Monday, November 10, 2014

Finding a Good Hot Dog

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Kids love hot dogs, but can they be included in a healthy diet? If so, how do you find a good one? Most hot dogs are full of additives, fillers and nitrates. Studies have shown that eating processed, smoked, cured or salted meats like salami and hot dogs is associated with higher levels of colon cancer and other cancers. Another study conducted from the Harvard School of Public Health suggests that eating just one serving a day of processed meat (the equivalent of a single hot dog or two slices of salami) was associated with a 42% increased risk for heart disease and a 19% increased risk for diabetes, while eating unprocessed beef, pork, or lamb was not linked to a higher risk.

Why the difference in risk? It is believed to be due to the much higher levels of sodium and nitrates contained in the processed meats. This means that minimizing sodium and nitrates are important when making your selection.

What should you look for when choosing a hot dog:

Natural nitrates: The jury is still out on sodium nitrite or nitrates. These compounds are used in processed meats to help extend shelf life. Some studies suggest that they can react with meat to produce nitrosamines, which have been linked with increased risk of gastric and esophageal cancer, and can possibly cause DNA damage leading to other health concerns. Other studies suggest that getting nitrates from vegetables (particularly celery and beets) may be linked with decreased blood pressure. I think until more concrete evidence is in, you should look for hot dogs with naturally derived nitrates, like celery powder. Applegate farms products are an example and can be found in most grocery stores.

Lower sodium: While hot dogs will never be considered a low-sodium food, some brands can contain over 500 mg per hot dog! The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend that most people reduce sodium to less than 1500 mg per day so that is 1/3 of your daily amount in just one hot dog! Look for brands with 370 mg sodium or less.

Organic: Organically raised animals are not treated with antibiotics or hormones. Farmers use antibiotics and hormones to speed up how quickly they can raise animals, and in less hygienic conditions. Organic also ensures that the animal feed is non-GMO food grown without the use of pesticides.

A simple list of ingredients: "good" hot dogs should not include fillers like wheat, soy or corn, artificial flavorings, artificial coloring or preservatives. These additives reduce the nutritional content of the hot dog and could be associated with hyperactivity and obesity.

To research the brands out there, we got to taste test all the hot dogs I could find on the market with natural nitrates to find the best:

Our favorites:

1) Fearless Uncured Franks (reviewers found these the best of the bunch but nutritionally they are too high in sodium for regular consumption)

Calories 130, Fat 9 g, Sodium 480 mg, Protein 8 g
Ingredients: Pork and Beef, Water, Salt, Dextrose, Mustard, Paprika, Garlic, Sodium Phosphate, Celery Powder, Nonfat dry milk, Spices

2) Pineland Farms (reviewers: too crunchy!)

Calories 140, Fat 12 g, Sodium 390 mg Protein 8 g
Ingredients: Beef, Water, Sea Salt, Natural Spices, Turbinado sugar, Paprika, Celery juice powder, Onion powder, lamb casing

3) Nature's Rancher (reviewers: these tastes like bacon!)
Calories 190, Fat 16 g, Sodium 340 mg, Protein 7 g
(with all that fat no wonder these tasted like bacon)

Ingredients: Beef, Water, Sea Salt, Honey, Evaporated cane syrup, Mustard, Nutmeg, Pepper, Allspice, Ginger Paprika, Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, Celery Juice Powder, Lactic acid starter

4) Applegate Beef Hot Dogs (nutritionally these are the best, but reviewers found them too salty)

Calories 70, Fat 6 g, Sodium 330 mg, Protein 6 g
Ingredients: Beef, Water, Sea Salt, Paprika, Dehydrated Onion, Spices, Nutmeg oil, Celery powder

Who knew my investigation would lead to this... The WINNER:
5) Applegate Naturals (the best tasting and while you can never say a hot dog is nutritious, this one had lower levels of fat and sodium)

Calories 110, Fat 9 g, Sodium 360 mg, Protein 7 g
Beef and Pork, Water. Sea Salt, Paprika, Spices, Garlic, Onion, Celery Powder, Cayenne Pepper, Black Pepper, Coriander, Mace, Ginger, Lamb Casing

Fear not, creative lunch-packer... on top of this thorough review of hot dog options, I also got to try out a fancy new gadget. This Japanese hot dog cutter supposedly makes easy work of hot dogs, carving them into fun spirals and octopi... 

The verdict: 20 minutes of squashed hot dog results in an unimpressive spiral half and one squashed hot dog beyond repair. Do not waste your money!  

So does this mean that you can eat hot dogs every day, or even every week? No. But, with some careful consideration, you can have them for an occasional indulgence.


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