June 14, 2024
We have good news. According to the nutritionists we consulted, healthy hot dogs do exist.

We have good news. According to the nutritionists we consulted, healthy hot dogs do exist. Yagi Studio via Getty Images

Hot dog season is officially upon us. As the weather warms up and we weigh the pros and cons of stuffing our faces with salty hot dogs on perfectly toasted buns with ketchup, mustard and sauerkraut, we have to wonder: How much better are those hot dogs and sausages at the grocery store that include labels like “low fat,” “organic,” “vegetarian/vegan,” “low-sodium,” “natural” and the list goes on? Are they really that much healthier than a traditional hot dog?

In our never-ending quest to consume hot dogs all summer without wreaking havoc on our health, we consulted nutritionists to find out — here’s what they had to say. 

This is the truth about “healthy” hot dogs.

We have good news. According to the nutritionists we consulted, healthy hot dogs do exist.

LightLife hot dogs are my favorite,” Amy Goldsmith, a registered dietitian and owner of Kindred Nutrition, told HuffPost. “They taste great, and since they are plant-based, they have 0 grams of saturated fat and total fat while still providing 8 grams of protein.”

Marissa Meshulam, a New York-based registered dietitian, lovesApplegate Organics Turkey Hot Dogs. “They’re made with great quality ingredients like organic turkey meat and simple spices. All of the meat is humanely raised, which is healthier for the consumer as well,” she said. In general, humanely raised animals have better access to nutrient-dense food, thus delivering more vitamins and minerals to consumers. Additionally, meat products from humanely raised animals typically contain less saturated fat and more polyunsaturated fat.

Registered dietitian Stephanie Dunne is also team Applegate Organics. “I love that I understand every ingredient in the list, that they are organic, and the animals are humanely raised,” she said. “Additionally, they don’t contain any gluten or casein, so they can be enjoyed by those who have allergies or sensitivities to those proteins. They also have delicious turkey and chicken hot dogs for those looking to reduce their overall or saturated fat intake.” 

But you do need to pay attention to the labels.

Long story short: There are good “healthy” hot dogs out there, but also imposters. You should be wary of hot dogs marketed as healthy that are anything but.

“Many packages have claims like ‘no fillers!’ and ‘no MSG!’” Dunne said. “While both of these facts are good, people should always read the ingredients and nutrition facts label to be sure they are making the healthiest selection possible. For example, a sausage package might claim ‘no fillers!’ on the front but still contain 26 grams of fat and multiple preservatives.”

Goldsmith added that just because a hot dog is made from chicken or turkey doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthier. “I think people tend to think that hot dogs that are labeled as organic or made from chicken or turkey are naturally healthier,” she said. “Although they may have less fat and a little less saturated fat, they are still high in sodium.”

Excess sodium intake (more than 1,500 milligrams per day) increases the risk of life-threatening health issues like high blood pressure, kidney disease, stroke, stomach cancer and more, according to the American Heart Association. Just because a hot dog is organic or made with chicken doesn’t mean it’s automatically lower in sodium, so always check your labels. 

Let’s talk about vegan and vegetarian hot dogs…

At first glance, vegan and vegetarian hot dogs might appear healthier than meat. Plant-based products are always better, right? Not necessarily. 

“Plant-based hot dogs are a great alternative for people who prefer to avoid meat, for whatever reason,” Dunne said. “However, regardless of the source of filling, the healthiest hot dogs will be those with low sodium content, reasonable fat content and natural ingredients. From a health perspective (rather than a moral one or based on taste preference), I do not recommend substituting a plant-based hot dog that is high in sodium, added sugar, and has a long list of ingredients that I don’t understand.”

Goldsmith agrees, saying that although, in general, plant-based hot dogs will have less saturated fat, that’s not always the case — and other ingredients matter, too. “There are specific things you want to assess,” she said. “First, how much saturated fat and total fat does it have? How much sodium, and what is the protein amount?”

As with any hot dog you purchase, reading the label on vegetarian and vegan hot dogs will always be important. A sodium-packed vegan hot dog isn’t necessarily better than a turkey or chicken hot dog that packs less salt.

How often can you eat healthy hot dogs? 

The good news is that you can buy hot dogs that are somewhat healthy. The bad news? You still probably shouldn’t eat them every day.

Like all food groups, everything is fine in moderation,” Goldsmith said. “As a dietitian, I recommend focusing on a variety of protein sources. This can vary between poultry, pork, beef, fish and plant-sourced protein. My rule of thumb is to not repeat a source more than twice a week.”

Dunne gets more specific, saying that when packing her daughter’s lunch, hot dogs make it in her lunchbox — but not every day. “I give my daughter a hot dog once per week in her lunchbox, as it is a source of protein that I know she will consume, and I wouldn’t hesitate to give her another on the weekend if I needed to,” she said. “However, because it is slightly higher in sodium than other protein sources, I ensure that I balance it out with crunchy snap peas or creamy homemade coleslaw.”

When making decisions about food frequency, Dunne emphasizes that it’s always important to consider the big picture. Even though certain hot dog picks at the grocery store are healthier than the “real thing,” eating them every day would still probably pack too much sodium into your week. So, if you want to eat them a few times a week, make sure you balance them with lower-sodium choices.

To answer the initial question posed, yes — there is a point in eating healthy hot dogs. They’re a good source of protein, and some brands are significantly lower in saturated fat and sodium than the real thing. You probably still shouldn’t eat them every day, but hey — we’ll take our wins where we can. 

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