You can enjoy them any time of year, but there's nothing quite like the satisfaction of a hot dog in the summertime. Whether it's at a baseball game, thrown on the grill at your family's cookout, or grabbed as a quick on-the-go meal from your favorite fast-food joint, a juicy hot dog on a toasted bun is a satiating and savory treat. However, with this satisfaction often comes the harsh reality that this isn't always the best choice regarding nutrition, and you may be shocked at the nutritional value of some of the unhealthiest fast-food hot dogs out there right now.
According to Mary Sabat MS, RDN, LD, most hot dogs—especially what you'd find at a fast-food restaurant—are unhealthy because of the preservatives used.
"Most of these hot dogs are unhealthy because they contain nitrates and nitrites, which are commonly used as preservatives in processed meats," says Sabat. "These compounds help to prevent bacterial growth, enhance flavor, and give the meat a desirable pink color, but when consumed in excessive amounts or under certain conditions, they can undergo chemical reactions in the body that can form harmful compounds called nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are known to be carcinogenic, meaning they have the potential to cause cancer."
Not only do you have to worry about the preservatives used in hot dogs, but most fast-food hot dogs are also full of total fat, saturated fat, sodium, and sometimes trans fat.
"It's important to consume such fast-food hot dogs in moderation as part of a balanced diet," advises Sabat. "Choosing healthier alternatives and cooking hot dogs at home using leaner meats and whole grain buns can be a better option for those concerned about their health."
The following list contains 10 fast-food hot dogs that are the highest in the abovementioned components, which you're likely better off limiting if not abstaining from completely. And if you're curious to learn more about other unhealthy fast foods, be sure to check out the 9 Unhealthiest Fast-Food Chicken Wings.
Sonic Chili Cheese Coney Dog
This hot dog may seem harmless at first, but the Sonic Chili Cheese Coney Dog is loaded with unhealthy ingredients. According to Sabat, "The Chili Cheese Dog is high in calories, unhealthy fats, and sodium, and the high saturated fat content can contribute to heart disease, while excessive sodium intake is linked to high-blood pressure."
Sonic Footlong Quarter Pounder Coney Dog
The Chili Cheese Coney Dog from Sonic is pretty bad, but their Footlong Quarter Pound Coney is much, much worse. For one, this dog contains almost as much saturated fat as is recommended for most adults to consume in one day. On top of that, the 2,300 milligrams of sodium is exactly how much the CDC says should be your daily maximum. And if that weren't convincing enough for why you may want to skip this fast-food hot dog, it also contains one gram of trans fat. According to the World Health Organization, consuming too many trans fats on a consistent basis can increase your risk of heart disease and death, so you should limit yourself to no more than about 2.2 grams a day—or better yet, aim for none at all.
Dairy Queen Chili Cheese Dog
If you're heading to DQ to grab yourself a Blizzard, you may want to avoid adding a hot dog to your order. The Dairy Queen Chili Cheese Dog is considered an unhealthy option for multiple reasons, including the fact that it's high in calories, fat, and sodium, as well as very low in fiber.
"This fast-food hot dog contains only 1 gram of fiber, we want at least 25–30 grams per day for good health, meaning this meal would make it hard to meet that goal," says Sabat. Getting enough daily fiber can help you have better digestion, healthier cholesterol levels, more sustained blood sugar, and can also help you lose or manage your weight," she continues. If you're not getting enough fiber at each meal, you may risk missing out on these important health benefits.
"The high saturated fat and sodium content of the Dairy Queen Chili Cheese Dog can contribute to poor heart health and high blood pressure as well," adds Sabat.
Checkers/Rally's Chili Cheese Dog
Similar to many of the fast-food hot dogs on this list, the Checkers and Rally's Chili Cheese Dog is "high in calories, unhealthy fats, and sodium," says Sabat. "The excessive amounts of saturated fat and sodium can increase the risk of cardiovascular issues and hypertension, while the low fiber increases [the] risk of high cholesterol and intestinal problems," she says.
