From the ballpark to outdoor get-togethers, hot dogs are a quintessential American summer staple. Hot dogs are a food the whole family can enjoy, leaving shoppers wondering how to pick the healthiest choice.
Choosing the healthiest hot dog
Hot dog ingredients may seem like a mystery, and that’s partly because ingredients come from a cocktail of meat trimmings, fillers and preservatives. The aisle-full of hot dog choices with packaging boasting health claims and “all natural ingredients” can be confusing.
It’s worth noting that hot dogs are a processed meat product, classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning they are considered carcinogenic to humans. While keeping processed meat intake to a minimum is the best idea, here are some things to keep in mind when choosing the healthiest hot dogs:
- Ingredients. Look for items with fewer ingredients on the list. Moreover, scope out grass-fed beef options that are better for heart health – containing more healthy omega-3 fatty acids and less saturated fat.
- Sodium. Sodium intake adds up quickly, and just one hot dog tallying 500 mg of sodium may send someone over their recommended limit. Aim for choices that are lower in sodium.
- Additives. Uncured hot dogs are a good way to go to avoid nitrates and nitrites, ingredients that may form cancer-linked compounds known as nitrosamines. Pro tip – all organic hot dogs are uncured.
- Veggie dogs. Veggie dogs are a great option for vegans or those trying to reduce their animal protein intake. Like their meaty counterpart, veggie dogs are often highly processed and high in saturated fat and salt. Choose the option with the fewest number of ingredients for the healthiest choice.
Don’t forget the condiments
Among all the condiments, ketchup is part of a long-standing, mostly friendly, debate of whether it belongs on a hot dog. Like ketchup, most condiments are culprits for adding excess sodium to many diets. When choosing hot dog condiments like relish, ketchup and mustard (especially honey mustard), aim to choose options with the least amount of sugar added, lowest sodium content and fewest ingredients. Moreover, consider choosing whole wheat hot dog buns to add more nutrients and fiber to the meal.
We’re not here to solve the condiment dilemma of whether ketchup goes on a hot dog, but we do have some easy recipes to elevate the flavor and give it some much-needed nutrition:
Greek Dog – Serves ~8 hot dogs
- 1 cucumber
- Salt for sprinkling
- 2 large cloves garlic
- 1.5 cups Greek yogurt
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
- ½ red onion, finely chopped
- Grate the cucumber into a sieve over a bowl. Sprinkle salt over the cucumbers to help draw out excess moisture, and let sit for 15 minutes. Press the cucumber to squeeze out excess water, then dry with a paper towel.
- Grate, finely chop or use a garlic press for the garlic.
- In a bowl ,combine garlic, Greek yogurt, olive oil and red wine vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. The flavor will continue to develop when stored in the fridge.
- Add 2-3 tablespoons to a hot dog and top with diced tomatoes and red onion if desired.
Elote Dog – Serves ~8 hot dogs
- 2 ears fresh corn, husked
- Spray olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. light mayonnaise
- 2 Tbsp. cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 lime, zested and juiced
- 1 Roma tomatoes, diced
- 2 green onions, finely diced
- 2 Tbsp. queso fresco or cotija cheese
- ¼ tsp. smoked paprika
- ½ tsp. cumin
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Optional. Grill corn until lightly charred. Remove corn from cob.
- In a bowl, mix all ingredients together and add 2-3 tablespoons onto hot dog. Enjoy!
Tropical Dog – Serves ~8 hot dogs
- 1 cup pineapple, finely diced
- 2 Tbsp. red onion, finely diced
- 1 jalapeno, seeds removed, finely diced
- 1 Roma tomato, finely diced
- Salt to taste
- Optional. Before dicing, grill pineapple and jalapeno until lightly charred.
- In a bowl, mix all ingredients together and put 2-3 tablespoons on the hot dog.
Shanthi Appelö is a registered dietitian and health and wellness spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan based in Detroit. Passionate about the science of nutrition and behavior, Shanthi has experience working in clinical nutrition, public health and teaching in the university setting. In her free time, she enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, exploring the outdoors, working on art and spending time with family. For more health tips and information, visit AHealthierMichigan.org
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