Fact or Myth: Do Hot Dogs Raise Your Risk of Cancer?

This is a FACT.

Hot DogHot dogs. The quintessential American food. In fact, Americans consume an estimated 7 billion hot dogs a year. July 4th appears to be national hot dog day, with over 150 million consumed in the single 24-hour period. And in 2013, Americans spent $2.5 billion on hot dogs purchased at supermarkets. That dollar amount raises dramatically when you consider how many hot dogs are bought at sporting events and from street vendors.

It appears that eating hot dogs is a major cultural pastime, but this dietary indulgence carries a hefty risk. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, hot dogs raise your risk of cancer by 21%!

Count Down to Cancer

In 2009, the American Institute for Cancer Research issued a precedent-setting report. Basing their findings on 7000 scientific studies, researchers declared that for every 50 grams of processed meat—that’s just one hot dog—you increase your risk for developing colorectal cancer by 21%.

Hot dogs pose such a great risk because they are loaded with carcinogenic ingredients. Of particular notoriety are nitrates and nitrites, two chemicals that, when heated, combine with amines to form nitrosamines, which have been proven to cause cancer.

To clarify, nitrates aren’t intrinsically harmful. Many vegetables contain nitrates that convert into nitrites in the body. These nitrites are the building block of nitric oxide, which helps lower blood pressure and heals with anti-inflammatory properties. The nitrates found in processed meat, however, are synthetic, added merely to provide that attractive pink effect people like so much in a hot dog. When heated at high temperatures, a part of the manufacturing process of hot dogs, these nitrates create nitrosamines that inflict cellular damage and instigate cancer, especially stomach, colon, bladder, and pancreas cancers. Processed meats are also much higher in amines (the component needed to form carcinogenic nitrosamines) than are vegetables.

Nitrosamines aren’t the only carcinogenic compound to be leery of. Meat cooked at high temperatures also forms other cancer-causing chemicals, like heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and advanced glycation end products (AGEs). Not to mention, what hot dogs are actually made of!

Your typical hot dog is made from a ground-up mishmash of animal carcass, featuring animal feet, heads, entrails, fatty tissues, skins, and other slaughter by-products. To make the hot dog edible, food manufacturers add fillers, binders, flavorings, and preservatives that stimulate the carcinogenic effect. These ingredients hail from Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) that keep the animals in deplorable, unsanitary conditions, greatly compromising food quality.

Cut Down the Cancer Risk

Every processed meat carries a cancer risk, but if you just can’t knock the hot dog habit, then here are a few purchasing tips to follow:

  • Buy hot dog meat from a local farmer who humanely raises grass-fed, organic animals not tainted with antibiotics.
  • Look for the following labels: uncured, 100% beef, 100% chicken, etc.
  • Make sure the meat contains no MSG, preservatives, artificial colors, or flavors