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Hot Dogs Nutrition Facts: Limit the Damage

Hot dogs, synonymous for many with ‘summertime’ food, will never be mistaken for a health food. But how bad are they? Can you do minimal diet damage and still enjoy an occasional hot dog as a treat? Why are they so unhealthy to begin with? First, the bad news: hot dogs are processed meat products, full of calories, sodium, cholesterol and fat. This processed ‘cured’ meat product contains sodium nitrite, a preservative that gives hot dogs a pinkish-red color and helps to prevent botulism food poisoning. Cooked over hot coals, nitrite can react with naturally occurring compounds in processed meat to form nitrosamines/ nitrosamides, connected with the development of certain types of cancers. Add to that the fact that consuming a diet rich in red meat alone is connected with an increased risk of developing colon cancer…for overall health, it is best to limit red meat consumption but be particularly cautious with processed meats (deli meats, bacon, sausage, hot dogs…).

Now for some good news: hot dogs can be a better choice than regular hamburgers (calorie and fat-wise) and don’t have to be ‘off-limits.’ Choose wisely when you can and balance less nutritious food items (like processed meats) with better choices (whole grains, fruits and vegetables). Here are some guidelines for limiting the damage in your favorite summertime treat:

  • Choose small or regular-sized pork or beef hot dogs over ‘jumbo’ hot dogs. A smaller-sized hot dog (around 40 to 50 grams) typically offers less than 150 calories per wiener but a jumbo dog (close to twice the size) can provide, predictably, twice the amount of calories, and that’s before the hot dog bun and condiments.
  • Look for brands of hot dogs that are low in saturated fat (providing no more than 3 grams per wiener, 2 grams is even better) and not too high in sodium (about 400 to 450 mg per wiener).
  • Try a veggie or turkey dog instead. You may not save much on sodium, but you will on calories and fat, and consume no  saturated fat by choosing these dogs. A veggie dog offers, on average, 60 to 70 calories, less than 2g fat and less than 400 mg sodium. Veggie hot dogs are also sodium nitrite-free.
  • Finally, choose a whole grain hot dog bun and be careful with high-calorie toppings. Try a squeeze of yellow mustard, onions and tomatoes. Keep in mind that most condiments are sodium-rich. Balance your plate with healthy choices, such as fresh watermelon and a three-bean salad.

Nuts for Health: Including them in your diet

In a word…YES! Nuts contain a lot of fat, scaring off many calorie-conscience dieters. Nuts are high in calories. Why? Gram for gram, fat provides the most calories (9 calories per gram versus 4 calories per gram for carbohydrate and protein). However, the fat in nuts is mostly unsaturated (heart-healthy kind of fats). So, while they may be higher in calories,  nuts are also packed with a lot of really good nutrients, such as protein, as well as vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, chromium, manganese, selenium, potassium, niacin (vitamin B3), copper and vitamin E (among other nutrients). What are some of the benefits of including nuts in your diet?

  • Nuts are cholesterol-free  
  • Nuts are a fantastic source of dietary fiber and antioxidants
  • Those who consume one serving of nuts five times per week can reduce risk of heart disease by 50% and diabetes by 25%
  • Eating nuts as a snack (part of a snack) stabilizes blood sugar, staves off hunger and may aid in weight loss/ management, despite a higher calorie content

Because nuts are higher in fats, they can help keep you satisfied longer and tide you over when you are hungry (it takes longer for your body to breakdown fat). The recommendation: try eating a handful of unsalted nuts (15-20 each) daily … but make sure you substitute something out of your diet because a serving of nuts may provide up to 300 calories. 

All nuts are healthy in moderation, but walnuts, pecans, almonds and pistachios are particularly nutritious choices and offer surprising health benefits. Here are a few ideas on how to include nuts into your diet:

  • Use chopped or crushed nuts as a crispy coating (along with whole-grain cereal and herbs) for fish or poultry
  • Toss coarsely chopped nuts into side dishes, such as brown rice, barley or quinoa
  • Chop and stir into oatmeal or cold cereal
  • Toast (on medium heat in a dry nonstick skillet) lightly for topping salads
  • Grind them in a food processor and use as a substitute for bread crumbs

 These are just a few suggestions – use your imagination!

Flaxseed Health Benefits

Question: What is it?
Answer: Linum usitatissimum, or plan old flax, is a blue-flowered crop that has been used as a food source since 3000 B.C. Flaxseed, a reddish-brown, chewy seed, is rich in protein, fat & dietary fiber. The quality of flaxseed protein is similar to that of a soybean & the quality of its fat is similar to that of canola oil.

Question: What’s so great about it?
Answer: Flaxseed is a rich source of several minerals and phytochemicals that have been shown to protect against the development of certain types of cancer & heart disease. The alpha-linolenic acid (omega 3 fat) in flaxseed is a type of essential fatty acid that promotes heart health, immunity and continues to be studied for its importance in the prevention of chronic inflammation.

Question: I’ve heard the term ‘lignans’ in reference to flax. What are those?
Answer: Flaxseed is an incredibly rich source of a group of compounds called lignans. Many plant foods contain lignans, but flaxseed provides a whopping 75 times more lignans than any other food!

“(Flaxseed) lignans are important because they may have powerful antioxidant properties that can help block the damaging effects of harmful oxygen molecules called free radicals. These molecules are thought to cause changes in the body that can lead to cancer.”

Lignans show promise for blocking the effects of estrogen, which helps to protect against breast cancer. Even when estrogen positive tumors grow, in the presence of lignans, their growth may slow or halt.

Question: Any other benefits?
Answer: Flaxseed is very high in fiber, 3 TBS of seeds provide 3 grams of fiber, or about 12% of the Recommended Daily Value. Fiber, among other functions, can help block the effects of harmful compounds in the body that, over time, can damage intestinal cells, leading to cancer. It also moves these compounds out of the body quicker.

Question: I’ve seen the seeds and the meal, what’s the best way to eat flax/incorporate into my diet?
Answer: It’s best to buy the seeds (Bob’s Red Mill is a great brand) and grind them yourself shortly before use. This releases the beneficial oils. Store the ground flaxseed in an airtight container in the fridge and sprinkle 1 TB or so in smoothies, on salads, in yogurt…even stir some in soup or spaghetti sauce (nobody will know)!