Why You Should Skip the Hot Dogs This July 4th

Why You Should Skip the Hot Dogs This July 4th

Nothing says red, white, and blue more than grilled meats, cold beer, and legal explosives in the form of firecrackers. But what if hot dogs, an all American July 4th favorite, increased your risk of heart disease by some 42 percent and diabetes by 19 percent? Not to be a Debbie Downer, but the stats don’t lie.

"To lower risk of heart attacks and diabetes, people should consider which types of meats they are eating," said Renata Micha of the Harvard School of Public Health. "Processed meats such as bacon, salami, sausages, hot dogs and processed deli meats may be the most important to avoid," Micha said in a statement.

Read more about the dangers of processed meat

Her report, published in the journal Circulation, reviewed 1,600 separate studies to investigate the differences in health risks between processed and unprocessed meats. Processed meats are smoked, cured, salted, or have chemical preservatives added. Examples include hot dogs, salami, sausages, and deli meats. Just 1.8 oz. (about one hot dog) daily drastically increases the risk of heart disease.

Hot Dogs and Diabetes

Another study, reported on NPR, found that those that eat red meat more than three times per week were 50 percent more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. Even when researchers accounted for weight gain, the percentage was the same. It’s thought that eating too much red meat puts your system into iron overload, which sets the stage for insulin resistance.

And then there are the nitrosamines, also found in hot dogs.

"Our understanding is that, especially [when they occur in] processed meats, these nitrosamines can cause inflammation," explains Dr. David Nathan, who directs the diabetes center at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Nitrosamines can also poison the cells that make insulin (beta cells in the pancreas), creating resistance.

Organic Isn’t Always Better

Organic hot dogs aren’t always better, even those that claim to be free of nitrates and nitrites, which have been linked to cancer. Nitrates and nitrites are used to kill bacteria, especially the infamous botulism.

Conventional hot dogs use sodium nitrate, the synthetic version of the additive, while organic and natural hot dogs use celery juice or celery salt. A study published in The Journal of Food Protection found that natural hot dogs had anywhere from one half to 10 times the amount of nitrates found in conventional hot dogs. So they’re definitely not nitrite-free.

Read more about the dangers of too much sodium

According to my article on TreeHugger, “Current labeling standards require products that use the non-synthetic source of nitrites and nitrates to say "Uncured" or "No nitrates or nitrites added," when products are cured and nitrites and nitrates are added, just from a natural source.”

[Editor's Note: If you're looking for a better-for-you hot dog made from 100% real beef, we recommend Applegate. Their hot dogs are made with grass-fed beef, and do not contain antibiotics or growth hormones. Their hot dogs do contain celery powder (which contain naturally-occurring nitrites) but if you're in the mood for a hot dog, this is a cleaner option.]

Photo Credit: dinnercraft

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Sara Novak specializes in health and food policy writing for Discovery Health. Her work has also been featured on TreeHugger, HowStuffWorks.com, TLC Cooking, and Animal Planet. After graduating from the Grady School of Journalism at the University of Georgia, Sara headed up the communication efforts for a national scholarship program in Washington, D.C. Sara has also handled copy writing and public relations for a global environmental consulting firm. She loves fiddling with healthful recipes, traveling, and exploring life atop her yoga mat. Today, Sara lives in Charleston with her husband and two lovable cocker spaniels, Madison and Bella.