When at least 80% of my meat comes directly from the farmer, it feels kind of sacrilegious to buy Oscar Mayer hot dogs.
Conventional (read: cheap, processed) hot dogs have quite a laundry list of things that I find wrong with them, but the one that’s always made me squirm the most, the one that has raised red flags for me the longest, since even before I got into “real food,” is the nitrate thing. Lots and lots of nutrition-talking groups, not just the ultra-conservative traditional foodists, frown upon nitrates, nitrites, and their cancer-causing history.
When even conventional medicine tells pregnant women not to consume nitrates, I figure: “How can they be safe for my kids?”
Is All Cured Meat Bad for You?
I don’t buy lunchmeat or bacon often, and I certainly don’t buy it in the regular section of the supermarket very often, but I have been known to spring the extra buck or two to get Hormel Naturals nitrate-free as a treat or quick meal fix. If I apply the same logic of simply avoiding the evil nitrates (which may not be so evil if they’re used right – beware, that link will open a can of worms for you if you haven’t read it yet), I might just be purchasing Oscar Mayer dogs for our next camping trip:
“Last year’s successful launch of Oscar Mayer Select Hot Dogs, a product that is among the tiny 0.5 percent of new products launched in the last decade to reach $100 million in their first year, according to data from Symphony IRI Group.” Oscar Mayer is now launching 5 new “Selects” cold cuts products without nitrates or nitrites, plus bacon. The company announced that more than half of new products launched in 2012 will have no artificial preservatives.
Imagine my surprise when I read this article in our local newspaper! source: Grand Rapids Press, Saturday, June 30, 2012
I’m happy to see big brands moving in the right direction, at least. Cutting artificial preservatives can only be a good thing…unless, of course, it gets skewed to be a bad thing because there’s something even more evil to replace them with, but let’s just pretend we’re optimists for now.
Nah, forget that – Big Food Processing companies are only caving to consumer pressure, reading stats like this:
“94% of households surveyed by Mintel, an international market research firm, said they have lunch meat or have used lunch meat. 59% also said they would buy the product if it was natural” – consumer health concerns and viewing lunch meat as overly processed are two reasons for people not buying lunch meat.
Then the company thinks, “Well, we’d better figure out how to make our product seem more natural to the consumer,” rather than, “Let’s figure out the best way to create a natural product that leaves the lightest footprint on the environment, brings nourishment and not harm to consumers’ bodies, and are perhaps closest to the way nature intended.”
Are They Better?
Here’s the real question – if you’re buying a compromise food anyway, is it worth it to pay a bit more for the “Selects” or the “Natural” version of a big brand processed meat? Let’s compare.
Ingredients in Classic Oscar Mayer hot dogs:
Ingredients: MECHANICALLY SEPARATED TURKEY AND MECHANICALLY SEPARATED CHICKEN, PORK, WATER, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF SALT, GROUND MUSTARD SEED, SODIUM LACTATE, CORN SYRUP, DEXTROSE, SODIUM PHOSPHATES, SODIUM DIACETATE, SODIUM ASCORBATE, SODIUM NITRITE, FLAVOR. 1
Ingredients in Oscar Mayer Selects Premium hot dogs:
Ingredients: chicken, turkey, pork, water, corn sugar, salt, celery juice, vinegar, lemon juice, cherry powder and sodium phosphates (less than 2%). 2
Ingredients in Oscar Mayer Naturally Hardwood Smoked Bacon:
Ingredients: CURED WITH WATER, SALT, SUGAR, SODIUM PHOSPHATES, SODIUM ASCORBATE, SODIUM NITRITE. 3
Ingredients in Oscar Mayer Selects Smoked Uncured Bacon:
Ingredients: PORK, WATER, SEA SALT, EVAPORATED CANE SYRUP, CULTURED CELERY JUICE. 4
The fishy part? Most of the Selects products – the lunchmeats, and even the bacon – on the website don’t list ingredients. Wha? Any brand that wants to speak to a healthy-minder consumer must – I repeat, must – fully disclose ingredients. Red flag.
Are these “healthy hot dogs?” Let’s examine:
- They still have sugar. Do you like the phrase “corn sugar?” It’s the additive formerly known as HFCS, you know.
- They still have sodium phosphates, whatever that is – it’s not in MY kitchen cabinets.
- The celery stuff still creates nitrates during the curing process, from what I understand. Phooey badooey.
