The summer barbecue is in full swing, and hot dogs are quite literally being tossed around to appease the hungry hordes of sunburnt party-goers. You snag a frankfurter, mash it into a bun and eagerly waddle toward the condiments table. There, you face a troublesome decision: With what should you smear your delicate tube of assorted animal offcuts?
Sure, whatever you choose will affect the taste of said hot dog, but it will also impact how healthy that frank-based meal is. As such, I asked Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, to help me rank popular hot dog condiments by how healthy they are — from pretty healthy to fuel on the fire.
Let’s see which is really the best…
1) Mustard: Hunnes confirms that mustard is indeed pretty healthy, adding that the amount of flavor it imparts easily trumps the few calories it contains. In fact, one tablespoon of plain yellow mustard somehow contains zero calories. Plus, mustard seeds contain phytonutrients called glucosinolates, which reduce inflammation. Furthermore, mustard plants have the potential to help prevent cancer. Finally, mustard seeds are good sources of selenium and magnesium, which help fight cancer and reduce the impact of asthma, arthritis, high blood pressure and migraines.
2) Ketchup: “Ketchup does have some added sugar, but it also contains tomato puree, and therefore, lycopene,” Hunnes says. Lycopene is what gives tomatoes their red color and has been linked to many health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. Again, though, watch out for that extra sugar — one tablespoon of a popular brand of tomato ketchup contains four grams of sugar, which can certainly add up, depending on how much of this stuff you put on your dog.
3) Peppers and Onions (Tied): As far as Hunnes is concerned, peppers and onions (grilled or otherwise) provide some prebiotic fiber, which is necessary for a healthy gut and improved digestion. We also previously learned that both peppers and onions contain plant compounds associated with many health benefits, including the prevention of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer. They boast several vitamins and minerals as well, so these veggies are never a bad choice.
5) Relish and Sauerkraut (Tied): Similar to peppers and onions, Hunnes says relish and sauerkraut provide the benefits that come with many vegetables. Sauerkraut in particular provides tons of gut-healthy prebiotic fiber, although she does mention that it can be pretty high in salt — one quarter-cup contains 235 milligrams of sodium, which again, has the potential to add up. Meanwhile, relish is made from pickles, which contain cancer-busting antioxidants and may also boast some prebiotic fiber. However, relish also tends to contain all kinds of unhealthy additives.
7) Chili and Mayonnaise (Tied): “Chili, especially when it contains red meat, is overkill,” Hunnes says. In terms of flavor, I agree to disagree, but in terms of healthiness, Hunnes is spot on: As I discussed in my hot dog ranking, red meat is a Group 1 carcinogen, so your average chili dog is basically cancer topped with cancer. Of course, some chilis, particularly those that are big on vegetables, can be pretty healthy. Honestly, though, nobody ever puts that kind of chili on a hot dog.
Meanwhile, Hunnes questions whether people ever really put mayonnaise on hot dogs — sadly, some extremely sick souls do indeed — before explaining that eggs and oils are the main ingredients at a play here. That being the case, mayonnaise is high in both calories and potentially unhealthy fats, neither of which are very good.
9) Cheese: Hunnes has told me time and again that cheese in pretty darn unhealthy, since it contains an animal protein called casein, which may contribute to the development of tumors. This is no exception: “Adding that to a carcinogen is just bad,” she emphasizes.
Welp, there goes that beloved chili-cheese dog you were about to make. The good news, though, is that you can slather your weenie with all the usual condiments — mustard, ketchup and maybe even some grilled veggies — without worrying too much about them ruining your summer bod. In fact, those regular old condiments might even transform that unhealthy dog into something a little bit better. Cheers to that, bro.