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7 Worst Store-Bought Hot Dogs to Stay Away From Right Now

Hot dogs may not be the healthiest choice, but some are way worse than others. RDs share the frank truth.
FACT CHECKED BY Jordan Powers Willard
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No summertime cookout or trip to a ballgame is complete without a ketchup and mustard-laden hot dog. If you're like me, you're also piling your dog high with pickles, onions, and maybe even the occasional jalapeño pepper. While we can't discredit the nostalgia and satisfying flavor that comes from the occasional hot dog, not all franks are created equal. Hot dogs are notorious for piling on sodium and saturated fat, two nutrients with a strong connection to heart disease. Some can even take the title of the world's unhealthiest hot dogs.

The American Heart Association recommends only 5–6% of your calories from saturated fat each day. For a 2,000-calorie diet, that's less than 13 grams of saturated fat each day. When it comes to sodium, you should aim for no more than 2,300 milligrams per day, ideally sticking to a 1,500 milligram per day limit. Beyond the direct effects that the saturated fat and sodium in hot dogs can have on heart health, recent research has found that processed red meat may increase heart disease risk in another way.

An August 2022 study published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology found that eating red meat, especially processed red meat such as hot dogs, increases the release of a chemical known as trimethylamine n-oxide (TMAO) by bacteria in the gut microbiome. High blood levels of TMAO are associated with a higher risk of heart disease, kidney disease, and type 2 diabetes.

All risks aside, hot dogs can occasionally be enjoyed as part of a healthy and balanced diet. The key is finding a hot dog with quality ingredients that taste good and won't cause you to go overboard on your saturated fat or sodium for the day.

In your search, steer clear of these 7 unhealthiest hot dogs, according to dietitians. Also, for more healthy eating advice to help inform your next trip to the grocery store, be sure to check out The 20 Best & Worst Deli Meats, According to Dietitians.

Ball Park Prime Uncured Beef Franks

Ball Park Beef Franks
Ball Park Brand
PER HOT DOG: 230 calories, 20 g fat (9 g saturated fat), 45 mg cholesterol, 710 mg sodium, 2 g carbs (0 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 9 g protein

Ball Park Brand Prime Uncured Beef Franks is one of the unhealthiest hot dogs on the market because of its incredibly high sodium and saturated fat.

"Each hot dog has 710 milligrams of sodium, which is 35% of the daily recommended amount of 2,000-milligram daily," says Wan Na Chun, MPH, RD. "They're also high in saturated fat, which can raise LDL cholesterol levels."

While Ball Park Prime Uncured Beef Frank has no added nitrites or nitrates and no added fillers or byproducts, each hot dog has 9 grams of saturated fat. If you eat two (like many people do when eating hot dogs), that's 18 grams of saturated fat, or 138% of the recommended amount per the American Heart Association.

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Gwaltney Original Chicken Hot Dogs

gwaltney original chicken hot dogs
PER HOT DOG: 90 calories, 7 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 25 mg cholesterol, 410 mg sodium, 4 g carbs (0 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 5 g protein

The nutrition label on Gwaltney Original Chicken Hot Dogs indicates a relatively healthy option, with only 90 calories, 2 grams of saturated fat, and only 410 milligrams of sodium. Despite the impressive numbers, the ingredient list still has dietitians advising against them.

"Mechanically separated chicken involves a process that mechanically removes meat from the bones, resulting in a product that may contain high levels of fat, skin, and connective tissue, says Jessie Hulsey RD, LD, an Atlanta-based registered dietitian. "This highly processed meat raises concerns about the quality, nutritional value, and overall health impact of these hot dogs."

Bar S Classic Franks

Bar-S beef franks
Courtesy of Bar-S Foods
PER HOT DOG: 130 calories, 12 g fat (4.5 g saturated fat), 30 mg cholesterol, 450 mg sodium, 2 g carbs (0 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 5 g protein

Bar S Classic Franks is bound to be one of the cheapest in the deli cooler. Nevertheless, these rank among the unhealthiest hot dogs mostly because they're made using mechanically separated chicken and pork. You'll find beef in them, but not much, since beef is listed on the ingredients in the "contains less than 2% of" grouping, which also includes a number of fillers and additives. One of the additives is nitrites, which research has found to be connected to a higher risk of breast and prostate cancer.

Empire Uncured Turkey Franks

Empire turkey franks
Courtesy of Empire Kosher
PER HOT DOG: 190 calories, 10 g fat (3.5 g saturated fat), 0 mg cholesterol, 660 mg sodium, 8 g carbs (1 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 16 g protein

"One significant drawback of Empire Uncured Turkey Franks is the use of mechanically separated turkey in their ingredient list," says Hulsey.

Given that the label claims that the turkeys used to make these hot dogs are never given antibiotics and are never given growth hormones, it's important to note that growth hormones and steroid use are prohibited in all poultry raised and sold in the United States. Label claims like these tend to make food look much healthier than it actually is. On the ingredient list, you can find sodium nitrite, a preservative found in many processed meats. A January 2023 study published in PLOS Medicine found that diets higher in nitrites were associated with a higher risk for type 2 diabetes.

Gardein Plant Based Bratwurst

Gardein bratwurst
Courtesy of Gardein
PER HOT DOG: 190 calories, 10 g fat (3.5 g saturated fat), 0 mg cholesterol, 660 mg sodium, 8 g carbs (1 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 16 g protein

The Gardein Plant-Based Bratwurst may be a close taste and texture alternative for a traditional brat,  but it's not a healthier substitute. The theory that plant-based meat alternatives are healthier than their meat counterparts isn't always true. Just one hot dog has 660 milligrams of sodium, or 28% of the amount recommended in a day, which is more than many meat-based franks.

Lightlife Smart Dogs

lightlife plant-based smart dogs
Courtesy of Lightlife
PER HOT DOG: 60 calories, 2 fat (0 g saturated fat), 0 mg cholesterol, 350 mg sodium, 2 g carbs (0 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 8 g protein

"Despite their 'light' and plant-based claims, Lightlife Smart Dogs are highly processed hot dogs and include soy protein isolate in their ingredient list," says Hulsey.  "While soy protein isolate is often used as a plant-based protein source, it undergoes extensive processing that strips away many of the beneficial nutrients found in whole soybeans."

"Additionally, some individuals may have sensitivities or allergies to soy, making these hot dogs an unfavorable choice for those with specific dietary needs," Hulsey adds.

Kayem Beef and Pork Hot Dogs

PER HOT DOG: 140 calories, 13 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 25 mg cholesterol, 430 mg sodium, 2 g carbs (0 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 6 g protein

While beef and pork are the top two ingredients,  Kaymen Beef and Pork Hot Dogs also include corn syrup and sodium nitrite, two undesirable nutrients in hot dogs. With corn syrup as the third ingredient, these franks have 1 gram of added sugars. While one gram isn't significant, hot dogs typically aren't a source of added sugars.

Kelsey Kunik, RDN
Kelsey Kunik is a registered dietitian, freelance writer, nutrition consultant, and sustainable food blogger. Read more about Kelsey
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