Does anyone really like to think about what a hot dog is and what went into making it? It’s the kind of food best attributed to the “ignorance is bliss” category. When we were kids, it didn’t matter. You could tell us it was pure cow excrement and after 5 minutes of acting disgusted we would likely pick it back up and take a big, satisfying bite. Unfortunately, the older you get, the less you can shake off those unsettling ingredients and thoughts of unsavory preparation methods. Health declines, thought processes mature, and suddenly, that delicious casing of…whatever the heck it is…makes you pause just one moment longer than it did before. Also as adults, we at some point have to come face to face to our food demons. Ignorance may be bliss, but it doesn’t cut it in the long run.
We know now that hot dogs aren’t exactly nutritional powerhouses. The traditional meat used – a combination of beef, pork, and chicken – is referred to as “trimmings,” which is basically what’s left over from making the better quality cuts of meat. Once ground, the meat is mixed with fillers: food starch, a lot of salt, and a variety of flavorings and miscellaneous add-ins. Water and corn syrup are often added, and the entire mixture is pureed completely. This puree gets stuffed into cellulose casings. The hot dogs are put through a smoke chamber and then baked, drenched in cold salted water to cool, and removed from the casings and packaged (at last).
Of course, some varieties are more serious offenders than others; but with all of the recent research associating hot dogs in general with increased risk of diabetes, coronary heart disease, and even cancer, is it ok to eat any of them, ever?
Fortunately, we can still enjoy this childhood favorite. Hot dogs are really best enjoyed as a “once in a while” food, and knowing what to look for in a brand can help make the smartest choice at the super market. Grass-fed varieties are popping up here and there, which have both health and environmental implications – grass-fed beef tends to be higher quality, with more ideal ratios of omega 3-to-omega-6 fatty acids and lower total fat content, all while off-setting carbon emissions through natural grazing processes. You may even be able to buy directly from local farmers or ranchers, so you know exactly where your hot dog and the meat in it are coming from. You can also read labels for lower total fat, saturated fat, and sodium, along with the ingredient list for any undesirable fillers – corn syrup, nitrites, dyes – you know the drill. Also, if you’re not cooking for a crowd and don’t want to indulge in all those hot dogs in a week all by yourself, simply flash freeze them spread out on a baking sheet and transfer them to a freezer safe container or bag to enjoy more sporadically throughout the summer.
Also don’t forget to head over to Around the Plate’s most recent giveaway, courtesy of one of the foremost healthier hot dog brands currently on the market, Applegate Farms. These dogs aren’t made from random animal parts, only have a small list of ingredients, and are void of any yucky fillers that you might find in other hot dog options.
Jessica Serdikoff is the chief blogger behind Floptimism, a blog where Jessica shares deliciously inspiring recipes and tales of life as a nutrition student. Follow Floptimism on Facebook and Twitter.
When was the last time you ate a hot dog? (And after reading this, when’s the next time you think you’ll be eating one??)