Are Uncured Hot Dogs Better For You?

Are Uncured Hot Dogs Better For You?

For years we have become accustomed to hot dogs from the likes of companies in Wisconsin as Usinger’s, Johnsonville, and Klement’s Sausage Products. Very few patio dinners are without them. I personally like hot dogs a lot as I “grew up” on them, so the tastes are associated with good memories from my childhood years. So, when I read about the newer products of uncured hot dogs I was curious whether or not they could really match up to the long established flavors and tastes of our childhood favorites.

Uncured hot dogs today are those that contain “no nitrates or nitrites.” For years nutrition experts have warned about the use of these potentially harmful chemicals in foods. They are also added to meats, such as ham and bacon, as well. They were intended to prevent spoilage and block the growth of harmful bacteria in food. These chemicals are also found naturally in foods, such as vegetables, celery powder, and natural salt products, and can help the preservation process of meats, as well as, enhance the color and flavor of the food.

When nitrates and nitrites first came out there was some relief in health circles as most nutrition experts were hoping that they had found the answer to food spoilage and contamination. Food in the 1930’s to 1960’s still had to be eaten quickly, even when stored in the refrigerator, within 2-3 days to avoid any food breakdown and spoilage. Nevertheless, preservatives were also associated with the potential of a higher risk of colorectal cancer. A definite downside!

For the sake of parents with young children, I do think that using the uncured hot dogs does appear to be a very good choice. It is a reminder to try to limit the amount of food additives and fillers in our food. However, as the research reports today, the uncured will still probably have natural forms of nitrates and nitrites in them, as celery juice or powder. These products are necessary to report on the label as required by the USDA. Today’s uncured hot dogs can be made from 100% all beef, as the kosher hot dogs; or from chicken, turkey, pork, or a combination of these meats. All uncured hot dogs need to be refrigerated.

Newer research from 2011 suggests that nitrates/nitrites may also help to lower blood pressure and improve exercise performance. To this end, experts do suggest that we eat more nitrate-containing vegetables, such as beets.

The best advice is to choose the product that is best for your tastes. Again, limit the amount that you serve to children so that their diet is not based solely on commercial products such as hot dogs. I do prefer the kosher hot dogs prepared with premium beef only, and in qualified kitchens. The label for me needs to say, “no added fillers, colors, or flavors, and no byproducts; even gluten free.” Today we eat only 5-20% of the average American’s dietary nitrates/nitrites from cured foods. It is best all around to find a happy medium!

A typical uncured hot dog contains 70-150 calories depending on its size. About 50% of the calories come from fat, or about 6 grams. Hot dogs also typically have 6 grams protein and 390 mg sodium. Choose turkey or chicken for less sodium. These foods are not raw and do not need to be fully cooked. Cook briefly to heat, and without added fat.

Rita Larsen Registered Dietitian at Elite Sports Clubs

Written by Rita Larsen, RDN, CD; Elite Sports Clubs Nutrition Educator & Diet Counselor

Rita is certified in Positive Psychology, University of Penn; has a BS in Dietetics from Kansas State University; and an Internship and Masters at the Indiana University Medical Center.

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