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Afraid to Know Whats in a Hot Dog

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 10/08/2019

Have you ever wondered what is in a hot dog? If so, you might have also been a little afraid to find out the answer...

So let's confront that question and get to the bottom of it. What are hot dogs actually made of?

In this article, I will cover:

Neon sign with text and shape of hot dog, mustard, and bun – neon orange, yellow, and white.


What meat do they put in hot dogs?

Commercial dogs are made up of a variety of types of meat and edible tissues. These variety meats are referred to as trimmings. They can be beef, chicken, or pork trimmings.

So what exactly does "trimmings" really mean?

This can include all sorts of things, including:

  • Low-grade muscle meat
  • Fat
  • Head
  • Feet
  • Skin
  • Blood
  • Liver
  • Edible by-products (which could be anything from spleen to intestines to brain)

Sausage factory with links of hot dogs piled on a tray and hot dogs hanging in the background.

Basically, it means anything on an animal carcass that isn't the type of thing you'd usually cook with (like beef steaks, chicken breasts, pork chops, etc.). All these various parts of the animal are processed and turned into hot dogs.

The meat usually has to be cooked several times through the process, so as to minimize bacteria.

Along with trimmings, the other term that is used is mechanically separated meat.

This basically means that they turn all different types of scraps (usually edible meat still attached to the bone) into a paste-like consistency by putting it under high pressure and grinding it. That paste is then put into sausage casings and turned into the dog that ends up on your grill.

Not exactly appetizing, is it?


What other ingredients are used?

Meat factory processing meat trimming paste into sausage casing, what is in a hot dog.

Now that we understand what kind of meat is used for the base of the dog, let's take a look at what else actually makes it into the end product.

Other common ingredients include:

  • Salt. Dogs are usually very high in salt.
  • Spices. Unfortunately, they don't usually list which ones are used. Oftentimes, the flavor can come from MSG and other chemicals.
  • Preservatives. Dogs are usually loaded with preservatives to increase shelf life. These highly-processed foods will most often have things like sodium nitrates and sodium nitrites in them.
  • Corn syrup. This is where the real problems begin. Why do we need corn syrup in a hot dog? Read more in the section below about why adding sugars to protein is so harmful.
  • Dextrose. This is a synthetic form of sugar that is often made from corn and is GMO. Again, adding sugars to proteins is not a good thing for your body.

There are a lot of issues when it comes to hot dog ingredients. From preservative chemicals to mystery flavors, there is usually a lot more in the sausage than is really necessary.

But probably one of the biggest health issues related to these ingredients is the consequence of added sugars.


The problem with added sugars

It is not good for your body when you combine protein with sugar.

Woman holds handful of sugar cubes and does thumbs down sign, no sugar concept.

With dogs, you are cooking protein from the meat products with corn syrup and dextrose. When you eat that combination, you create something called AGEs.

AGE stands for advanced glycation end product. This is a sticky compound that clogs up small blood vessels, and it can wreak havoc all over your body. There are many different health conditions linked to AGEs, so you really don't want them in your body. Learn more about this topic here.

So when hot dogs are cooked with added sugars like corn syrup, that is just a recipe for creating AGEs and the many health problems that come along with them.

How to choose a healthy hot dog

When it comes to sausages and dogs, there are healthy options and there are unhealthy ones.

The commercial, brand-name choices will be loaded with chemicals and poor-quality meat that is bad for your body. But there are actually some types of dogs that are just fine and that can be included as part of a healthy diet.

I am not against eating the whole animal and various parts of the animal carcass. But it all comes down to quality. Trimmings from an organic, grass-fed animal are a very different story compared to trimmings from factory farmed, antibiotic-laden animals.

Here are the main things to keep in mind when choosing a healthy hot dog:

  1. Made with organic, grass-fed meat. You want to make sure you are eating quality meat, so make sure you see "organic" or "grass-fed beef" on the label.
  2. NO sugars. Make sure that the hot dog recipe includes no forms of sugar (and watch out for hidden sugars that appear to be healthy, too).
  3. Includes just sea salt and celery powder, with no preservatives, chemicals, or mystery "flavors."

Hot dogs cooking on a barbecue in the grass, grill marks top view.


Key takeaways

There are 20 billion hot dogs sold every single year. That is a lot. Clearly, they are a very popular food favorite and play a starring role when it comes to grills and cookouts.

But have you ever stopped to think about what you are about to eat?

Commercial dogs are loaded with ingredients that might make your stomach churn if you saw how they were made. From poor-quality meat scraps (that are turned into a paste) to corn syrup to preservatives, they end up being pretty bad for your body. Especially when they contain added sugars, which brings up the problem of advanced glycation end products (AGEs).

Before choosing a sausage to throw on the grill or to cook into recipes, make sure you are selecting a healthy option. Ask yourself:

  • Is it grass-fed beef?
  • Is it organic?
  • Is it free from any sugar?
  • Is it made without preservatives and chemicals?

Did you know what is in a hot dog? Now that you know, what are your thoughts? Share your comments with me below.

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Disclaimer: Our educational content is not meant or intended for medical advice or treatment.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for quality and relevancy.

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