turkey Frank (56 grams)

470 milligrams of sodium, one-third of a day’s worth.

In contrast veggie dogs made from soy protein have no saturated fat and are much lower in calories than their meat and poultry counterparts. But they're still relatively high in sodium. However veggie hot dogs contain ZERO sodium nitrite.

Yves Veggie Cuisine Veggie Dog (46 grams)
60 calories
1.5 grams of fat (from canola oil)
390 milligrams of sodium

There are some companies which sell beef, pork or chicken wieners without sodium nitrite - including Life Choices Foods, Schneider’s, Maple Leaf and Loblaw - but you need to check the label to be certain.

Also, just a warning if you reading any labels that say "organic" or “natural” hot dogs, they often have similar or even higher levels of nitrites than normal hot dogs.

THE BIG TIP

Read the nutrition labels and don’t make hot dogs your regular fare this summer. An old fashioned hot dog once in awhile won't kill you, but eating them constantly will surely give you cancer.

Try to choose a wiener (38 grams) with no more than three grams of saturated fat and less than 400 milligrams of sodium and zero nitrites. At least then you are minimizing your risk.

Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables each day, especially roduce rich in phytochemicals called flavonoids such as berries, cherries, red grapes, apples, citrus fruit, broccoli, kale, onions – are known to alter the harmful effects of heterocyclic amines that form during grilling. So try to eat a balanced diet when you are not eating hot dogs.


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