Whether you’re going to a baseball game, enjoying the day at a barbeque, or making a quick meal for the kids, hot dogs have become an iconic and popular choice for many Americans. Unfortunately, when examining the nutritional benefits of a hot dog, not a lot can be said. In fact, the high amount of saturated fat and sodium found in many hot dogs cause them to be an unhealthy, calorically dense food. Many of us make the already fatty dog worse by placing it in a nutritionally-stripped white bun and loading on sugar and fat with condiments like ketchup, sauerkraut, and cheese. An ordinary two-ounce hot dog usually has around 200 calories, 16 grams of fat, and 600mg of sodium! Not only is the fat and sodium a concern, but nitrate, an ingredient found in many hot dogs, has been linked to serious, life-threatening diseases.
Nitrate is a chemical ingredient placed in hot dogs during the curing process to increase the shelf life and maintain the coloring of the meat. Recent research links the consumption of nitrates in cured meats to increased risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, pediatric brain tumor, and pediatric leukemia. Scary, huh?
Before you completely ban hot dogs from your diet, there’s good news. There are hot dog companies that are now making healthier hot dogs. These companies make hot dogs with less than five grams total fat, less than 500 mg of sodium, and ones that are nitrate-free. Finding these healthy dogs can be easy with some smart shopping and simple label reading. But don’t be tricked by hot dogs labeled “reduced-fat”, “lite”, or “lean” dogs, or even chicken and turkey dogs. All these can still be filled with too much fat and sodium and contain damaging nitrates.
When you’re at the grocery store, you should first look at the total fat on the hot dog’s nutrition facts. If the total fat is over five grams you might as well call that hot dog a fat dog. Next, look at the sodium. Anything over 600 mg is way too much and about one fourth of the recommended amount of sodium an adult should be getting in one day. Lastly and most importantly, look at the ingredients to see if there is nitrate in the hot dog. Nitrate may be labeled sodium nitrate, nitrite, or sodium nitrites, and all of these should be avoided. The best bet is to buy organic brand hot dogs because they will not have added nitrates.
Here is a list of hot dogs that are lower in fat, lower in sodium, nitrate-free, and the healthiest options for you and your family.
After you purchase your healthy hot dogs, don’t stop there. Buy whole-wheat buns and load the hot dogs with fresh veggies like tomatoes, peppers, onions, and pico de gallo…be creative! Now that’s a health dog!
Michelle Coyle MS, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian and graduate from Benedictine University where she successfully completed her Dietetic Internship and earned her Master’s of Science Degree in Nutrition and Wellness. She is currently working as a clinical dietitian in an acute and long-term care facility.