Not only that, but with fast-food orders like this, it's always tempting to add a side of fries and a soda, which will naturally increase the calories, sugar, fat, and sodium as well. If you're really craving a hot dog, try their plain Grilled Hot Dog with some ketchup and mustard.
Wienerschnitzel Junkyard Dog
As soon as you see the photo of this item from Wienerschnitzel, you won't be surprised that it made our list of unhealthiest hot dogs. The Wienerschnitzel Junkyard Dog is topped with fries, cheese, onions, and chili sauce, and sits on a white bun—but according to Sabat, it sadly isn't doing your health any favors.
"The net carbs are 40 grams, which is excessive for any meal," says Sabat, "and the chili and cheese toppings add to the overall calorie and fat content." Aside from the carbs and fat, it is also loaded with sodium and only contains 2 grams of fiber. Its 7 grams of saturated fat are actually relatively low compared to other dogs on the list, but those watching their heart health should still be weary of every other component at play.
Portillo's Jumbo Chili Cheese Dog
Portillo's is a fast-food restaurant limited mostly to the midwest, California, Texas, and Florida, but their hot dogs leave a lasting impact on those who have a chance to try them. But sadly, although their hot dogs are quite delicious, they're sky high in calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium.
Take the Portillo's Jumbo Chili Cheese Dog, for example. Any time you see "jumbo" on the menu, you can fairly assume that it isn't going to be the healthiest. But this one is exceptionally scary, with almost an entire's day worth of sodium and saturated fat, and only one measly gram of fiber. Be kind to your health and skip this one if you can.
Portillo's Maxwell Street Polish Sausage
Speaking of Portillo's, their Maxwell Street Polish Sausage is right up there with the Chili Cheese Dog when it comes to nutrition, and this one isn't even jumbo! With almost 40 grams of fat, 13 grams of saturated fat, and a whopping 1,886 milligrams of sodium, the only benefit this dog can contribute is a burst of delicious, savory flavors. But if you're just craving the salty comfort of a hot dog, choose Portillo's regular Hot Dog instead and top it with ketchup, relish, tomato, onion, and mustard to keep your calories, fat, and sodium down.
A&W Coney Cheese Dog
Yes, A&W is mostly known for its famous root beer, which you can still get in a classic frosty mug at most locations. But if a hot dog is more of what you're in the mood for, be careful which one you choose. The Coney Cheese Dog is extremely high in sodium with 1,160 milligrams, but it's the 0.5 gram of trans fat that is even more concerning. As we mentioned previously, trans fats are never good, and consuming them consistently can lead to a number of health complications like clogged arteries, high cholesterol, and coronary heart disease.
Five Guys Bacon Cheese Dog
Five Guys is known for their greasy burgers and brown bags full to the brim with French fries, but this fast-food joint also offers four different types of hot dogs: the original Hot Dog, Bacon Dog, Cheese Dog, or Bacon Cheese Dog. None of these options would be classified as visions of health, but the Bacon Cheese Dog is certainly the worst of the four when it comes to nutritional value—or lack thereof.
Their website doesn't contain a full list of nutrition facts for the Bacon Cheese Dog, but there's enough information provided to know that it's high in calories, total fat, sodium, and carbohydrates. If you're really craving a hot dog, opt for their original, which has 500 calories compared to 670, and 35 grams of fat compared to 48.
Shake Shack Flat-Top Dog
Compared to most of the other hot dogs on this list, the Flat-Top Dog from Shake Shack is a little more manageable with its nutrition and is relatively lower in calories, fat, and sodium. However, this choice is still a fairly unhealthy one, as it has 10 grams of saturated fat, which is close to the entire recommended daily limit, and 800 milligrams of sodium.
One benefit of choosing the Flat-Top Dog over one of the famous Shake Shack burgers is that most of the burgers come with one or two grams of trans fat, while the hot dog doesn't contain any of this dangerous fat.
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