You’re reading The Healthy Boy, a living well series from Adam Reynolds. We’ll be following along as Adam eats and exercises his way through a healthier lifestyle, providing fitness tips, delicious recipes, and nutritional advice.
Do you love to bite your choppers into a big juicy hotdog, soaked with mustard, ketchup and wedged between a juicy white bread bun? Maybe you are slightly health conscious, or avoiding carbs, so just opt for the meaty wiener instead? Well as it turns out, neither option is a particularly healthy one and once you have a read this post, you may just want to want to by-pass the hot dog stand at the ballpark or on the corner of 42nd Street altogether.
Personally, I never really craved or sort out hot dogs as a snack or comfort food. Sure, growing up in Australia I would have the occasional one at a barbeque or at a children’s birthday party, but I personally always tripped over any unsuspecting kid for the sugar-laden cupcakes or bowl full of m and ms.
But for those of you who enjoy the occasional hot dog, it’s probably wise that you know exactly what goes into your favorite tail wagger. Whilst this post is by no means saying you should never have a hot dog again, it will provide you with accurate information so you at least make wiser decisions in searching out healthier options and / or alternatives.
So what is a hot dog exactly? According to Wikipedia “A hot dog (also known as a frankfurter, frank, wiener, or weenie) is a moist sausage of soft, even texture and flavor, often made from advanced meat recovery or meat slurry.” Yep, you read it right, meat slurry. Sounds tasty right? Two words that just make you feel all warm and cozy inside. Lets talk about what that is exactly.
In an ideal world, when you order or buy a pork hot dog or sausage, you think you are getting pork meat and nothing else. Same goes with beef hot dogs, chicken etc. But the reality is manufacturers throw a whole variety of other things into their products to fill up their hot dogs, fill up your stomach, and consequently fill up their wallets.
The good news is there are laws in the United States that regulate hot dogs. Manufactures have to distinguish on their package what is (or isn’t) in their product. All Beef or Beef hot dogs must contain beef with no fillers or by-products. Wieners normally are a combination of beef, pork and chicken. And frankfurters? They can consist of meat, meat by-products, and fillers. Lovely ingredients that can not only derail any diet or healthy eating plan, but can make you begin to resemble the four legged creatures these items are derived from.
So what are these elusive meat by-products? You may see statements on the packaging such as “made with variety meats”, “includes meat-by products” or “contains MSM” (MSM stands for mechanically separated meats). This basically means you are eating parts of the animal, but not the parts you would like to be consuming, or like to know you are consuming. Parts often include heart, kidneys, and liver, not to mention blood clots, snout, connective tissue, lips…and hair. The FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service) classifies MSM as “a paste-like and batter-like meat product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible meat, under high pressure through a sieve or similar device to separate the bone from the edible meat tissue”. Mmmmmmmm, yummy.
Now you might be saying “Sure, they contain animal products, I knew that. But are they healthy?” Well let’s take a look at this from a different health perspective. A hot dog is considered processed meat, which as mentioned above isn’t from a single part of an animal (as say chicken breast is from chicken or filet mignon from cows for example) and they typically contain high amounts of saturated fat, nitrates as preservatives, and high levels of sodium.
Nitrates found in hot dogs are suspected carcinogens and several studies show a direct link to cancer. Consumption by children have also been directly linked to childhood cancer rates. A study in Los Angeles by Peters et al. found that children eating 12 or more hot dogs per month had over nine times the normal rate of developing childhood leukemia. Other studies show that people who eat processed meats including hot dogs have a 67% increased risk of pancreatic cancer.
Nitrates aside, these popular stadium treats are not one of the most nutritionally balanced meals. They can contain anywhere of up to 30% fat with he majority of that being saturated, which is solid at room temperatures. Saturated fat is like that ex we all have: You know they bad for you but can’t stop yourself from going back for more. Sure you wont be drunk dialing that hot dog at 3am on a Saturday morning (or maybe you do?), but it needs to be avoided at all costs due to its ability to clog up your arteries and increase your blood pressure.
Hot dogs and sausages can also contain anywhere from 80-130 calories a link, which would require over 30 minutes in an aerobics class or close to an hour of brisk walking to burn off.
But are all hot dogs the same? Absolutely not. Being a consumer you have an incredible power to choose the products that you buy, and all you need to do is look for a few simple things to make more informed decisions and avoid any snout and nitrates in your dinner;
1. Avoid any hot dogs that contain Sodium Nitrate on the ingredient list.
2. Look for labels such as “Kosher”, “fat free” or “All Beef”. These contain the best quality cuts of meat (no pork in the kosher) and are the lowest fat. I recommend Hebrew National Kosher 97% Fat Free Beef Franks.
3. Read the nutritional panel on the back and avoid any hot dogs that contain large amounts of saturated fat. It is recommended that saturated fat should not exceed 7% of your total calories per day.
4. Read the ingredients list! It only takes a second to flip over the package and read what’s actually contained in the product. Pay attention to the first three ingredients; these are what makes up the majority of your product. If it contains any of the above mentioned meat by-products or terms, or any chemicals that you cannot pronounce, then don’t buy it.
5. Also continue to be mindful of vague and misleading statements on packaging. Did you know that “All natural casing” really means “Made from pig intestines”? Really makes you want to lick your lips.
Hopefully you have found this information helpful and it had given you some more insight on how to make more informed decisions when you are choosing your hot dogs. You can still enjoy the occasional wiener. Just remember to consider the points above and you can be rest assured that you are doing your body a favor. And do try to avoid those 3 am drunken dials, or it won’t just be all those condiments slathered on top of your frankfurt that are considered messy.