- The animals are still raised on who-knows-what standing on cement in massive barns – not happy piggies. Or chickens. Or turkeys.
- The animals are likely hopped up on antibiotics and hormones. Yum, right?
- Nothing is organic.
The bottom line, in my humble opinion, is that these dogs are a step up the ladder from normal dogs – but the ladder is about 12 feet tall.
When you make your purchasing decisions, make sure the price point – and your expectations – aren’t significantly higher on that scale.
Other “Better” Cured Meat Options
- Boarshead brand (Not all are nitrate-free, but you can get a brochure from your deli counter with all the nutritional information, and some Boarshead brand products are Feingold Association approved, which basically means no weird additives. You usually pay a pretty big price premium for this brand; watch for sales.)
- Hormel nitrate free (LOTS of readers choose this brand, and I have in the past, too. It’s kind of liberating to actually make use of a sale or use a coupon…but Hormel is basically the same “one step up” as the Oscar Mayer brand we walked through above.)
- Applegate Farms (Nitrate free and also commits to not using antibiotics or hormones, humanely raised, I believe. But still not necessarily organic, fed well, or made traditionally. We find Applegate at our local health food stores.)
- Niman Ranch (I’ve never tried them, but Niman has an incredible reputation for growing happy animals…)
- grassfed made by local farmer (lucky reader!)
- Trader Joe’s
- Legacy (at Meijer deli, reader says!)
- grassfed from Wegman’s supermarket (some may be irradiated, ask questions wisely)
- Dietz and Watson (not all are nitrate-free)
A smart reader also left us with the question of the day: Does eating nitrite/nitrate free deli meat make it safe to eat? What about nitrite free salami? Is it just the nitrites that make it so evil and cancer causing?
Cancer? Yes, the nitrates. Although the author of the China Study would say that all meat is cancer-causing, but I’m not on that bandwagon.
UPDATE: I can’t believe I forgot about this email from a reader! She tested nitrites and nitrates at home with some sort of test strips and shared the info with us – awesome! This was in response to the claims that celery powder and the like create more nitrates during processing than just adding sodium nitrate itself:
It’s a very random list, and I never could bring myself to get nitrate-added products just to test them.In the list below, I report it as “<0.15 ppm” for Nitrites and “<1 ppm” for Nitrates even though the label for the color was 0 ppm (seems like there still could be a trace).
- Trader Joe’s All Natural Uncured Turkey Hot Dogs (“No nitrates or nitrites added”): 15 ppm Nitrites, <1 ppm Nitrates
- Trader Joe’s chicken sausage (tomato-basil, “No nitrates or nitrites added”): <0.15 ppm Nitriates, 10 ppm Nitrates
- An orange from our neighbor’s yard: <0.15 ppm Nitrites, <1 ppm Nitrates
- Organic apple: <0.15 ppm Nitrites, <1 ppm Nitrates
- Broccoli (organic): <0.15 Nitrites, 20-50 ppm Nitrates
- Kombucha (homemade): <0.15 ppm Nitrites, <1 ppm NitratesI also tried to test our local pastured bacon (I don’t know how it’s cured). I’m not sure how it could be tested once cooked, because the grease pretty much didn’t react with the test strip.
In other words, nitrate/nitrite free lunchmeat probably does have some in it anyway…but about the same as organic broccoli.
Back to other reasons cured meats might be harmful for you…Common culture and the government would say that the high level of saturated fats in things like salami are bad for your heart and other organs. Traditional foodies would say that the fat collects the toxins in the feed and meds given to the animals, so you’re inviting problems there.
I would say…
Lunchmeat should always be a “sometimes food,” part of the 20% compromise in the 80/20 keeping-your-sanity eating plan.
Especially if it comes in a package with corporate branding on it.
What to do Instead?
Much better to roast or grill a chicken or slow cooker some beef, then slice it for sandwiches.
For many, if you compare apples to apples as far as how the meat is sourced, you’ll find that those tiny packages of Applegate Farms meat come out to $12/pound, and it’s not even organic. Bet you do better than that wherever you source your meat!
What do you put on your sandwiches?
We don’t have sandwiches very often at all, in case you were wondering about the KS kitchen. Egg salad with homemade mayo was the most recent; tuna fish is another likely option, or Applegate Farms on a grain-free crepe or corn tortilla.
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