The ubiquitous hot dog has been standard summer fare at ballparks and backyard barbecues for more than a century.
ILLUSTRATION: TOM GRIFFIN
Try out this healthy vegetarian hot dog recipe sans the meat.
It's America's celebrated mystery meat. Slathered in spicy mustard or buried under mounds of tangy sauerkraut, the ubiquitous hot dog has been standard summer fare at ballparks and backyard barbecues for more than a century. This Fourth of July, Americans will grill, cook and otherwise disguise more than 150 million (!) hot dogs.
The little wieners' popularity lies in the fact that they're cheap and easy to fix. After all, what other food product can you roast over a roaring campfire and feed to a whole Boy Scout troop for mere pennies?
But beyond nickels and dimes, what is there to these little beasts? Hot dog ingredients have been the butt (not to mention the brains and other assorted parts) of many jokes, but not even the national hot dog and sausage promotional board gives a substantive answer (the term "variety meats" does get deserved mention). Beyond the hearsay and humor, what we do know is that according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Nutrient Database, most commercially produced hot dogs get more than 70 percent of their total calories from fat. Many contain nitrites, preservatives that may pose health risks. Average hot dogs also are loaded with sodium, containing more than 20 percent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's recommended Daily Value. They're a little short on protein, though, with only about 6 grams per 57-gram dog. For comparison's sake, a chicken breast of the same serving size has 1.8 grams of fat, 16 grams of protein and 38 (instead of 584) milligrams of sodium.
Frankly speaking, if you're looking for good nutrition in a hot dog, you're barking up the wrong tree. So this summer, if you're seeking a healthier alternative, try master herbalist and author James Duke's Hotdoggone. It's easy — most ingredients are commonly found on any summertime picnic table — and full of nutrients, fiber and health-supporting compounds. And, most importantly, this healthy vegetarian hot dog recipe won't bite you back.
— Claire Anderson
A Healthy Vegetarian Hot Dog Recipe
Bun. Hot dogs are commonly paired with a bland hot dog roll made from flour that has been bleached and thoroughly denatured, only having to be fortified again with nutrients. My hotdoggone starts with a whole-grain hot dog roll. Unfortunately, finding a whole-grain hot dog roll can be a challenge in an average grocery store. (You may have more luck at health and natural food stores.) Your best bet may be just a slice of multigrain bread. The label on my favorite bread, a "six-grain rye," lists wheat, barley, rye, sunflower, caraway, sesame, oat, soy oil and grits, corn, triticale, flax seed, brown rice, cottonseed oil and fennel, adding up closer to 12 grains. And it's full of fiber and nutrition.
Ketchup. We all ridiculed former President Ronald Reagan when he lobbied for ketchup to be considered a vegetable for the National School Lunch Program. That was before science labeled lycopene (found in tomatoes) a major cancer preventive. This compound works similarly to a compound found in beans, and may prevent many hormone-dependent cancers. Perhaps it's due to the pure concentration of tomatoes in ketchup or tomato paste that there's more lycopene in these products than in fresh tomatoes.
Mustard. Maybe I'll do for mustard what Reagan tried to do for ketchup. Although too heavy with processed sugar, the condiment mustard also is one of Americans more usual sources of the herb mustard, with its cancer-preventing isothiocyanates and sulforaphanes. With turmeric as an ingredient, prepared mustard is probably the largest source of the COX-2-inhibitor curcumin, which also has aspirinlike and antioxidant properties. Add freshly ground black pepper to your hotdoggone as pepper's piperine helps the body absorb curcumin more effectively.
Pepper Sauce. I take advantage of capsaicin, a potent analgesic compound in hot peppers, by liberally dosing my hotdoggone with pepper sauce. Then, four different pungent compounds — capsaicin, piperine, curcumin and isothiocyanates — in my hotdoggone effectively open my sinuses. When suffering bronchitis or sinusitis, I really spike my hotdoggone (and even some herb teas) with these pungent compounds.
Onions. Albeit a somewhat watered-down analog of garlic, their more malodorous cousin, raw onions are one of the best medicinal foods. Oral extracts of onion and onion juice have been shown to lower blood sugar, a boon to those at risk for diabetes. And onions may be one of the richest sources of quercetin, which has anti-inflammatory properties. Onion juice and oils have demonstrated anti-aggregant properties and may help to lower cholesterol. Onions also contain the antihypertensive agent prostaglandin A1. Both quercetin and allicin, abundant in onions, may help prevent some of the biggest killers: heart attack, cancer and diabetes.
Sauerkraut. Here's the meat of the hotdoggone: sauerkraut. Though I have long extolled, and depended on, the health virtues of the cabbage family (at preventing that colon cancer to which I am genetically targeted), I have only recently seen the science making sauerkraut a health food, too. Matter of fact, I think that sauerkraut might help prevent osteoporosis, as well as those other ailments prevented by plant estrogens. As of December 2002, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration declared all estrogens (I presume they mean synthetic estrogens and not plant estrogens) carcinogenic. In any case, it makes plant estrogens seem the lesser of two evils.
Human genes have known the estrogens in beans and cabbage for millions of years. I speculate that with long coevolutionary knowledge such as this, our bodies have the homeostatic means for effectively using them and excluding them when they are in excess.
Beans. Yes, I like my hotdoggone with a side order of beans, which are full of estrogens, fiber, protein and slow-release carbohydrates.
One of the world's leading authorities on herbal healing, James A. Duke is author of The Green Pharmacy.