Fun Facts About Hotdogs
While July is the official “Hot Dog Month” the summer hot dog season really goes from Memorial Day through to Labor Day weekend. During this time, Americans will eat a whopping estimated 7 billion hotdogs - that averages out to 818 dogs eaten every second!
The top hot dog consuming cities in 2021 were:
New York City
Hot dogs have long been among America’s favorite foods and they are synonymous with special summer celebrations such as national holidays, backyard barbeques, and baseball games. A hot dog was actually one of the first foods to be eaten on the moon! It doesn’t get much more patriotic than that!
Hot Dogs In Hot Water
Knowing how highly people rate their hot dogs, it came as a bit of a shock when a study was published stating that each of these delectable dogs could actually take about 30 minutes off your life. Say what?
A 2021 study published in the journal ‘Nature Food’ looked at approximately 6000 different foods in the American diet and analyzed their potential effects on life span. Researchers from the University of Michigan were able to design a special index that could calculate the net effects (positive or negative) on a person’s life in accordance with the foods they were eating.
Foods like vegetables, meat, nuts, and fruit were all evaluated using this index and gave a specific number that was associated with lifespan. It was the use of this index that gave researchers the number associated with standard beef hot dogs on a bun. Without including ingredients like sodium or trans fats, the hot dog was deduced to decrease life span by 27 minutes, and with sodium and trans fats, the time increased to a 36 minutes!
This is not good news for people like Joey Chestnut who broke a record in 2018 by eating 75 hot dogs in 10 minutes. By the study’s calculations that 10 minutes shortened his life span by about 45 hours - that’s almost 2 full days!
What’s The Fuss About Franks?
The average hot dog is made up from the trimmings of pork and beef. These trimmings are ground up and blended with ingredients like curing agents, seasonings, and a preservative called sodium nitrate, which help to improve both the color of the hot dog and its shelf life. Other chemicals like sodium diacetate and sodium erythorbate can also be added to the mixture.
This special blended batter is then pumped into cellulose casings that are cooked and cooled in cold water and made into the individual hot dogs links that we buy at the grocery store. Ultimately hot dogs are not only a highly processed meat product, but they are also filled with potentially harmful chemicals like these nitrates, nitrites, and an additive known as MSG.
The Dangers of Nitrates
Health Effects Of Nitrates
Nitrates and nitrites are compounds that are found naturally both in the human body and in some foods. They are often added to processed foods in order to extend the shelf life of these foods.
In our bodies, nitrates can impact how effectively our blood carries oxygen. Nitrates have the ability to turn hemoglobin (the protein in the blood that carries oxygen) into methemoglobin. Excessive levels of nitrates can cause your skin to turn a bluish/grey color, and can also have serious health effects like dizziness, fatigue, weakness and an increased heart rate. Sodium nitrate has been associated with damage to the blood vessels and an increase in the risk of heart disease.
Worst Nitrate Food Offenders
While hot dogs have been bearing the brunt of the negative nitrate press, there are other foods with high levels of nitrates that can be just as bad. Some of these are:
Ham: Often one of the highest sources of dietary nitrates. A 100g serving of cured ham can have almost 900mch of nitrates.
Bacon: With around 400mcg of nitrates per 100g nitrates and nitrites are pervasive in this industry. Some brands started labeling their products as nitrite-free but testing has revealed that some of these supposedly “nitrite-free” products can have almost twice the amount of nitrates as the regular product.
Deli Meat: These meats can have around 500 mcg of nitrates per 100g while uncured versions can have around 300 mcg.
The World Health Organization has categorized processed meats as Group 1 carcinogens. What do they mean by that? Well, carcinogens (like hot dogs) fall into a category of substances that have been found to cause cancer in people. Other carcinogens include asbestos and nicotine.
A study that was conducted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) looked at more than 800 studies from 10 different countries. The study was designed to look at the relationship between the consumption of processed meats and colorectal cancer.
The results of the study showed that eating just 50 grams of processed meat each day - or just one hot dog, can increase your risk of having cancer by 18%. In children, the risk of developing a brain tumor from eating a single hot dog each week is seven times higher than their risk of developing a brain tumor from regular cell phone use. Hot dog consumption during childhood can increase your risk of developing leukemia by 950%.
The consumption of processed meats has also been linked to increases in the incidence of breast cancer, bladder cancer, and stomach cancer. Dietary nitrates and nitrites play a role in the inflammatory processes in our bodies leading to chronic inflammation and even chronic pain (like low back pain).
How To Have Your Hot Dog - And Eat It, Too!
