Hot Dogs: Warning Label?
We're offered hot dogs all summer long. They're a staple at baseball games, on city street corners and at backyard barbeques. Yesterday, my husband ordered a "baby dog" (first RED flag) from a local food shack and when I glanced at it, I couldn't help but make a concerned expression. I'm not sure what color I'd choose to describe it; maybe pink-beige?! It didn't help that it also looked like a miniature plastic toy. He asked that I please not make him think about it while he ate. Eww.
A couple weeks ago, Neal Barnard, M.D. and President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (a non-profit organization), published an article on Huffington Post where he describes the severity of eating hot dogs and all processed meats. Barnard's organization recently placed this billboard outside of the Indianapolis Speedway, where there was surely a lot of hot dog eating going on.
The message is a clear one: hot dogs can pose a threat to our health. According to PCRM, "every year, about 143,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer and more than 50,000 die of the disease. About half of all cases are already incurable when found."
After at least 58 scientific studies, scientists are now confident to say that the more hot dogs people eat directly corresponds to a higher risk of colorectal cancer. This is also true for any processed meats including bacon, deli slices, sausage and ham. The term “processed meat” refers to any meat that is preserved by smoking, curing, salting or any process that contains additional chemical preservatives. Some of the highest amounts of sodium nitrate are found in packaged meats found in children's lunches, fast food sandwich stores and from the deli section.
- "Every 50 grams of processed meat you eat on a daily basis (that's about one hot dog) increases your risk of colorectal cancer by 21 percent."
- "An NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study found a 10 percent increased risk of prostate cancer for every 10 grams of increased intake of processed meats."
- "Other studies have linked these same products to leukemia (in kids) and ovarian cancer."
- "In a new study, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) have found that eating A DAILY AMOUNT (about 1-2 slices of deli meats or 1 hot dog) of processed meat, such as bacon, sausage or processed deli meats, was associated with a 42% higher risk of heart disease and a 19% higher risk of type 2 diabetes."
Barnard also questions the role of the US government and meat industry lobbyists and whether processed meats should have a warning label similar to that of cigarettes.
So what about the hot dogs sold at health food stores? Some of these "healthier" brands advertise their product with the promise of, "no nitrates added", "made without antibiotics" and "uncured". Nitrates (which break down into nitrites after digesting), are what give cured meats their pink color, provide the meat with a longer shelf life, prevent the growth of bacteria which can lead to food-borne illnesses and also provide the distinctive cured meat flavor.
The USDA defines an uncured product as one that has been preserved without the use of synthetic sodium nitrite, which is used in the making of conventional hot dogs. The alternative method of preserving, flavoring and pinkening a hot dog is with the use of sea salt and celery powder, which naturally contains sodium nitrate. Which seems good to me, but some argue though, that when tested, these "natural" products contain far more sodium nitrate than conventional hot dogs. Confusing! Here is what the Cancer Prevention Coalition says about that: "It is true that nitrites are commonly found in many green vegetables, especially spinach, celery and green lettuce. However, the consumption of vegetables appears to be effective in reducing the risk of cancer. How is this possible? The explanation lies in the formation of N-nitroso compounds from nitrites and amines. Nitrite containing vegetables also have Vitamin C and D, which serve to inhibit the formation of N-nitroso compounds. Consequently, vegetables are quite safe and healthy, and serve to reduce your cancer risk."
Common sense tells me that "Natural dogs" are definitely a healthier option, even with high naturally occurring nitrates they don't contain the harmful byproducts of chemical processing. But this area requires more research - we will post more as we can to help clarify and offer suggestions.
Tofu pups anyone? (although, I'm sure there's likely issues there too!)
More information on this topic can be found in this article from the Cancer Prevention Coalition