Can Eating Hot Dogs Shave Years Off a Healthy Life?

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Can Eating Hot Dogs Shave Years Off a Healthy Life? about undefined
The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council estimates that Americans consume 20 billion hot dogs a year. If you’re one of these hot dog lovers, you might reconsider regular consumption of these ballpark treats.

A new study from the University of Michigan finds that if you consume hot dogs on a regular basis then you’ll spend more time suffering from physical disabilities as you age. Let’s take a closer look at why you should avoid hot dogs and what foods you should eat instead.

There’s a big problem with dietary recommendations: It’s easy to say, “don’t eat this” or “eat this” for good health. Nutrition researchers believe this approach doesn’t always result in healthy eating habits. To make dietary recommendations easier and more meaningful to people, the University of Michigan research team developed a new system. It's called the Health Nutritional Index (HENI).

HENI is designed to shed light on the hidden health risks and benefits of foods and to translate complex nutritional information into a simple but meaningful score that people can use as they plan their meals.

Nearly 6000 Foods Analyzed—Including Hot Dogs 

The index is adapted from the Global Burden of Disease a comprehensive global database analyzing 286 causes of death and 369 diseases and injuries. It also determines the risks and benefits of multiple factors, including 15 dietary ones.

To create HENI the research team adapted their findings to see how many minutes of life are lost or gained per serving size of each of 5,853 foods in the ordinary U.S. diet.

Researchers examined foods that are considered healthy such as milk, nuts and seeds, fruits, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids from seafood, fibers (from fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). They also examined foods that are not considered healthy, including processed meat, red meat, trans fatty acids (TFAs), sugar-sweetened beverages and salt.

To determine the health value of a food, they looked at the nutritional factors considered beneficial and detrimental and then did some complex math to provide an index rating.

For instance, a three-ounce serving of chicken wings contains, in their view, four significant components affecting health - calcium and PUFAs on the plus side, salt and TFAs on the minus side.

The overall rating for chicken wings was found to be negative, with a HENI rating of 3.3 minutes of healthy life lost per serving. Other examples of minutes lost include:
  • A beef hotdog on a bun: 36 minutes of healthy life lost.
  • Vegetable pizza: 1.4 minutes of healthy life lost.
  • Corned beef with tomato sauce and onion: 71 minutes of healthy life lost.
  • A soft drink: 12.5 minutes of healthy life lost.
Foods where minutes are gained include:
  • Apple pie: 1.3 minutes of healthy life gained.
  • Baked salmon: 16 minutes of healthy life gained.
  • Peanut butter and jam sandwiches: 33 minutes of healthy life gained.
  • Sardines with a tomato-based sauce: 82 minutes of healthy life gained.

Enjoy a Big Health Impact From Small, Targeted Changes 

The researchers wrote, "Interestingly, our results offer unambiguous and generalizable inferences for only a few food categories.

"HENI scores for frankfurter (hot dog or sausage) and breakfast sandwiches, burgers and red meat are almost exclusively negative, indicating that eating an additional serving of these foods is health-damaging.

"On the other hand, increasing the consumption of nuts and of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (driven by nut content), legumes, seafood, fruits, snack bars, ready-to-eat cereals and non-starchy vegetables, is health beneficial as most of these foods have positive HENI scores."

The researchers were encouraged to see that small, targeted changes can make a meaningful difference - no dramatic shifts in diet are required.

In fact, substituting just ten percent of daily calories from beef and processed meats for a diverse mix of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and selected seafood could offer substantial improvements to your health and add 48 minutes of healthy life per day.

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