As summer looms ever closer, we think of the American outdoor cuisine, the hot dog. Whether at a baseball game or just outside grilling, the hot dog with toppings seems delightful. I thought that maybe it is time for a closer look at the old favorite.
All of us have enjoyed a good hot dog. There are all sorts of hot dogs on the market these days. In the food committee at Sierra View Homes, we often hear we need to put hot dogs on the menu. Indeed, in a quick survey, it became apparent that hot dogs are a staple for many seniors living alone. It is so easy to pop one or two from the freezer into the microwave for an easy meal.
Hot Dog History
I wanted to know the history of the hot dog. What I found out is what we call a hot dog has been in existence for a very long time and there are several stories about its origin. One story said the frankfurter was developed in 1487. That was five years before Columbus set sail for the new world. Frankfurt, Germany, claims to have created the first Frankfurter. The people of Vienna, Austria, want to claim the birthplace of the wiener. The hot dog sold during the 1800s in the United States was probably a mixture of widespread common European sausage recipes.
Hot Dog Ingredients
The next step was to understand what ingredients went into a hotdog. A typical hot dog usually has highly processed low-quality meats with lots and lots of preservatives. Common ingredients include meat trimmings, usually pork or beef trimmings, but chicken and turkey are also popular, fat, and flavorings such as salt, garlic, and paprika. Sodium erythorbate and sodium nitrites are also added preservatives that cure the meat. Nitrates enhance color and increase shelf life. Hot dogs are amazingly high in fat and sodium content. One dog can have 14 grams of total fat, 5 grams of saturated fat and 400-500 milligrams of sodium. All this totals up to nearly 20 percent of the daily recommendation.
Are Hot Dogs Nutritious?
The all-important question is whether hot dogs are good for you. The answer is a resounding, No! They are not nutritious. Huge amounts of sodium and nitrates should make us pause before we consume that dog. We all have heard about nitrites in hotdogs. During the cooking process, nitrites combine with amines, naturally present in meat, to form cancer causing compounds. These compounds have been associated with cancer of the oral cavity, bladder, esophagus, stomach and brain. Nitrites occur naturally in many vegetables, like spinach, celery, green lettuce, and root vegetables; but the vegetables appear to be effective in reducing the risk of cancer. When eating food like hot dogs it is important to eat antioxidant rich food such as tomatoes or vitamin C packed orange juice to counter the risk.
There are healthier hot dogs on the market these days. Hot dog producers are now making dogs processed without nitrites. Nitrite free hot dogs taste the same as the nitrite dogs but the color is browner instead of red. Supermarkets are now stocking Nitrate/nitrite free or uncured hot dogs. These dogs rely on natural sources of nitrate such as celery juice, extract or powder. There are also hot dogs made with organic turkey or chicken. It is important to read the package carefully because there still could be high sodium, saturated fat content.
Hot Dog Choking Risk
In our campus food committee meeting, we also needed to discuss the possibility of people choking on hot dogs. In the 65 and older population, chewing and swallowing may be lessened due to illness or other health issues so the possibility of choking is a real issue.
Choking is the third leading cause of death for all ages. Common culprits are nuts, popcorn, grapes, carrots and, yes, hot dogs. Hot dogs are dense and have small diameters that fit easily into the windpipe creating a plug that blocks airflow. Good advice is to chew carefully and not swallow in big gulps and have something to drink on hand so you can swallow and move things along.
Alas, we had all better think twice before we reach for that not so healthy, not so safe frank. Frankly, you would be better to skip it. In my report to the food committee, it became apparent hot dogs do not belong on the menu. We will enjoy other healthier summer food!