When you eat a hot dog every day, this is what happens to your body

According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, which exists, 7 billion hot dogs are consumed between Memorial Day and Labor Day, which comes out to 818 hot dogs per second. While it is, to put it mildly, unlikely that one person is single-handedly shoving hundreds of hot dogs into their mouth each second, it is just as safe to assume that some people are picking up the slack from vegans, vegetarians, and other non-contributors. That might make one wonder about the effects that a hot dog diet would have upon the body.

For the sake of simplicity, we will circumscribe our conversation to include hot dog wieners and not sausages repurposed as hot dogs. More specifically, the wiener we're imagining resembles the Sara Lee's Ball Park hot dog described in Scientific American, the ingredient list of which is mechanically separated into turkey, pork, water, corn syrup, beef, salt, potassium lactate, sodium phosphates, flavorings, beef stock, sodium diacetate, sodium erythorbate, maltodextrin, sodium nitrate, and extractives of paprika. Variations may appear between brands, but they share a familial likeness.

Glancing over the ingredients, however, we already see that the meat is highly processed, which almost always means it's unhealthier. While having an occasional sausage won't necessarily kill you, as Professor Frank Hu of Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health explained, the more of it you do eat, the higher the risks you run. That is essentially our verdict. However, we will explain why.

Pros and cons of hot dogs

You need protein. Meat has protein. Hot dogs have, among other things, meat, and in this regard, hot dogs can win a barely passing grade for health.

The FDA recommends a daily guideline consumption of protein to reach 50 grams. Looking into the U.S. Department of Agriculture's FoodData we find that hot dogs mostly made from turkey on average offer 12.87 grams of protein for 100 gram portions and beef hot dogs 12.32 grams. Among specific brands these amounts vary considerably with Brooklyn Hot Dogs boasting 19.3 grams and Meijer's coming in at 7.02 grams.

Regardless of which brand you munch into, these sausages will provide you with a good amount of your 50 grams of protein. This is especially so when you consider that many folks will consume two hot dogs during a meal.

However, the protein marks the only positive side. The wieners also include, for example, high amounts of sodium. Furthermore, these are purely the nutritional value of the sausages. The buns and toppings added to the sausage offer less healthy substances, like incredible amounts of sugar in ketchup, without even the half-good dose of protein smuggled into the mix. For this reason, on a list of seven possible sources of protein, HuffPost places hot dogs in the seventh, i.e. the bottom position.

You need protein, but you do not need hot dogs. The story for hot dogs, however, grows dimmer from here on in. 

Hot dogs often have nitrites and other preservatives

In 2017, Delish noted the fanfare with which Oscar Mayer's announced the changes it would implement to its hot dogs. Now free from nitrates, nitrites, artificial preservatives, and by-products, Oscar Mayer's could load into their Wienermobile with the knowledge that their food won't kill their customers.

The real focus here is on the removal of nitrates and nitrites, chemical compounds that appear whenever articles ask about how unhealthy hot dogs really are. In Time, for instance, Mariana Stern, a cancer epidemiologist at the University of Southern California, explained that nitrates are salts that can convert into cancer-causing agents when in contact with the stomach.

When written in such a succinct manner, the take away tends to be rather hysterical, something along the lines of "anything with nitrates is killing us." However, a BBC article attempts to bring some nuance to the conversation, stating that 80 percent of the nitrates Europeans consume come from vegetables, as opposed to the five percent of processed meat. Though there is an important difference. In meats, nitrites exist closest to their protein, which assist them in forming cancer-causing agents when the meat is cooked at high temperatures. 

That said, nitrites are only one reason processed meats contribute to cancer, and it represents only a small percentage of likeliness to your contracting bowel cancer. So while you probably should not gorge on hot dogs, you do not have to limit yourself to Oscar Mayer's if you don't want to.

The fat content in hot dogs isn't great either

The third major issue with hot dogs are their fat content. In the U.S. Department of Agriculture's FoodData we referenced earlier, the average beef hot dog bursts with 12 grams of saturated fat per 100 grams while turkey dogs contain 4.24 grams of saturated fat. The FDA recommended values, however, only account for 78 grams of fat and 20 grams of saturated fat. Consuming the 100 grams of sausage then already takes you between a fourth and a third of the way to over-consuming fats and a fifth to a half of the way to saturated fats.

The American Heart Association actually gives a stricter guideline for saturated fats, saying that no one should eat more than 13 grams of saturated fats in one day. Eating too much saturated fat, they explain, can raise your cholesterol levels, thereby increasing the threat of a heart attack or stroke. Other negative effects offered by SFGate include weight gain and diabetes. With weight gain, saturated fats bring extra calories and a high diet of saturated fats in mice was shown to produce obesity. Similarly, a good amount of the saturated fat ends up being stored around the liver, causing insulin resistance and eventually diabetes.

The BBC did spend some time in 2019 investigating the fad diet of saturated fats. However, they show that it's better to replace these with polyunsaturated fats, which can be found in salmon and nuts. So, a Mediterranean diet is called for, not hot dogs.

Moderation is key when it comes to hot dogs

While for the sake of brevity we have contained our conversation of hot dogs to their sausage, it would be wrong to ignore that you can choose healthier condiments and toppings just as you can choose healthier versions of hot dogs, like Oscar Mayer's nitrate- and nitrite-less sausage.

Eat This, Not That, struggles to make the point, making a gesture to how a hot dog topped with sauerkraut is good for you. Healthline backs this up, listing how sauerkraut is nutritious, helps your digestion, improves your immune system, and more. However, it should be pointed out then that the sauerkraut is not making the hot dog that much healthier. Rather, the hot dog is mitigating the sauerkraut's benefits. If you're worried about nutrition and like sauerkraut, you'll probably just eat sauerkraut. If you want a hot dog and like sauerkraut, the incentive to put sauerkraut on the hot dog isn't to make it healthier, but because you like sauerkraut.

In the same vein, SFGate published a piece about healthy hot dog toppings. In it, they urge the reader to pile on fresh veg, try hot sauce or guacamole instead of the traditionally sodium heavy ketchup and mustard, and opt for sausages with lower fat contents. If you want to eat a healthier hot dog treat, then you should follow the instructions. However, if your goal is completely cut out treats and eat in a puritanically healthy manner, then the hot dog should probably be forgotten.