An Article from consumer reports 7-07
Without (too much) guilt
DOG DAYS OF SUMMER In our tests, full-fat beef franks tasted best, but several light alternatives also pleased the palate.
Whether sizzled on the barbecue or scarfed down at the ball game, hot dogs are so popular that it seems almost unpatriotic to point out that they’re essentially tidy little bundles of sodium, additives, and fat. Going light can help, but don’t think you have to buy “uncured” or poultry dogs. Our tests found that they weren’t necessarily better than regular franks.
We did find good choices when we cooked some 620 full-fat and lower-fat hot dogs from 23 well-known brands and leading retailers on a concession stand-style grill with rollers. Several of the light dogs tasted nearly as good as their full-fat cousins and were considerably lower in fat and sodium (see Ratings). One of those, Ball Park Lite Franks, was among the lowest priced.
Though no hot dog in our tests was excellent, the best-tasting ones were the full-fat beef varieties. The nutritionists we consulted refused to put them in the “never, never eat” category. Instead, they say that a sound diet can reasonably include any type of food, in moderation. So if you just occasionally indulge (say, a few times each summer), you don’t have to fret about savoring a regular frank and you can simply buy the ones that taste best. But if you or your children eat hot dogs frequently, it might be wise to choose a lower-fat
variety and add condiments for flavor.
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Healthier Hot Dogs
The dogs we tested ranged in size, which could affect a head-to-head comparison of their nutritional value. However, when we compared the dogs on an equal weight basis, the lighter models still had less fat. Moreover, with few exceptions, franks within the same brand were the same size, which would still make picking the lighter version of a favorite hot dog a smart choice.
‘HEALTHIER’ FRANKS MIGHT NOT BE
If you thought you were doing the right thing by selecting chicken or turkey franks or uncured dogs with no added nitrates, think again. Our tests found they did not all deserve a health halo. While three of the four regular poultry dogs we rated had 30 to 80 fewer calories than the average of beef and mixed meat dogs, the other poultry frank had as many calories as beef. And most had plenty of fat and sodium. While the three uncured franks might boast of “no added nitrates,” our testing found that Applegate Farms, Coleman Natural, and Whole Ranch contained nitrates and nitrites at levels comparable to many of the cured models.
The vegetarian crowd will find it harder to fill their buns. Our tasters screened four popular soy dogs to see whether there were at least two that could be included in a separate taste test. But the dogs were so off the mark (“they seemed to just mimic real food,” said one tester) that even a vegetarian might find them hard to swallow. Morning Star Farms Veggie Dogs was the best of the lot, but the kindest words our testers could find for them was that if you smother them with your favorite condiments, they might be OK.
WHAT’S INSIDE THE CASING
Long considered a “mystery meat,” hot dogs were thought to contain all kinds of horrors. Today, according to Department of Agriculture standards, they’re made of beef, pork, poultry, or a blend of all of those, which can contain no more than 30 percent fat, plus water used to cool the meat as it is ground, binders such as nonfat dry milk or cereal, salt, sweeteners, and seasonings.
Hot dogs may also contain sodium nitrite and nitrate, preservatives that give franks their characteristic flavor and color, ward off spoilage and rancidity, and help prevent botulism. Those compounds, which occur naturally in some foods, spices and water, have raised health concerns because they have the potential to form nitrosamines, chemicals found to cause cancer in lab animals. Research also suggests that a steady diet of cured meats might increase the risk of certain cancers and serious lung disease in people.
Our analysis found that the nitrates and nitrites in all the hot dogs we tested were well below the maximum level for the additives established by the USDA. While a hot dog can be labeled uncured if no nitrates or nitrites have been added, that does not necessarily mean the product is free of them. The three uncured models we tested contained nitrites and nitrates because the compounds occur naturally in spices and other natural ingredients added during processing.
Manufacturers are permitted to process franks using machinery that scrapes meat from the bone. That brings a remote possibility that hot dogs might include central nervous system tissue, which has been recognized by the USDA as a transmission risk for mad cow disease if it comes from an infected animal. We sent 15 beef franks to an outside lab to test for the presence of the tissue. None was found to contain it.
Dogging your health
While additives and central nervous system tissue pose theoretical health risks, the frequent consumption of hot dogs can have more concrete consequences for your arteries.
Franks can contain so much fat that even some light versions can have significantly more fat than other meats. Alas, the two fat-free models we tested, Ball Park Bun Size Smoked White Turkey Franks and Ball Park Fat Free Beef Franks, had little meat flavor, as well as a spongy or rubbery texture, pushing them toward the bottom of our Ratings.
Some lower-fat franks, including Jennie-O Turkey Store Turkey Franks, had around 5 grams of fat, but experts recommend against making even those a dietary staple. You simply won’t get as much bang for your buck nutritionally from them as you would from a leaner meat or chicken, explains Amy Jamieson-Petonic, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. Hot dogs are not the best source of protein (though most Americans get much more of the nutrient than they need). Three ounces of frankfurters have about 10 grams of protein, while 3 ounces of lean beef, turkey, chicken, or salmon have about 20 or more grams of protein.
With a sodium range of 300 to 760 mg per frank in the models we tested, just one serving of any of them could contribute a hefty chunk to your daily sodium intake. The average American already consumes far more than the recommended maximum of 2,300 mg of sodium a day. And while occasionally exceeding that limit might not be harmful for everyone, studies have shown that high sodium intake can raise blood pressure in susceptible people and exacerbate certain conditions, such as asthma.
So it’s best to avoid making hot dogs a steady part of the diet, even for children.
How to choose
If you want to cut the fat. Because the two fat-free dogs ranked only fair for taste, those concerned about calories and fat should consider one of the lower-fat franks: Hebrew National Kosher Reduced Fat Beef Franks, Boar’s Head Lite Skinless Beef Franks, Oscar Mayer Light Beef Franks, and Ball Park Lite Franks.
If you’re going for taste. All seven of our “very good” dogs were beef and three models stood out from the others: Hebrew National Kosher Franks, Nathan’s Famous Skinless Franks, and Boar’s Head Skinless Franks. Regular and light mixed meats and poultry franks fell largely in the good category; take your pick from those higher in this ranking.
If kosher is a must. Try Hebrew National Reduced Fat Franks. They had fewer calories and less fat than regular Hebrew National, and 60 mg less sodium per serving.
I feed my son Nature's Promise all natural Beef hot dogs. Here is the label from it.
Serving Size: 1 link (56 g)
Amount per Serving
* Calories 170 Calories from Fat 120
% Daily Value *
* Total Fat 14g 22%
* Saturated Fat 6g 30%
* Trans Fat 0g
* Cholesterol 35mg 12%
* Sodium 320mg 13%
* Total Carbohydrate 1g 0%
* Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
* Sugars 1g
* Protein 6g 12%
* Vitamin A0%
* Vitamin C0%
Est. Percent of Calories from:
Fat 74.1% Carbs 2.4%