I’ve been hearing a fairly large number of stories and reminiscences about hot dogs since posting about that dog-based Campbell’s Soup Bake earlier in the week. And the question that comes up most often is, “Is there such a thing as a healthy hot dog?”…
Regardless of the type of dog you choose, the thoughtful, healthy choice of
toppings and garnishes can go a long way to making your hot dog
binge a healthier, now-and-then indulgence. Try to void the
crazy-mad, over-dressed kind of dogs pictured above.
The answer is more complex than you might think…
I’ve been thinking about it, and Googling, and looking into some options that weren’t so obvious when I started cogitating on the question. Since average folks like you and me usually think of hot dogs as something relatively cheap and quick that they can throw on a grill or in the microwave, I’m going to stress ‘healthy content at affordable prices’.
The following is some of what I’ve discovered.
Healthy from the paws up
I’m not the first food writer to research healthy ht dogs. One reference I found was a post by a genuine nutritionist who appears to have invested lots time and effort on coming up with a meaningful answer to our question.
Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc.
Her post, for foodnetwork.com was an eye-opener! Not only about hot dogs, but about different definitions of ‘healthy’ one can apply to a food or class of foods.
Ingredients and Nutrition content
You can simply look at the ingredients list on the package and the Nutrition Facts patch on the back. That’s a great way (probably the best) to compare different brands in the store. In those circumstances, you’re probably in a trusted, familar store and you aren’t planning making any special effort to travel elsewhere or order on;line and wait for delivery.
Even given the relatively small range of choices this option presents, you should be able to sift out a few ‘healthier’ types or brands of dogs from the plethora of brands and styles on offer.
You’ll be looking for the brands with the fewest artificial ingredients, preservatives and other additives on the label. Also, the lowest fat and salt content. Aside from that, the recipes will all be pretty much the same.
You’ll find quite a number of different meats being used in supermarket hot dogs. Most common is beef and beef-pork blends, followed by poultry. Many folks thin chicken or turkey dogs will be healthy from the standpoint of fat content, but that’s not necessarily so. Read the ingredients list!
As you’ll have discovered if you’s looked at Dana Angelo White’s post (linked above) there are some more-exotic proteins, such as salmon, used in what I’d class as luxury, boutique dogs, which really are healthier than standard dogs. But they’re also a lot more costly. I’ve always sighed and passed those over.
A new and rising class of hot dog we’ll all be hearing more about in the near future is the veggie dog. Let’s throw in cultured meat dogs with this category, because the considerations for rating both are fairly similar. First, these dogs will have the lowest levels of fat and controlled salt content. That’s possible because they’re ‘made not born’. Because of that, they may taste a little or different or have a different mouth feel than what you personally expect from a dog. Try ’em once to see if they’re acceptable to you. And be aware that they, too, may be more costly than standard dogs, erasing any cost advantage you may have been looking for.
We’ve already hinted that you can find alternative suppliers of hot dogs – mainly specialty shops, boutique makers, and ‘healthy foods’ merchants who carry a wide variety of products. Expect them to be more expensive right off the bat, because of the way they bill themselves. But if you intend to just splurge now an them on dogs for nostalgia’s sake, go ahead and peek in. Alas, that goes against the core principle we adopted at the top of this page: we want to find healthier dogs that we can enjoy without worrying how often we indulge or how many we may want to consume. Dogs, after all. are supposed to be ‘cheap and easy’ treats!
Bunnable options to dogs
There aren’t too may that are healthier than, or even as healthy as healthy as standard dogs. And they’re all more expensive, as far as I can tell…
Healthier toppings and garnishes
I’s interesting to note – as more than one source I consulted noted, that hot dog toppings are usually on the healthy side, while garnishes – relishes, mustards, ketchups, creamy sauces, etc. – are usually at the extreme end of the unhealthy scale. Think about it: toppings are usually fresh veggies. Garnishes are usually as listed above, all of which contain fairly high to stratospheric amounts of salt and or sugar. Experts such as Dana White stress the difference that piling on the toppings (see photo, top of page) and going easy on the garnishes can make. I’ll go for a couple of spoonfuls of fresh Pico de Gallo any day over tradition al pickles or pickle relish!
There are now options to conventional hot dog buns which you may want to consider to minimize the carb content of your your dog creations. Thinner, flatbread-like ‘buns are available at most suoermarkets, especially in dog and burger season. Pita bread and Naan are available year round. As are tortillas, which come in an amazing variety of flavours and grain blends. Give any and all of the above a try! In fact, who says any aspect of your personal dog has to be totally conventional. anyway?
Size does matter
It’s also important to stick to a standard-sized dog to minimize the unhealthiness (and cost) of your hot dog indulgence. You can get longer (stadium) dogs, jumbos (fatter), and even overall-larger ‘weenies on a bun’ (including brats and other sausages). But standard dogs that will always be the cheapest and easiest to compare with their peers as you can get. Also the easiest to find. Besides, nutritionists caution that as healthy or as unhealthy as your choice of dog maybe, smaller means less of a risk of consuming excess fat or salt, or additives. Again, going standard with the dogs themselves and piling on the toppings has obvious advantages…
Grill, boil or microwave?
The experts all agree that the best way to get the most doginess for your weenie dollar is to grill them. Boiling (or boiling them and finishing them on the grill) may produce a plumper dog, but it will suck a lot of the flavour out of them. Ditto microwaving, which will almost always leave you with less flavour and a less plump dog, overall. Pan searing or oven-baking your dogs are both good alternatives to boiling or microwaving, if you live in a location where your grill is shrouded with a heavy snow cover several months or the year…
Yes, you can minimize the risk…
… Of an occasional hot dog indulgence. And never forget that making hot dogs an occasional main on your at-home lunch or supper menu can go a long way in itself to helping you consume less bad stuff. Not to mention minimizing the guilt!
~ Maggie J.