How Bad Can a Hot Dog Be?

April 3, 2019|Posted in: Uncategorized

So I’ve been toying with the idea of going vegan. My friend Lauren is constantly going on and on and on about the health benefits, the environmental benefits, and just plain being nice to animals. Of course, I find it easier being nice to animals than to most people, but I’m still thinking about it—if it will shut her up, than it’s worth considering.

The biggest hold-up here is: I love hot dogs. And for those of you who haven’t grasped the obvious, hot dogs are definitely NOWHERE on the vegan’s menu.

There’s no denying that this yumminess is not the most healthful thing I can consume. Everybody knows they’re a little scary, ingredients-wise. In fact, according to one source, 43 percent of Americans don’t even want to know what’s in their hot dogs: some organic meat company surveyed regular folks and found that not only are Americans happy with their hot-dog ignorance, over 33 percent of people actually avoid hot dogs because of the low-quality meat, chemicals, and artificial ingredients. Health-conscious (read: sissified) millennials avoid hot dogs more than any other group, with 24 percent saying that they never buy hot dogs. What a bunch of wusses.

Can the Hot Dog Be Saved?

OK, so no one is claiming that hot dogs are the healthiest thing you can eat. Nevertheless, their overall goodness factor has improved. We’re not talking mystery meat anymore, people! The Department of Agriculture requires dogs be made from real meat (beef, chicken, pork, turkey, or some combination of those), and they can’t contain more than 3.5 percent of nonmeat binders or fillers (stuff like nonfat dry milk, cereal, or dried whole milk).

That’s a bit of a whitewash, though. In truth, even hot dogs touted as “healthy” can still be nutritional black holes: the sodium, fat, and nitrates that make the darn things taste so good are also the things that make hot dogs so NOT good for you (ain’t that always the case?).

So is it possible to walk that fine line between indulgence and practicality? Dunno, but I have some suggestions:

The Good…

To start with, make sure that whatever’s in your hot dog is as good as it gets. When it comes to the quality of the meat, not all hot dogs are created equal. Some feature what’s called “mechanically separated meat” (pork or poultry), which the USDA says is safe, but the European Food Safety Authority claims increases the chance of microbial growth. Yum.

Of course, if your dogs are properly cooked, bacterial growth shouldn’t be an issue. Still, if you prefer to avoid mechanically separated meat, check the package: the manufacturers are required to say so in the ingredients.

The Bad…

Secondly, you want as little of the bad stuff as you can get away with: specifically, salt, fat, and nitrates. A lot of dogs out there boast 500 mg or more of sodium. That’s almost a quarter of the maximum (2,300 mg) you should have in a day. A single frank can easily push your daily sodium intake right over the line—and who only eats one?

Choosing to go with chicken or turkey dogs won’t help with the salt, but it can help you cut the fat by as much as 70%. Knowing that can lead to a choice between two so-so dogs or one really good one. But nitrates? That’s what’s used to cure the meat, and it’s kinda hard to get away from that since they are naturally occurring. So what’s a little cancer between friends

The Inconvenient Truth…

In the end, unfortunately, you can only get a dog so healthy: it is, after all, still processed meat, which has been shown to have more than its fair share of unhealthy effects. In fact, researchers have concluded that each daily serving of processed meat (a hot dog counts as one serving)comes with a 42 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease. Given the uncertainty of health care in this country, it’s something to consider: if you want that hot dog, you might think about cutting back on bacon or lunch meat.

So there you have it: lots of good reasons to go vegan, including less nagging and lowered chance of cancer and heart disease. Simple choice, right?

I wonder how much chopped cabbage I would have to add to compensate for the nitrates …?