With help from a dietician at the American Cancer Society and Bizarre Foods’ Andrew Zimmern, who now owns his own line of franks, we aimed to demystify the delicious sausage. Here are some of the most curious questions about hot dogs with facts you can’t unknow.
If you’re buying classic hot dogs made by Oscar Mayer or Ball Park, the primary ingredient is likely going to be chicken or turkey — specifically “mechanically-separated” turkey or chicken. The USDA defines that as a “paste-like and batter-like poultry product,” which is made by forcing trimmings through a machine that separates any “attached edible tissue” from the bone. However, if the hot dog package says “beef franks” or “pork franks” it is required by law to contain only meat from that single species of animal.
“The joke in the modern era is that hot dogs are just lips and asshole,” Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern told BuzzFeed. Commercial hot dogs are in fact made of trimmings: leftover poultry and meat parts after the rest of the animal has been turned into more premium cuts. But even though most people might find that idea unappetizing, Zimmern says some of those parts actually have “some of the best flavor and fat content,” and that’s not what’s giving hot dogs a bad name. Rather, it’s all the fillers that go in after the meat or poultry. “[Hot dogs] should be 100% natural, no artificial anything, species-specific,” says Zimmern. “Those are the things that people can taste.”
The other ingredients in order of amount typically are: water, corn syrup, salt, preservatives, a starchy cereal filler, and artificial flavors.
11. Even eating small amounts may cause cancer.
Colleen Doyle, a registered dietician at the American Cancer Society who’s closely examined the chemical compounds and preservatives found in ready-to-eat processed meats, says “high consumption” of red meats and preserved meats (like hot dogs) can put you at risk of colon cancer.
But “high consumption” is all relative, according to Doyle. “Even eating small amounts over time really adds up to an increased risk,” she tells BuzzFeed. “Our estimate is about for every 100g of red meat (about 3.5 ounces) and for every 50g of processed meat (close to 2 ounces), there is about a 15-20% increased risk of colon cancer.”
12. So, what’s a “healthy” intake of hot dogs?
“[The American Cancer Society] hasn’t made any clear-cut distinctions for any consumption per week, but the American Institute of Cancer Research recommends people should not consume ANY processed meat at all,” says Doyle. “But their upper limit for red meat is no more than 18 ounces a week.”
Doyle suggests, ultimately, it’s about awareness and moderation: “Our message is you can eat [hot dogs] on occasion, but we want you to be aware there is some risk associated. You can go out to the occasion baseball game and have a hot dog — that’s not going to kill you. It’s that longterm consumption over time.”
“Don’t eat them very often. Don’t eat them several times a week,” she adds.
Look for hot dogs with without antibiotics and hormones and a lower calorie, fat, and sodium content than others. (Commercial hot dogs, like mainstream Oscar Mayer wieners come in at about 150 calories, 15g of fat, and 450mg of sodium.) Mens Health has a great guide to the best and worst hot dogs you can buy, health wise.
But also be wary about flashy labels and always check the ingredients for yourself. “Even if something says it’s ‘uncured’ or ‘no nitrites/nitrates,’ they can still have those compounds added to them,” warns Doyle. “It’s hard to avoid preservatives. That’s why hot dogs have such long shelf life. I always encourage people to read the labels. If it’s a processed meat, you can be sure there’s some kind of compound in there.”
Zimmern agrees: “If you look at the back of a package, if there are any preservatives — if the meat can’t be traced to a farmer with a name — I don’t think commercial hot dogs are one of the things to be super proud of.”
16. Short answer: Kinda.
Veggie or vegan hot dogs are usually made of soy proteins (like tofu). While they contain no cholesterol and are lower in calories and fat, eating too much soy has its own side effects too. Studies suggest our move to supposedly “healthier” soy alternatives might pose problems for female fertility and reproduction.
And don’t be fooled: alternative plant-based preservatives can be just as harmful. “We’re seeing more and more products for natural-based nitrites like celery juice or beet juice. Even the [veggie products] contain nitrites and nitrates. It’s something to look for in the ingredients,” says Doyle.
Zimmern, on the other hand, just doesn’t believe in the idea of non-meat dogs at all: “Veggie dogs? There is no such a thing. I’m not trying to be rude, but a vegetarian hot dog is like a no-fat brand of creme brûlée. It’s an oxymoron. if you don’t want to have creme brûlée, eat an apple. If you don’t want to have a hot dog, you shouldn’t. There are a million alternatives. You don’t need to make a fake hot dog or replacement anything and put it on in a bun.”
20. Apparently at a hot dog stand in the Frankfurt, Germany airport.
“Whenever I think of a hot dog, the first one that comes to my vision is in the Frankfurt, Germany airport,” Zimmern says. “There is a hot dog stand in there: long thin wieners, just with mustard, on a toasted bun. It’s unbelievable. It’s out of control.”
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