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What’s the better choice: A hot dog or hamburger?

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Baseball season has officially begun and if barbecue season hasn’t kicked off in your region, it will soon enough. As you scan the stadium menu or what’s sizzling on the grill, you may be wondering which of these all-American foods — a hot dog or hamburger — is the healthier option.

The quick answer is that neither one of these picks is going to hit it out of the ballpark, nutritionally speaking. But, then again, few of us head to the ballpark or to a barbecue to eat a salad, so let’s take a look at how both stack up.

HOT DOG

What’s the better choice: A hot dog or hamburger?
What’s the better choice: A hot dog or hamburger?

A typical frank is about 150 calories. Add the bun and some standard toppings (let’s say, ketchup, mustard and relish, though I know much could be said about hot dog toppings), and all in, you’re in the 300- to 350-calorie range. This is pretty tame as far as barbecue and stadium food goes.

Processed meats are one of the very few foods that have been definitively linked to cancer.

Processed meats are one of the very few foods that have been definitively linked to cancer.

The thing is, hot dogs are highly processed and contain lots of sodium as well as nitrates, which are chemical compounds that are used to preserve processed and smoked meats. Though nutrition and medical experts may dispute the healthfulness of certain foods or nutrients, processed meats are one of the very few foods that have been definitively linked to cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies processed meat, like hot dogs, bacon, jerky and some deli meats, as a carcinogen — meaning, they cause cancer. To repeat: They cause cancer; not might, or may, possibly, or any other qualifier.

Make no mistake: Even gourmet or organic versions carry the same risk. Un-cured or nitrate-free versions have natural sources of these preservatives (such as celery juice), that ultimately get converted to worrisome compounds once you eat them.

On the bright side, if you’re eating hot dogs from time-to-time, I wouldn’t worry excessively about this. Overall, it’s a good idea to limit processed meats, but a hot dog every now and then — especially in the context of an otherwise healthy diet (meaning, lots of veggies, fruits and other plant foods) — isn’t going to do you in.

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