My youngest child loves hot dogs! I know, I am embarrassed to say, she is not entirely on board with being a “weekday vegan”. I don’t know when she was first introduced to a hot dog. At a party? With grandparent’s? With my husband? I don’t know, but she has learned from me, that hot dogs do not provide good nutrition for her body. I have even shown my kids the “How It’s Made – Hot Dogs” clip. My oldest child thought it was disgusting, while my younger daughter, thought it was cool and asked if she could have a hot dog for dinner! Sigh, eye roll, thank goodness she’s loves vegetables and being mostly vegetarian, but show her a hot dog and the carnivore in her roars!
So as summer approaches, and hot dogs are tossed onto the grill, think about what’s in it, the choices you have, and how you should limit it or cut it out entirely from your diet. Remember, eating a plant-based diet is very beneficial to your health, so if you can follow a vegan diet for 5 days and on that 6th day your craving peeks when your friend is grilling up hot dogs, then dig in, but cleanse your body afterwards with plant-based foods and plenty of water.
Why are hot dogs, bad dogs?
Sodium nitrate is a preservative that is added to cured meats during the cooking process to keep hot dogs from turning gray and to prevent the growth of botulism. Sodium nitrate converts to sodium nitrite and breaks down in the body, turning into nitrosamines, which in the past, researches discovered that they caused cancer in lab rats, but not in humans, at least YET. Now that doesn’t give you the green flag to start gobbling down hot dogs. They still aren’t a great food for you.
With these added preservatives and salt, hot dogs are high in sodium.The current dietary guidelines recommend eating less than 2,300mg of sodium a day, and less than 1,500 mg if your over 50, have high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease. ONE hot dog can have 500mg of sodium, that’s about ¼ of your daily limit and that’s not even counting the bun and condiments! So, although studies have not yet proven that eating nitrates in meats have caused cancer, they are typically used in FATTY, SALTY, PROCESSED foods that should be AVOIDED or NOT eaten very often.
Let me just throw another curve ball. Some fruits, vegetables, and grains also have naturally occurring nitrates that our bodies digestive system convert to sodium nitrite. You don’t hear any claims saying that they cause cancer! So don’t worry! Don’t stop eating UNPROCESSED, fresh, RAW fruits, vegetables, and whole grains!
What about the “natural” , “no added nitrate”, or “low fat” hot dogs?
The US Department of Agriculture has a safe method of using lactic acid producing bacteria and freezing/refrigeration to prevent the growth of botulism so food manufacturers don’t have to use sodium nitrate and sodium. Some companies label their products as “natural” or “no added nitrites”. But beware, instead they are using celery powder or celery juice, which are naturally high in nitrites and may end up making the food more concentrated in nitrites than the conventional product! It’s the loop hole that food companies use to make the claim on their label. Pretty sneaky! The NY Times called them out back in 2011. You might also see a “low fat” label on some hot dogs. Yes, they may have cut out the fat, but they keep the flavor by using more salt and seasonings, making the food even higher in sodium. That’s not a good exchange! So read your nutrition labels and ingredient lists. Don’t make your decision to buy a product solely on the health claim on the front of the package.
What about Veggie Dogs?
Even though veggie dogs are not meat based, they are still a processed food. Always read the ingredients, which for some veggie dogs, can easily be confused with a chemistry lab inventory list! When checking out the nutrition label, I have found some veggie dogs that are 50 calories, 2g fat, and 330mg sodium, which are better than some meat dogs, but see if you can recognize the ingredients listed. I don’t know, veggies aren’t suppose to taste like hot dogs, right!
If you still want a hot dog:
As a guide, read the nutrition label and look for products that have less than 150 calories, fewer than 14g fat (less 6g saturated fat), 200mg or less of sodium or not to exceed 450mg sodium per serving. Choose the organic or grass fed dogs without nitrates but check for celery powder/juice.
Lastly, I don’t condone eating hot dogs or veggie dogs, but if you just can’t do without, limit yourself this summer BBQ season and compensate with LOTS of PLANT FOODS!
For more information on food additives, check out the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Chemical Cuisine.
- Mint Vinaigrette
- 1 lemon, juiced (about ⅓ cup)
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- ⅓ cup fresh mint, minced
- ¼ cup olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- For the "veggie dog"
- 2 cups cooked white beans or 1 (15 ounce) BPA-free can white beans
- 1 cup grape tomatoes, thinly sliced
- 1 avocado, thinly sliced
- 4 large cucumbers, scooped out and seeded
- In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, Dijon mustard, garlic, and mint.
- Slowly whisk in the olive oil.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- In another small bowl, mix together the beans, tomatoes, and avocado.
- Toss ¼ cup of vinaigrette.
- Spoon bean mixture into cucumbers and enjoy!
- Chop any leftover ingredients into a salad!
- Store any leftover vinaigrette in an airtight container in the refrigerator.