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How to choose the best hot dogs (and what to avoid)

By Matthew Thompson, June 29, 2011 - 12:11pm

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I love the smoky bite of a hot dog mounded with sweet and tangy toppings and the delicate, salty balance of meat with the bun. But I’m not a huge fan of the buckets of sodium and oozing fat many hot dogs contain. Plus when you eat a hot dog with an average white-bread bun, you add 100+ calories and 200+ mg of sodium to the calories, fat and sodium the hot dog already contains. So is a healthy hot dog even possible?

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Joyce Hendley investigated this hot dog dilemma in the July/August 2011 issue of EatingWell Magazine. While hot dogs are not exactly a nutritionist’s favorite food, they can shine as the calorie bargain of the barbecue: you’re better off with a 100- to 150-calorie hot dog on a bun than with a 230-calorie hamburger or a 285-calorie bratwurst.

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But when it comes to choosing a hot dog, it turns out that not all dogs are created equal. Reaching for the right brand in the grocery store can have a huge impact on your intake of fat and sodium…and determine how tasty your cookout will be as well. Serve your healthier hot dog on a whole-wheat bun with fresh toppings and you’ve got yourself a winning meal.

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What’s the best hot dog to choose? The EatingWell Test Kitchen evaluated healthier hot dogs based on our nutrition parameters: 150 calories or less, 3 grams of saturated fat or less and 370 mg of sodium or less. Here’s how to find the best, healthiest hot dog and our picks for healthier hot dogs.

SORTING OUT SOME OF THE WORST HOT DOGS

First off, let’s talk about the bad and what to avoid:

• Steer clear of big fat dogs. Beware of jumbo, stadium and bun-length dogs, which can be almost double the size of a regular dog and have more of everything—including calories, fat and sodium. For example, Ball Park Jumbo Beef Franks have 240 calories, 8 grams of saturated fat (36% of your daily recommended limit) and 670 mg of sodium (28% of your daily recommended limit). And watch out for saturated fat. Some bruisers, such as Oscar Mayer’s XXL Premium Beef Franks, manage to pack a solid 9 grams of artery-punishing saturated fat into each link (40% of your daily recommended limit). The dog, which weighs in at 76 grams, are 57% bigger than the Oscar Mayer Classic Turkey Hot Dog at 45 grams.

• Beware of salty dogs. If you think opting for a turkey or chicken frank is going to cut the fat, you’re usually right but watch out: often sodium is added in place of fat. For instance, Oscar Mayer’s Turkey Franks have just 2.5 grams of saturated fat and 100 calories, but they have 510 mg of sodium. And the Foster Farms Chicken Frank packs a slug-melting 550 mg of sodium into each hot dog—about a quarter to a third of your daily limit, and that’s before you add the bun and toppings. Yikes!

HEALTHIER HOT DOGS

So then, what’s a health-conscious griller to do? The EatingWell Test Kitchen offers these tips for what to look for and picks for some delicious hot dogs that won’t send your diet on vacation. Here’s how to pick a healthier dog:

• Choose hot dogs labeled “Uncured” or “No added nitrates.” Sodium nitrite or nitrate (additives found in most hot dogs to help extend shelf life) are linked by some (but not all) experts to increased cancer risk.

• Pick sodium-smart dogs. We tasted, it’s true: dogs don’t have to be salt bombs to taste great. Look for brands with 370 mg sodium or less. For beef dogs, check out Applegate’s Uncured Beef Hot Dog, which has a delicious beefy flavor and weighs in at only 70 calories, with only 2 grams of fat and 330 mg of sodium—though you’d never know it to try them, since they have the fatty, salty flavor of a less healthy dog! High marks also go to the Boar’s Head Lite Skinless Beef Frankfurter, which has a mild, German-style wurst flavor and keeps its numbers similarly slim with fat and calories, even managing to shave off a bit of sodium. That’s no small feat, since many “lite” brands of beef hot dog are big-time sodium offenders. Health-wise, we liked Applegate Uncured Turkey Dog, which has a rich, savory flavor that mimics a beef or pork dog, and boasts a trim 40 calories, 1 gram of saturated fat and amazing 260 mg of sodium.

• Go for organic hot dogs. These dogs, such as Applegate’s Great Organic Uncured Beef Hot Dog, are made from organically raised animals, not treated with antibiotics or hormones. Plus they skip the nitrites and nitrates.

• For all-out nutrition, nothing tops a veggie dog, such as the Lightlife Smart Dog, which clocks in at 45 calories and 0 grams of fat—that’s a dog you shouldn’t feel bad heaping toppings upon! Also impressive was the Tofu Pup, which had a mere 0.5 gram of saturated fat.

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What’s your favorite healthy hot dog?

Matthew Thompson is the associate food editor for EatingWell Magazine.


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TAGS: Matthew Thompson, Healthy Cooking Blog

Matthew Thompson
Matthew Thompson is a former associate food editor for EatingWell Magazine.

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