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The Hype About Hot Dogs!

By on October 14, 2012

America’s popular summer snack, hot dogs are consumed all year round. 

This means the nitrates and nitrites, chemical compounds commonly used in making cured meat products like bacon and hot dogs are also consumed all year round. And this epidemic consumption of processed meat containing  nitrates are believed to potentially bring increased cancer risks.

Hot dogs contain nitrites used as preservatives, primarily to combat botulism. And nobody wants botulism! But during the cooking process, nitrites combine with amines naturally present in meat to form carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds. It is also suspected that nitrites can combine with amines in the human stomach to form N-nitroso compounds. These compounds are known carcinogens and have been associated with cancer of the oral cavity, urinary bladder, esophagus, stomach and brain.

The research linking colorectal cancer and processed meat is convincing, says a 2007 report by the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research. Just one 50-gram serving of processed meat — about the amount in one hot dog — a day increases the risk of colorectal cancer, on average, by 21 percent, the study found. While the debate rages on about hot dogs and cancer risk, few doctors would lump hot dog consumption with cigarettes. Recently the National Academy of Sciences, the American Cancer Society and the National Research Council have all agreed that there’s no excessive cancer risk from consuming sodium nitrite.

Now whether hot dog is a healthy food choice, that’s a different question. It’s important to eat a balanced diet that contains multiple daily servings of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.  But if you just have to have a hot dog every now and again, here are some options to be “healthier” about your choice.

Things You Can Do:

  1. Do not buy hot dogs containing nitrites. The rub is that “organic” or nitrate-free products can contain more chemical preservatives than traditional hot dogs. So you must do your homework.
  2. Request your supermarket stock nitrite-free hot dogs. The taste may not be what you are used to but it’s an option.
  3. Manage your hot dog consumption. Take special care not to over indulge in hot dogs or cured meats in general.

If you grew up eating traditional hot dogs, chances are the taste of a completely uncured hot dog will not be palatable. For this reason, manufacturers are wary because consumer taste is everything. It is very rare indeed to find a product that is totally nitrate-free. But you might want to try Applegate Farms  or even some Oscar Mayer products who both offer good alternatives when taste and health cannot be sacrificed. So as always, read the food label, manage your intake, and consider other natural alternatives.



Dr. Jerome Lisk is board certified neurologist with a fellowship in movement disorders, named one of Pasadena Magazine’s Top Docs of 2011. He’s also Chairman and President of  Southern California Movement Disorder SpecialistsDr. Lisk is also a medical contributor for healthyblackmen.org.


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