The dangerous ingredient you need to watch out for in hot dogs

Hot dogs are like the All-American food, an integral part of backyard barbecues and, of course, the one and only food you absolutely have to eat every time you're at a baseball game (unless that game is at Milwaukee's Miller Park, as Baseball Stadiums says that this is the only MLB stadium where bratwurst outsells hot dogs). How bad can they possibly be? After all, just look at Matt Stonie and Joey Chestnut, the King and Crown Prince of Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest — both of them are still alive and kicking and in pretty great shape after having consumed approximately 85 trillion hot dogs each over the course of their competitive eating careers.

Well, be that as it may, those of us without cast-iron intestines may need to watch out that we don't eat too many hot dogs, as Eat This, Not That! points out that they contain one of the all-time worst food additives — sodium nitrates and/or nitrites. (CBS News says that although these two additive names are used interchangeably, it's mostly nitrites that are used to cure hot dogs.) What's so terrible about sodium nitrites, besides the name confusion? Well, there appears to be a strong link between this additive and, you guessed it, cancer. And not just in lab rats, either — the journal Nutrition and Cancer published study findings indicating colorectal cancer rates anywhere from 20 to 50 percent higher amongst people who ate processed meat products.

What about nitrite-free hot dogs, though?

Some hot dog makers such as the one that has a first name spelled O-S-C-A-R (you're welcome for the earworm) are now coming out with hotdogs using nitrites made from natural ingredients such as celery juice. Natural or not, though, all nitrites may form carcinogenic compounds called nitrosamines when exposed to heat, and meat industry consultant Andrew Milkowski tells CBS News that there's really not much difference between a "natural" nitrite and an artificial one, except when it comes to consumer perception. The good news, however, is that meat processors generally add certain ingredients to their cured meat products to block the formation of nitrosamines.

Health experts are always going to recommend limiting your consumption of processed meats or any other type of processed foods, not just due to the nitrites but their high sodium levels as well. Still, most will agree that an occasional hot dog isn't going to put you at too much risk. As with just about every other tasty treat, be it pizza or ice cream or booze, hot dogs may be consumed in moderation — unless, of course, you're at Coney Island on the Fourth of July and you have aspirations for a Mustard Belt of your own.