What’s wrong with hot dogs?

an indulgence, not a diet staple

July is National Hot Dog Month, and it’s July 4th weekend, prime hot dog eating time in the USA.  According the the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, we purchase more than 20 million hot dogs just at baseball games.  We make 40% of hot dog purchases in the 3 months between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

It’s impossible to make blanket statements about hot dog nutrition, since they now come in so many sizes and varieties, from classics to vegan, Fat Free and “Better for You”, whatever that means.  Better than what?  Starvation?  Broccoli?  Other hot dogs?  I’ll hazard a guess that few people think of hot dogs as “healthy”, although that’s doesn’t stop us from eating them in quantity.  so it’s worth asking: how do they stack up, nutritionally?

Hot dogs have been under attack from the Food Police for years because of the fat, salt and nitrite content.  Nitrites are preservatives characteristic of hot dogs, and some researchers claim they cause cancer in rats, but of course anything causes cancer in rats if you give them big enough doses.  Unless labeled “low fat” or “lite”, hot dogs are pretty high fat.  And the fat is mostly saturated, which is linked to increased risk for heart disease, although even that nutritional dogma is now under attack from credible sources (and I’ll definitely get to that topic soon).  Even low fat hot dogs can have more than half the calories from fat.  So if you’re worried about fat, you might try Fat Free hot dogs?  Only if you like eating a fabricated food that lists corn syrup and corn starch as primary ingredients.  They’re also especially high in sodium compared to regular hot dogs, probably because the salty taste masks the lack of substance.

They’re made with meat.  Aren’t they good protein sources?  Not especially, although they do contain protein.  A typical hot dog has about 5 grams of protein, but almost 200 calories.  By comparison, an egg has about 7 grams of protein and 80 calories.

So what’s wrong with hot dogs?  Eating a couple at a 4th of July picnic isn’t a big deal.  Enjoy.  The problem is eating them several every week, as a mainstay of your diet.  Not only are you eating a lot of salt and other food additives, you’re crowding out other less processed and more nutritious foods.  And if you typically eat all those hot dogs smothered in cheese sauce or other high calorie condiments, accompanied by french fries or chips, the nutritional impact is worse.

Take Away Message: Hot dogs shouldn’t be a dietary staple.  Think of them as an occasional indulgence.  Top them with lower calorie condiments like onions, mustard, pickles, chili sauce, jalapenos, tomatoes, relish and ketchup.

Link to more fun facts about hot dogs.

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