What’s So Bad About Hot Dogs?

What’s So Bad About Hot Dogs?

I know, I know….stop the presses. Hot dogs are bad for you?! Say what? We’ve all heard about what actually goes into the ubiquitous summer grill favourite (lips and… well you know, just in case the kiddies are reading too!). Tube steaks, street meat, call them what you will, they’re bad news. And not to be a total buzz kill but the newest bad news is they may be especially unhealthy for the young’uns.

Check out this hit list of ingredients in your average run of the mill hot dog, according to www.idealbite.com. “Corn syrup, potassium lactate, sodium diacetate, sodium erythorbate, (the side effects of which can be dizziness, kidney stones, headaches and gastrointestinal problems) a smattering of maltodextrin, plus beef stock made from all those leftover cow bits.” Add to that the fact that a single hot dog has “20% of your daily salt allowance.” Plus, they contain sodium nitrate. Sound familiar? It might be because you saw it listed in the ingredients of your last bag of “fertilizer or fireworks”! (Pause for horrified gasp.)

So here’s what we know about hot dogs (and all processed meats in general). According to a study conducted at The Harvard School of Public Health and published in the Journal Circulation in 2010, “the increased salt and chemical preservatives” found in hot dogs, bacon and sausage “can increase the risk of heart disease by 42% and diabetes by 19%.” And while overconsumption of meat in general is considered higher risk, non-processed meats did not seem to raise these particular health risks. While this study did not look at cancer or hypertension, another Harvard Study released in March of 2012 tackled those issues. Susan Levin is the Nutrition Education Director for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. According to Levin, the most recent research suggests “as little as one hot dog a day could send you to an early grave. People think feeding their kids these foods is safe, but it’s not.” That single serving per day, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research, “increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 21 percent.”

And while these stats affect us all, it is sometimes all too easy to blur the lines when it comes to our own intake and that of our children. After all, heart attacks and hypertension hardly rank at the top of the list when parents worry about keeping their children healthy… it just seems so distant. And now for the super downer part of our show (but I promise there is good news at the end!). Three recent studies have shown that “the consumption of hot dogs can be a risk factor for childhood cancer.” According to the Cancer Prevention Coalition, “children eating more than 12 hot dogs per month have nine times the normal risk of developing childhood leukemia.” Researchers also “found that children born to mothers who consumed hot dogs one or more times per week during pregnancy had approximately double the risk of developing brain tumours.” And children who ate hot dogs one or more times per week were also at higher risk of brain cancer.” Okay Kathy, get to the good news!

Not all hot dogs are created equal (they probably were 20 years ago when we were all kids and eating them every summer day but why dwell in the past I always say… or will start saying now!). You can give your kids what they want and still sleep at night, YAY!

The major culprits in hot dogs are the chemical preservatives, nitrites and crazy sodium levels. According to Scientific American, the top two Big Dawgs in the hot dog biz, Kraft and Sara Lee “now offer at least 34 hot dog varieties between them” ranging from the dirty dogs of yore to veggie versions, nitrite free,turkey dogs and preservative free. It means tacking an extra 20 minutes on to your allotted grocery time to read labels and possibly splurging on the “classy” dogs but hey, healthy kids, peace of mind AND summer hot dog happiness? I told you there was good news!

Need some help sorting it out? Check out these lists of the best hot dog choices:



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  1. Terra
    June 26, 11:43 Reply

    Can you list some of the best hot dog choices that we can get in Canada? I don’t recognize any of the brands of the lists. Thanks!

  2. Kathy
    June 26, 14:39 Reply

    Hi Terra,
    Life Choices and Schneider’s both have nitrite free options. Yves soy veggie dogs, and actually most soy or veggie based are also nitrite free and tend to be a lot lower in fat.
    Also, avoiding the jumbo dogs lowers the per serving fat and sodium (since many people eat more than one). Another good choice is to check out your local organic butcher or farmers market where you can often get homemade dogs/sausages and ask the person who made them what’s in them.

  3. Terra
    June 26, 15:46 Reply

    Thanks Kathy! Another great post.

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