To many people, hot dogs are as quintessentially American as the stars and stripes or the Statue of Liberty. As a nation, we eat 818 hot dogs per second during the months of June, July, and August, which adds up to about 7 billion hot dogs. This convenient and affordable food is perfect for throwing on the grill and enjoying good times with friends, so it makes sense that the hot dog is one of the most popular food products in the country.
However, all of this hot dog consumption doesn’t come without consequences. The dangers of hotdogs lie in their fat, sodium, and preservative content, leading to increased chances of developing many chronic diseases. Hot dogs, like many processed meats, have been linked to increased risks of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. If you’ve ever felt curious about what happens to your body when you eat a hot dog, we’ve broken down the side effects of eating hot dogs, once and for all.
What’s in a hot dog?
While a hot dog or two can help you reach your daily protein recommendation, they contain worrisome levels of harmful ingredients. One regular size beef or pork hot dog contains about 110 calories, four grams of saturated fat, and 350 milligrams of sodium, even without the bun and condiments that most of us add. Most “jumbo size” franks serve up double the calories, fat, and sodium. Even worse: one Shopsy’s All Beef Quarter Pounder (113 grams) weighs in at 310 calories, 11 grams of saturated fat (half a day’s worth), and 1,120 milligrams of sodium (nearly a day’s worth for an adult’s nutritional requirements).
This destructive nutritional profile has been linked to a number of negative effects.
Eating hot dogs increases your risk of cancer
The World Health Organization (WHO) has categorized processed meats, like hot dogs, as Group 1 carcinogens, along with other proven cancer-causing substances like tobacco and asbestos. Of particular concern are the preservatives added to hot dogs to give them a more appealing color and longer shelf life.
A review of over 800 studies examining the relationship between eating processed meats and colorectal cancer found that eating 50 grams of processed meat daily, or just one hot dog, can increase your risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.
Studies have shown that eating just one hot dog per week elevates children’s risk of developing brain tumors and leukemia. Eating processed meats has also been shown to increase the risk of bladder, breast, and stomach cancers.
It’s clear that an ingredient is a problem when the food industry giants respond; wiener icon Oscar Mayer recently announced that it would remove artificial preservatives from its hot dogs due to consumers’ cancer concerns.
Eating hot dogs increases your risk of heart disease
Processed meats are especially high in saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 7 percent of your total calories from saturated fat, which works out to about 16 grams for the average 2000 calorie diet. A single pork hot dog contains nearly 7 grams of saturated fat by itself, which corresponds to about 44 percent of the AHA’s limit. Add on some mayonnaise and cheese sauce, and you’re well on your way to an unhealthy heart.
Eating hot dogs increases your risk of diabetes
Every hot dog you eat increases your risk of type 2 diabetes. New research points to a link between eating processed meats and type 2 diabetes, with women participating in a large study showing a 43 percent higher risk of developing the disease when they ate just five servings per week.
Hot dogs are also high in nitrates and nitrites, two compounds that can damage the pancreatic cells that make insulin. The type of saturated fat in hot dogs may also contribute to insulin resistance. Overall, consuming hot dogs can be damaging for your metabolism and blood sugar control in the long run.
Eating hot dogs increases your risk of high blood pressure
Although your body needs only a small amount of sodium to function, too much can be bad for your health. Overdoing it on sodium can increase the risk of high blood pressure, which is a major cause of stroke and heart disease.
With one pork hot dog racking up 620 mg of sodium, this equates to about 41 percent of the suggested sodium limit without taking into account any condiments or those fries and chips you’re enjoying on the side.
4 ways to make your hot dog healthier
Although hot dogs are clearly an unhealthy food, there are a few ways to make them a bit less damaging.
Enjoy a hot dog as an occasional treat
While hot dogs shouldn’t be on your daily menu, you can enjoy them on special occasions. Just keep in mind that even the “healthier” alternatives, like chicken, turkey, and vegetarian sausages are still extremely high in sodium.
Pile on the veggies
The stock standard hot dog condiments are usually high in sugar, sodium, and preservatives. Try substituting them with toppings like fresh herbs, sauteed onions, or chopped tomatoes.
Add probiotics to your dog
If you like sauerkraut, then pile it on your hot dog, as long as it’s a raw and unpasteurized variety. The probiotics within can help your gut digest food and absorb nutrients.
Choose healthier sausages
Instead of throwing hot dogs on the grill, try opting for less processed meats. Check the ingredients list for MSG, artificial flavorings, preservatives, and high fructose corn syrup. Try to choose a wiener with no more than three grams of saturated fat and 400 milligrams of sodium per serving.
Practice moderation with hot dogs and enjoy a healthier, happier summer.