Hot Dogs of Death


I used to really like hot dogs. Kid-friendly protein in a neat little package. Then I started learning about their ingredients. Oh, boy.

Hot dogs and lunch meats are loaded up with Sodium Nitrite, aka E-250. Sodium Nitrite is used as an additive in lunch meats and hot dogs as a preservative and to add color to the meat so it looks appetizing. It is the preferred preservative for meats because it kills the spores responsible for Botulism — a sometimes fatal paralytic illness.

Nitrites themselves are not nearly as dangerous as what they turn into when they hit your stomach. The nitrites interact with acids (including your stomach acid) to produce a new compound called “nitrosamines”, which are carcinogens (cancer causing agents). Nitrosamines can also be produced by high temperatures, and can be found in any meat that is charred or burned. It is also the cancer-causing agent in cigarettes (yes, that’s right, hot dogs contain the same carcinogens as smoking. And yet we feed them to children).

“Approximately 300 of these compounds (nitrosamines) have been tested, and 90% of them have been found to be carcinogenic in a wide variety of experimental animals. Most nitrosamines are mutagens (that means that they change your genetic material, or DNA) and a number are transplacental carcinogens (that means they cross the placenta to an unborn baby). Most are organ specific. For instance, dimethylnitrosamine causes liver cancer in experimental animals, whereas some of the tobacco specific nitrosamines cause lung cancer. Since nitrosamines are metabolized the same in human and animal tissues, it seems highly likely that humans are susceptible to the carcinogenic properties of nitrosamines.”

— Richard Scanlan, Ph. D, dean of research emeritus and professor of food science at the Linus Pauling institute; part of Oregon state university. {1}

Interestingly, Vitamin C has been proven to inhibit the conversion of nitrites to nitrosamines. By law in the US, 550 ppm of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) must be added to any food with added nitrites. {1}

“Vitamin C has been shown to be an effective inhibitor of acid-catalysed N-nitroso compound formation, in vivo and in vitro”. {2} — Oxford Journals

According to The Cancer Project (an NIH (National Institute of Health) / AARP Diet and Health) study found that processed red meat was associated with a 10 percent increased risk of prostate cancer with every 10 grams of increased intake. A study in Taiwan showed that consumption of cured and smoked meat can increase children’s risk for leukemia. A study in Australia found that women’s risk for ovarian cancer increased as a result of eating processed meats. {3}

Denise Snyder, MS, RD, CSO, LDN, a Duke nutrition researcher with an emphasis in cancer survivorship, 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. {4}

It should be noted that vegetarian hot dogs have no added nitrites. They’re not meat, so they have no need for a meat preservative.

But even if you are grilling a nitrite-free hot dog, or any other meat (even unprocessed), Snyder warns that you can still put yourself at risk by charring the meat.

Snyder offers these tips for healthier grilling:

“Place a barrier between the meat and the grill, such as a pan or aluminum foil.
Marinate the meat before grilling.
Cook the meat partially before placing it on the grill.
Cook meat slowly, on low heat.
Avoid grill flare-ups, which can char your meat.” {4}

1. Linus Pauling Institute; Oregon State University.
2. Oxford Journals.
4. Duke Medicine, affiliated with Duke University school of Medicine and Duke University school of Nursing


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