Hot dogs don’t have a reputation for being the healthiest foods on your picnic table.
They cite the byproducts included in this popular American staple, as well as increased risks of colorectal and other cancers.
The Oscar Mayer company is trying to change that image.
This month, they launched the For the Love of Hot Dogs campaign.
The company, owned by Kraft Heinz, states it is making a “healthier” hot dog, just in time for your summer barbecues.
Nutritionists interviewed by Healthline said they think the removal of some of the product’s more harmful ingredients is a step in the right direction.
But, they note, hot dogs are still processed meat and should be eaten occasionally, at best.
“At the end of the day, hot dogs are a ‘sometimes’ food,” said Katie Ferraro, a registered dietitian and assistant clinical professor at the University of San Diego and the University of California San Francisco.
What’s in the new hot dogs
Officials at Oscar Mayer did not respond to Healthline’s request for an interview for this story.
However, on its website the company announced that its new hot dogs have no artificial preservatives, no byproducts, and no added nitrites or nitrates.
They say they went “back to the drawing board and the cutting board” for a year to develop the “world’s best hot dogs.”
The lineup of products includes beef, turkey, and cheese hot dogs.
“We’re excited that everyone will now have access to a better quality hot dog with the best quality ingredients,” said Greg Guidotti, head of marketing at Oscar Mayer, in a press release.
The company plans to showcase the new recipe by driving their iconic Weinermobiles to various parts of the United States this summer.
Some healthy cautions
Ferraro told Healthline that eliminating some of the ingredients, in particular the nitrates and the nitrites, from the new hot dogs is a good thing.
Ferraro notes that Oscar Mayer is careful to call their product a “healthier hot dog” and not a “healthy” food.
Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, a licensed, registered dietitian, who is wellness manager at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, agrees.
“I don’t know if I’d use the word ‘healthy’ with any processed meat,” she told Healthline.
Both Ferraro and Kirkpatrick said hot dogs should be eaten only once in a while as a special treat.
They added that to balance your paper plate, it’s good to add healthier, more natural items like corn on the cob, beans, and watermelon to your picnic menu.
“For healthy eating, stick as close to nature as possible. There are no hot dogs roaming in the fields,” said Kirkpatrick.
Ferraro adds that the Oscar Mayer campaign highlights what isn’t in the hot dogs rather than what is still in them.
She compares the new product to other foods with healthy sounding labels.
“Organic junk food is still junk food,” she said.
Nonetheless, both Ferraro and Kirkpatrick said they were encouraged that Oscar Mayer is listening to consumers’ concerns about healthier foods.
Still, they urged summer picnickers to hold more than just the mustard.
“This is a step in the right direction,” Ferraro said, “but I don’t want anyone to believe there is such a thing as a healthy hot dog.”