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Ask Tufts Experts December 2019 Issue

Q. Are hot dogs a healthy choice if I top them with chopped lettuce, tomato, onions etc.?

hog dog

Image Thais Ceneviva | Getty Images

Limit hog dog consumption and swap out sides like chips and soda for healthier choices like fruit and water.

A. Melissa Townsend, MS, RD, a research assistant at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, answers: “Hot dogs are a type of processed meat, meaning they undergo a preservation process prior to being sold for consumption. Processed meats often have a higher saturated fat content and higher sodium content than other protein products, such as a chicken breast or a fish filet. Additionally, preservatives used in processed meats, such as nitrates, are associated with negative health effects. Research has shown that consumption of processed meat is associated with higher risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, chronic kidney disease, and some types of cancer. Unfortunately, adding fresh vegetables, like chopped lettuce, tomato, and onions, does not take away the risk factors associated with high consumption of processed meats.

“Although the addition of fresh toppings to a hot dog may not make the hot dog itself “healthier,” eating fruit and vegetable side dishes can always help you create a healthier meal. As recommended by MyPlate—based on the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans—and the HNRCA MyPlate for Older Adults, half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables to promote an overall healthy dietary pattern that reduces the risk of developing chronic diseases. The next time you’re at an event where hot dogs or sausages are a staple, consider eating a half portion (particularly if they are of the jumbo variety) and fill up your plate with fruits and vegetables rather than other common sides like fries and chips, which can also be high in sodium.”

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