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. Still, 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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That’s one of the reasons I was so excited to participate in EatingWell’s hot dog taste-test. We identified a number of brands with less than 370 mg of sodium and no more than 3 grams of saturated fat per dog—our baseline standard for a healthier dog. These we separated into three categories: Poultry Dogs, Beef and/or Pork Dogs and Vegetarian Hot Dogs.
From there, we went on taste—determining which kinds of dogs had the most satisfying, delicious flavor. The results were sometimes surprising. While conventional wisdom would probably dictate that the dog with the most fat and salt would taste the best, that definitely was not the case.
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Below are the EatingWell Test Kitchen's favorite healthier hot dogs:
Applegate Uncured Turkey Dogs [40 cals; 3.5 g fat (1 g sat fat); 260 mg sodium]
Shelton Uncured Chicken Franks [70 cals; 6 g fat (1.5 g sat fat); 360 mg sodium]
Jenny-O Turkey Franks [70 cals; 5 g fat (1.5 g sat fat); 370 mg sodium]
D'Artagnan Uncured Duck Hot Dogs [90 cals; 6 g fat (2 g sat fat); 350 mg sodium]
Beef & Beef/Pork Blends
Applegate The Great Organic Uncured Hot Dog [110 cals; 8 g fat (3 g sat fat); 330 mg sodium]
Applegate Uncured Beef Hot Dogs [70 cals; 6 g fat (2 g sat fat); 330 mg sodium]
Boar’s Head Lite Skinless Beef Frankfurters [90 cals; 6 g fat (2.5 g sat fat); 270 mg sodium]
Vegetarian Hot Dogs
Lightlife Smart Dogs [45 cals; 0 g fat; 310 mg sodium]
Lightlife Tofu Pups [60 cals; 2.5 fat (0.5 g sat fat); 300 mg sodium]
Didn’t see a dog you like? Here’s what to look for on packages to choose a healthier hot dog:
• 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.
• Beware of salty dogs. Between salty flavorings, preservatives and curing agents, some dogs pack 500 mg sodium or more apiece—a quarter to a third of your daily limit, and that’s before you add a bun and toppings. (Often) worst offenders: “light” and “fat-free” dogs” (which usually replace fat with more salt and flavoring). Dogs don’t have to be salt bombs to taste great. Look for brands with 370 mg sodium or less.
• Check out the saturated fat. Some dogs pack more saturated fat than eight slices of bacon; read labels before buying. For a heart-healthier choice, stick to 3 grams of sat. fat or less. Poultry dogs tend to be leaner, veggie dogs leanest of all.
• 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.
• Go for organic hot dogs. These dogs 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.
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What’s your favorite hot dog? Tell us what you think below.