Is it all bad news when it comes to hot dogs and other processed meats? Perhaps not. There may be a silver lining to your hot dog packet after all. While nitrates are often associated primarily with processed meats, green, leafy vegetables also have nitrates - but these might have a very different effect on our bodies.
Studies have shown that the nitrates found in vegetables may actually help reduce our risk of developing cancer. There is growing evidence to suggest that eating foods that are rich in natural nitrates may actually help reduce your risk of a number of chronic health conditions.
Another way to help reduce the effects of added nitrates to our bodies is possibly to add vitamin C to cured meats that are high in nitrates. Research has found that adding vitamin C can potentially prevent the formation of harmful nitrite compounds in these foods.
Healthy Sources Of Nitrates
Since nitrates can be converted into healthy nitric oxide, eating natural sources of nitrates can make a difference to health outcomes, especially when the compound is mixed with antioxidants and vitamins. There are 4 foods that have healthy levels of natural nitrates:
Spinach: A 100g serving of fresh spinach can have between 24 and 387 mg of nitrates.
Bok Choy: Depending on growing conditions, bok choy can contain anywhere from 103 to 309 mg of nitrates per 100g.
Lettuce: Lettuce has between 13 and 276 mg of nitrates per 100g - an amazing amount considering lettuce isn’t known for being rich in nutrients.
Carrots: these crunchy vegetables can contain anywhere from 92 - 195 mg of nitrates per 100g.
A Healthier Hot Dog?
The reality is that most of us probably aren’t eating our hot dogs with a huge pile of kale and mixed berries. We eat our dogs on a white bun with onions, mustard, ketchup, or mayo. Add a soda and some potato chips to the mix and we are waaay out of the healthy ball park.
Plant-Based Hot Dogs
Plant-based products like Beyond Meat burgers are all over the place these days. Many products make use of soy, gluten, or peas as their main source of protein. While these products may be more ecologically sustainable and less carcinogenic, they may not always be healthier for us. Many individuals with thyroid problems must avoid soy products while the fact that these products are still highly processed makes them questionable as being truly “healthy” foods.
We know, we know. If you are a true baseball fan you probably either gasped in horror or fell on the floor laughing at this one. None the less we felt like we had to include this in our list. While these have yet to become a store sensation you can make these at home. Word on the street is that they are actually pretty delicious although we confess that we haven’t tried one ourselves - yet. Apparently all you need to do is peel some large carrots and boil them until they are soft, then you marinate them for a few hours and roast them in the oven. If you try this recipe you have to tell us how they turned out!
Wholesome Hot Dogs
If you absolutely can’t stand the thought of parting with animal-based hot dogs (totally understandable), you can help your health in a couple of ways. First, try to find some hot dogs that are locally-sourced, such as hot dogs that may have been produced on a local organic farm. You can ask the farmer about the ingredients that they use as well as what their manufacturing process looks like. Aim for uncured hot dogs, which don’t contain nitrates. Also, to avoid getting a product that is just full of trimmings and various animals (mystery meat), look for hot dogs that state they are “100% chicken” or “100% beef.”
You might also want to check out the ingredient list thoroughly for things you might want to avoid like MSG, artificial or “natural” flavorings, preservatives, and high fructose corn syrup or other sweetening agents.
Healthier Hot Dog Toppings
If you are still going the traditional meat route, you can also try swapping out some of the traditional toppings for some healthier options. Typical condiments like fried onions, ketchup and mustard are often high in sugar, sodium, and may contain artificial colorings and preservatives.
Some healthier options include sauteed onions and bell peppers, shredded cucumbers and cabbage, herbs like dill or cilantro, raw sauerkraut, sugar-free pickle relish, and canned beans. Some suggestions even go so far as to try adding fresh fruit, like chopped mango or pineapple. Standard and exotic salsas make great compliments to veggie dogs. Mustard is also one of the cleanest ingredients out of the typical condiments - just make sure that it doesn’t have a ton of added sugars and other preservatives.
While there is growing evidence to suggest that processed meats, like hot dogs, can be unhealthy for our bodies in a variety of ways, it is important to make sure we don’t just focus on hot dogs. There is no conclusive research to show that hot dogs are toxic and it is important to remember that not all hot dogs are made the same.
By being aware of what we are eating and how much of a product we are eating, we can make more conscious choices regarding our health. Finding ways to add fresh vegetables and fruit to our diet is always a good idea. The more nutrients that we feed our bodies, the better they tend to respond to things like pain and inflammation. So, by adding a little something healthy on the side, you can get through hot dog season without taking all of the fun out of your summer.