The All-American tradition that could save your heart

One of the most maligned foods on the planet is the All-American hot dog. Sausages, under many names, are eaten all over the world. Anywhere you go, they will tell you their sausages are better than our American hot dogs, and I tend to agree with them. But that doesn't mean they deserve the bad rap they've been given. In fact, a few months ago, the Associated Press reported a highly significant finding on these ballpark staples: Hot dogs are actually good for you.

As it turns out, sodium nitrite, the chemical used to color and preserve hot dogs and other meats, has remarkable effects on the cardiovascular system. In fact, it appears that nitrite salts may have a beneficial effect on all of the body's organs: heart, brain, lungs-everywhere the blood flows. Dr. Mark Gladwin and an NIH cardiologist, Dr. Richard Cannon III, discovered that even very small doses of nitrate almost tripled blood flow. This translates to prevention and/or cure of heart attacks, pulmonary hypertension, sickle cell anemia, and strokes-and that's just the short list.

They also proved that when people exercised, nitrite levels dropped dramatically in the muscles being exercised. This indicates that by some mechanism, the body was using the nitrite in exercise. Oxygen deprivation, for whatever reason, is what eventually does us in. If this deprivation can be avoided, you will live longer and healthier.

Sodium nitrite seems to have the ability to guard your cells against hypoxia (lack of oxygen). The researchers were amazed at the finding because they had been taught that nitrites had little medical relevance.

Yet despite these findings, people still have it in for the little dogs. Although the Associated Press (AP) reported the findings, it clearly didn't believe them: The AP reporter, not wanting us to get any funny ideas, warns: "It doesn't mean artery-clogging hot dogs are healthy."

Who has ever offered any proof that hot dogs clog your arteries? Aren't hot dogs a little big to clog most arteries? Maybe the reporter means that after the dog is eaten, it forms "toxins,"-demon fat, demon cholesterol-and then clogs the arteries. Who am I to doubt the AP? But a little scientific proof would be nice.

It just burns me up when a reporter with no scientific biological training makes sweeping pronouncements about nutrition, usually gleaned from other reporters or other so-called "experts" like the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Concession stands caught in the crossfire

The state of Maine has gone whole-hog in the war on obesity. The Food Service Office is excited about the new crusade against fat people and is determined to do something about it. So what are they going to do? They're going to eliminate the nutrient-dense hot dog from school lunch programs.

While I agree that it's important to do something to combat childhood obesity, taking action in any endeavor based on a false paradigm ("fat makes you fat") is doomed to failure.

Maine's Kennebec Journal reported that "booster clubs traditionally have relied on hot dogs, candy bars and soda as concession stand staples. Under the amended Chapter 51, those staples would have to go."

Do you see the injustice in comparing one of our most beloved and nutritious foods with the REAL enemies-candy bars and soda? And I can't help but wonder if any of these pseudo-scientists ever thought that maybe, just maybe, it's not the hot dog causing the problems, but the white-flour-laden bun that it's almost always nestled into? No amount of mustard or relish can save you from the havoc that will wreak in your body.

The REAL nutritional science on "franks"

All hot dogs are cured and cooked sausages that consist of mainly pork, beef, chicken, and turkey or a combination of meat and poultry. (They generally contain 150 calories, 13 grams of fat, and 5 to 7 grams of protein.)

Ingredients, other than the meat, include water, curing agents and spices, such as garlic, salt, ground mustard, nutmeg, coriander, and white pepper. Contrary to popular belief, there are no "secret ingredients" like chicken beaks, ground hoofs, claws, or entrails in American hot dogs.

If variety meats such as liver and hearts are used in processed meats like hotdogs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires the manufacturer to declare those ingredients on the package with the statement "with variety meats" or "with meat by-products." The manufacturer must then specify which variety meat is included. In the U.S., companies are required to list ingredients in order, from the main ingredient, to the least ingredient. This is the law for all processed foods in the U.S., so you can rest assured that hot dogs only contain meat and other animal products that you eat in your regular diet.

Here's what to do:
They may not be quite as tasty as bratwurst or kielbasa, but hot dogs are an American tradition, and a healthy one at that. So next time you need a quick lunch, bypass the salad bar and head to the nearest hot dog vendor. Use the bun as a handy way to hold the frank, but toss it when you're done-your heart, your waistline, and the neighborhood pigeons will all thank you.