Eating A Single Hot Dog May Shorten Your Life By This Shocking Amount Of Time

It's a summertime icon that sits up there with the greats that include iced drinks with mini umbrellas, frosty glasses of lemonade, burgers, and frozen watermelon slices. Now some food scientists are warning that low nutrition food items like the hot dog – which so many of us love and enjoy – might be a lot worse for us than we think.

In a study published in Nature Food journal, environmental health scientists from the University of Michigan decided to evaluate the food we eat based on a number of factors, including the amount of carbon needed to produce it, and the nutritional value it has for your body (via The National News). The result: a so-called "Health Nutritional Index" which rates more than 5,800 different food items according to the minutes of life that are potentially gained or lost when we consume them. And based on their calculations, researchers Olivier Jolliet and Katerina Stylianou say that a single hot dog can subtract 36 minutes worth of what they call a "healthy life" while a serving of nuts and seeds can add 25 minutes of the same (via The Conversation).

Scientists explain why hot dogs might shorten your life

The results of this study don't offer up binary choices that present a direct correlation between eating some types of food and either living longer or dying young. (And, of course, correlation doesn't equal causation.) Rather, Jolliet and Stylianou are very clear about what they consider the addition of "minutes of healthy life" to be, and this equates to "an increase in good-quality and disease-free life expectancy" (via The Conversation).

So how did the researchers crunch the numbers when it came to that hot dog? They wrote, "We found that, on average, 0.45 minutes are lost per gram of any processed meat that a person eats in the U.S. We then multiplied this number by the corresponding food profiles that we previously developed. Going back to the example of a hot dog, the 61 grams of processed meat in a hot dog sandwich results in 27 minutes of healthy life lost due to this amount of processed meat alone." And that's not all. They also looked at the other things that went into making the hot dog, including the presence of sodium and trans fatty acids, in order to come up with 36 minutes.

Other foods that can allegedly take away or add minutes

Hot dogs were not the only food items out of the 5,800 that the index flagged as shortening lives. Soft drinks allegedly cost us 12.4 minutes of a healthy life, and double cheeseburgers can take away 8.8 healthy life minutes while pizza costs 7.8 of that quality time. By contrast, an avocado can add 2.8 healthy life minutes; tomatoes can add 3.8; a banana can add 13.5, and baked salmon can bump up your healthy life minutes by 13.5. On the list of surprising additions to the "nice" list: French fries, which can add 1.5 healthy minutes, and a PBJ, which nearly balances out what that hot dog does, by adding 33.1 healthy life minutes (via The Metro). 

If you plan on enjoying that hot dog, there are other ways to help your body claim back a good whack of healthy life minutes. The researchers say just swapping as little as 10 percent of your diet from processed meats to natural foods like fruits, veg, and nuts can add as much as 48 minutes of healthy life a day. "Our findings demonstrate that small targeted substitutions offer a feasible and powerful strategy to achieve significant health and environmental benefits — without requiring dramatic dietary shifts," Olivier Jolliet explained.