Published: Aug. 26, 2011
Updated: Aug. 26, 2011
By Ashley Hardin
There’s nothing quite like enjoying a hot dog at the stadium, at a barbeque, or around a campfire.
But at what cost? Recent reports, including one released by the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research's Continuous Update Project (CUP), have cast a shadow on people’s enjoyment of hot dogs. Are the rumors true that hot dogs can bite back by giving you cancer?
Denise Snyder, MS, RD, CSO, LDN, a Duke nutrition researcher with an emphasis in cancer survivorship, says that you may want to think twice before throwing another wiener on the grill.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) reviewed thousands of studies -- and continue to review ongoing research -- that reflect a hot dog-cancer connection. Its conclusion: Processed meats, including hot dogs, bacon, and deli meats, are linked to increased colorectal cancer.
According to Snyder, it’s hard to point the finger at just one culprit -- preservatives, saturated fat, or other ingredients -- but the preservatives sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate should be avoided.
Preservatives are added to meats to preserve the color and inhibit some bacterial growth. Many are composed of compounds that may change into cancer-causing compounds in the body.
Sodium nitrite is a salty preservative found in processed meat that is used in the curing process to delay the development of botulism, develop a cured meat flavor, maintain the meat’s pink color and spiced flavor, and improve the overall length of storage.
Sodium nitrate is a natural antioxidant found in leafy vegetables. When digested, sodium nitrate breaks down to form sodium nitrite in the body, which has the antimicrobial properties to fight botulism. So, it is only when sodium nitrate becomes sodium nitrite that it becomes a functional preservative.
Both nitrate and nitrite, however, form nitrosamines -- a known carcinogen -- when mixed with protein-rich foods like meats. Nitrosamines create cell damage in the body.
Snyder says that even when eaten in moderation, hot dogs are a risky food. She points to research showing that eating 3.5 ounces of processed meat every day (24.5 ounces per week) increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 36 percent when compared to someone who eats no processed meat.
In addition to trimming all processed meats from your diet, Snyder recommends practicing these healthy lifestyle habits to reduce colorectal cancer risk:
Consider healthier alternatives to traditional hot dogs, such as vegetarian hot dogs, or cook fruits and vegetables on the grill instead.
If you have to have a hot dog, Snyder recommends white hot dogs, also called bockworst, which do not have nitrates added.
Turkey dogs, chicken dogs, kosher, and other ethnic varieties all carry the same threat as beef hot dogs because they are still processed meats that may have unhealthy preservatives added.
When shopping for hot dogs, look for fresh meats with no preservatives added. Be sure to read labels carefully and avoid those listing nitrates or nitrites in the ingredients.
Even if you are grilling a nitrite-free hot dog, Snyder warns that you can still put yourself at risk by overcooking the meat.
Any meat made of muscle protein -- including white meats like chicken, pork, and fish -- can generate a cancer-causing reaction when put on a hot grill. When meats are charred and blackened, you are inviting more carcinogenic compounds into your food, Snyder says.
Snyder offers these tips for healthier grilling: