Last updated on July 4th, 2017
July 4, 2011
Every 4th of July we gather to celebrate a special birthday — that of my father-in-law, Frank. (“Let me be Frank with you” is his self-introductory joke, and he has plenty to follow it.) He was born on this date in Italy in 1922. When my wife and her many siblings were small, they believed that the Independence Day fireworks were meant to honor their dear papa. Frank readily encouraged this belief.
For the last five or six years, the party menu has revolved around submarine sandwiches. Guests contribute deli meats, cheeses, breads, rolls, condiments, and an assortment of summer salads. There is a birthday cake or two, maybe three, plus ice cream.
Hot dogs are NOT served. Frank has strong feelings about food, and his feelings about hot dogs are all negative. Frank does not like franks.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, Italian sausage is a different matter. Frank will take as much of that as you care to grill for him.
I suppose it’s a good thing that we won’t be scarfing the All-American wiener at today’s feast. Yes, it is meat-based, and absent the bun, you can eat hot dogs on a low-carb diet. It pays to check the nutrition label for the carb count, though, which varies by brand and type. I have seen carbohydrates range from 1 to 6 grams per frank.
Even if the carb count is low, there may be reasons to limit your consumption of franks.
According to Hot Dogs and Food Safety, a USDA Food Safety Information PDF, a regulation U.S. hot dog may contain up to 30% fat (no problem there), 10% water, and up to 3.5% non-meat binders and extenders (nonfat dry milk, cereal, or dried whole milk) or 2% isolated soy protein.
There is meat in a hot dog, too, of course, though “meat” is a legal term that was re-defined in 1994 to include “any ‘meat’ product that is produced by advanced meat/bone separation machinery.” This machinery scrapes and shaves meat off the bone without crushing the bone, and meat trimmings produced are similar to those achieved by hand-trimming.
That sounds OK, but then there is another class of meat product in hot dogs called Mechanically Separated Meat (MSM) which is “a paste-like and batter-like meat product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible meat, under high pressure through a sieve or similar device to separate the bone from the edible meat tissue.” Yum. In the U.S.A., hot dogs may contain MSM derived from pork or poultry, but not beef (because of a 2004 law enacted to protect consumers against Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy — a.k.a. “Mad Cow Disease”).
Salt is a problem for some people, and hot dogs can contain a lot of it. For example, Ball Park Turkey Franks contain 580 mg of sodium (24% of RDA) per frank. (But I would avoid them, anyway, because their carb count is 6 grams per frank.)
The chemical preservative sodium nitrite is another dubious ingredient of many hot dogs (and processed meats in general). Regular consumption of nitrites is suspected of causing cancer.
I’d still eat a hot dog before I’d eat the bun, chips or potato-salad.
But I won’t have to worry about hot dogs today. I’ll load up on the least processed meats, a selection of tasty cheeses, a pickle or two, deviled eggs, and green salad. Call it “Independence-from-Carbs Day.”
I’ll donate my share of the birthday cake to my father-in-law.
It’s his day, after all, and he’s made it to 89 following his own dietary rules.
Postscript: After enjoying a few more celebrations of his and the nation’s birth, Frank died in June 2016, just short of his 94th birthday..