Who doesn’t love a hot dog in a bun at a fair or party, or after a big game? They have certainly been a crowd pleaser at outdoor events for many decades, and while people are constantly coming up with new relishes, the basic hot dog hasn’t really changed very much over the years.

But in recent times, we’ve been hearing more about uncured hot dogs – that is, those that are claimed not to contain nitrates or nitrite preservatives. Some people believe they are healthier for you as they reduce your cancer risk, while others say there is no benefit to be gained from eating your dogs uncured.

If you are the type of person who loves a yummy hot dog and who is also concerned about health, you might be curious about whether uncured hot dogs are healthier or not. Read on to find out more.

 What are nitrates and nitrites?

These substances are naturally-occurring salts that are used in cheeses and cured meats such as bacon, ham and – you guessed it – hot dogs. They act as preservatives, preventing the growth of clostridium botulinum and extending the shelf life of the food, making them safer to eat from a microbiological standpoint.

According to Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) nitrates and nitrites are formed as part of the ‘nitrogen cycle’ between the earth’s air, land and water environments. FSANZ also states that the majority of our intake of nitrates and nitrites comes from eating fruits and vegetables as they occur naturally in these foods. (Leafy greens, beets and celery are particularly high sources).

To get the numbers on it, FSANZ did a survey that revealed that the intakes across populations was as high as 57% for vegetables and 38% for fruits (including juices), and that in general those consumed from processed meats constituted less than 10%.

Why the fear?

The fear may have come from reports that colon cancer was found to be higher in rats that ingested high levels of nitrates, and / or that gastric cancer rates appear to be higher in populations that consume a lot of cured meats. Some studies have also shown that the introduction of refrigeration and a diet containing less salted meats and more plant foods have led to reduced rates of stomach cancer.

However, it appears there may be more to the story. High concentrations of common salt in the diet can increase stomach cancer risk through an inflammatory effect, and at the same Vitamin C intake is associated with a lower risk. So in essence, avoiding excessive salt in the overall diet and eating plenty of vegetables and fruits are the some of the best moves for reducing your cancer risk.

In addition, uncured hot dogs have been shown to contain nitrate preservatives anyway (such as in the form of celery powder), which means they may really bear little difference to your regular hot dog.

Nitrates may even have some benefits

According to a Swedish study, nitrates may actually help to reduce blood pressure by keeping the blood vessels in good health. There may be implications for those playing rather than watching those big games too, with Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA) saying that nitrates may improve performance by reducing the energy cost of exercise and improving its efficiency.

So, it looks like you can have your hot dog and eat it too the next time you see a hot dog stand. Just make sure to include plenty of plant food in your diet as well, and to do all things in moderation!