The Food of the Season: The Hot Dog
A Bite-Size Read for Your Health and Your Waistline
Baseball season is here, and opening day is underway! With America’s favorite pastime comes America’s favorite food. Yep, that’s right, we’re talking about hot dogs! On average, fans eat about 20 million hot dogs in one season at all MLB ballparks. With some labeled “all beef” and others…not, one can’t help but wonder what’s in them?!
Originating in Germany hundreds of years ago, the frankfurter (named after Frankfurt, Germany) is not the same as what we identify as a hot dog today. Today’s hot dog came to be in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when everything was about convenience and longer shelf life. Hot dogs used to have about the same amount of fat and protein with 19.5% of fat and 19.6% of protein. Now they have more fat than they do protein with 28% fat and only 11–12% of protein.
This further necessitates that question: what’s in them now? For starters, we know that your typical hot dog is pretty high in sodium. While I’m not a big fan of counting calories, I notice the count here because there’s quite a range! Your average hot dog could be anywhere from 150 to 250 calories. When we think of eating a hot dog, it’s typically the protein of the meal; we would assume hot dogs provide a decent serving. In looking at labels, each hot dog gives us about 5 grams of protein. That really isn’t a lot! For comparison, an ounce of a cooked meat is about 7 grams of protein. If we translate this into a proper serving size for a meal, a man would need to eat around 6 hot dogs and a woman 4. In this quantity of consumption, it also means 4–6 times the sodium, the calories, etc. Yikes!
In our best efforts, we’ll buy the ones labeled all-beef. Are they better? Warning: this may be a tough bite to swallow (pun intended). Hebrew national 100% Kosher beef franks are 150 calories, have 13g of fat, 6g of protein, and 450mg of sodium. Hillshire Farms 100% Premium Beef hot dogs are 200 calories, have 17g of fat, 9g of protein, and 680mg of sodium. Of course, these are just two examples, but it goes to show how, generally, hot dog nutrition facts give us reason to pause.
We do have to go another step further on the labels and look at the ingredients. Hot dogs are often made of animal by-product, super poor-quality meat, preservatives, colorings, flavorings, and the list goes on. Since it’s often ignored, animal by-products are leftover meat products or trimmings that we normally don’t use and certainly don’t eat. Hot dogs often also include pink slime, or mechanically separated chicken (I dare you to google this), lean finely textured beef, or boneless lean beef trimmings. Because of these ingredients, food manufacturers add a significant amount of preservatives.
Hot dogs have potassium lactate, a salt derived from lactic acid, found in most deli meats. that hinders the growth of mold and fungus. Sodium diacetate is also used as a preservative. In manufacturing, the “meat” for a hot dog also requires treatment with antibiotics. Adding to this unsettling information, it was found that our food is starting to become increasingly resistant to antibiotics. In a 2011 study it was found that 47% of meat samples taken from various grocery stores had a Staphylococcus aureus bacteria strain that is resistant to antibiotics. Similarly, hot dogs also contain nitrates which help them get their pink color; studies show nitrates possibly cause cancer. Apart from this health concern, hot dogs also normally contain natural flavorings. Don’t be fooled by the word “natural” either. Natural flavorings are often by-products of chemicals or things you simply wouldn’t eat.
Ultimately, each of us must make the food choices that work for ourselves and our families. I highly encourage you to read the ingredients of what you buy so your decisions are informed. For me, I’m not one to eat hot dogs, except perhaps one from a high-end butcher who knows what’s inside. Although once in a while, sitting at the ballpark, a bite of one hits the spot!