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Often served at sporting events, barbecues, and other social gatherings, hot dogs are classic summer fare. As one of the most widely-sold sausage products in the U.S., some may even argue that a cookout without a line of hot dogs on the grill is merely a basic outdoor picnic. However, some may fail to realize the ways in which eating even a single hot dog can impact your health in the short and long term.
Hot dogs are made from ground-up cured beef or pork—or both. This meat is then pushed into casings, which are twisted into sausage-like links. Though traditional hot dogs primarily come from beef and pork products, nowadays, you can also find versions made from turkey, soy, chicken, and other proteins. When it comes to enjoying your hot dog, typically, people lay these links inside a bun and top them with condiments like ketchup, mustard, relish, and sauerkraut. Other hot dog toppings include dousing dogs in chili, smothering them with cheese, or even wrapping them in bacon. While these indulgent dogs may provide instant satisfaction for savory food lovers, there are a handful of other more profound ways that eating a hot dog can impact your body.
If you’re curious about how hot dogs and their toppings might affect your health, keep reading! Below, we break down the side effects of eating hot dogs once and for all. And for more healthy eating advice, be sure to also check out What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Red Meat Every Day.
While the prospect of hot dogs potentially curbing the length of your life may seem like an extreme, hyperbolic statement, science tells a different story. According to a study released by the University of Michigan and published in the scientific journal Nature, eating just one hot dog can deduct 36 minutes from your life, even if you’re already living a healthy lifestyle. After analyzing the effects of over 5,800 foods consistent with a U.S. diet, researchers translated these findings into quantifiable measurements based on the amount of time potentially lost or gained by consuming each. Although these findings are alarming, to say the least, do note that they are only predictions and not a guarantee. That said, knowledge is power—and the fact that a sole hot dog could potentially decrease your life expectancy in any capacity should encourage you to take pause and perhaps reconsider your meal choice.
Hot dogs contain preservatives called nitrites and nitrates, which are added to help lengthen shelf life and minimize bacterial growth. Nitrites are also responsible for giving hot dogs their bright red color. However, the issue with these food additives is that there is a possible link between the consumption of nitrites and cancer. These commonly used food additives found in many varieties of processed meats may also become more concentrated when exposed to the high temperature of a grill, even exceeding the legal limit for nitrates, according to a recent study published via Foods.
Research also suggests that cooking meat at high temperatures—particularly when grilled or roasted over open flames—can increase your cancer risk by triggering the formation of chemicals heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These chemicals have been linked to breast, pancreatic, colon, and other forms of cancer.
If you really want to chow down on hot dogs, then look for labels that are nitrate-free, no-added nitrates, or uncured, such as Applegate Farms.
Though the recommended maximum for sodium taps out at 2,300 milligrams per day, it’s safe to say that nearly all Americans exceed this. Although your body needs only a small amount of sodium to properly function, too much sodium can be bad for your health. According to the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines, overdoing it on sodium can increase the risk of high blood pressure, which is a major cause of stroke and heart disease. You can count hot dogs among the foods highest in sodium; one 6-inch hot dog provides 21% of the daily recommended maximum of sodium—and that’s not counting everything else you eat throughout the day. Replace hot dogs with any of these 20 Foods That Lower Blood Pressure to get your health back on track.
If you like sauerkraut, then pile it on that dog. This fermented food contains live and active cultures, which may act as probiotics and may have powerful health benefits. They also help your gut’s ability to absorb the nutrients from the foods passing through.
One beef hot dog (57 grams) provides about 7 grams of protein. This macronutrient is known to help repair and build your body’s tissues. However, you certainly want to keep hot dogs on the menu for an occasional treat as it does have its setbacks, too. For that reason, it’s wise to stock up on these The 30 Best High-Protein Foods for Metabolism, instead.
Processed meats are especially high in artery-clogging saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease. A single beef hot dog contains approximately 189 calories, 16.8 grams of fat, and 6.8 grams of saturated fat. That’s 34% of the recommended daily maximum for saturated fat—from only one dog! If you like to chow down on two or three, that can rack up those grams of saturated fat.
A previous version of this article was originally published on June 29, 2020. It has since been updated to include additional copy and proofreading revisions, further research, and updated contextual links.