Eating hot dogs and other processed meats is a controversial topic for many people, but especially for pregnant women. Hot dogs contain nitrates, nitrites, and other preservatives that may be harmful to a developing baby. However, with some precautions, pregnant women can occasionally enjoy these popular foods in moderation.
This article will dive into the research on hot dogs and pregnancy covering whether they are safe, nutrition concerns, risks, recommendations, and how to include them as part of a healthy prenatal diet.
Key Takeaways on Eating Hot Dogs During Pregnancy:
- Hot dogs contain nitrates and nitrites that can form carcinogens and should be limited, but an occasional hot dog likely poses little risk.
- Hot dogs tend to be high in fat, cholesterol, and sodium, so they are not an ideal regular part of a prenatal diet.
- If reheated or old, hot dogs have a higher risk of containing listeria bacteria that causes miscarriage and stillbirth.
- It’s best to limit intake to no more than 2 servings a month and choose low-sodium turkey or veggie dogs instead of beef.
- Always cook hot dogs thoroughly until steaming hot and avoid gas station or questionable source hot dogs.
Are Hot Dogs Safe to Eat When Pregnant?
Most experts consider occasional hot dog consumption to be reasonably safe during pregnancy. Having a hot dog at a summer BBQ or baseball game once in a while is unlikely to harm your baby. However, there are some concerns with eating hot dogs and it’s best to limit how often and how much you eat when expecting.
The biggest risks with hot dogs relate to their high sodium, nitrates, nitrites, saturated fats, and cholesterol levels—as well as the minor risk of exposure to harmful bacteria if they are undercooked. Going overboard with hot dogs could lead to issues like gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, excess weight gain, and an increased risk of foodborne illness. Moderation and proper handling is key.
Some organizations like the American Pregnancy Association say to avoid hot dogs entirely while pregnant due to their nitrate/nitrite content. However, most experts conclude the nitrate/nitrite exposure from occasionally consuming quality hot dogs is minimal and not a major concern.
Nutrition Concerns With Hot Dogs
Here is a look at the main nutritional considerations when it comes to eating hot dogs during pregnancy:
Sodium – Hot dogs are notoriously high in sodium. A typical beef hot dog contains around 500–800 mg sodium. The AHA recommends limited to 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Too much sodium can lead to swelling and increased blood pressure.
Nitrates/Nitrites – These preservatives give hot dogs their characteristic pink color and help prevent botulism. In the body they can form carcinogenic nitrosamine compounds. The WHO recommends limiting nitrite/nitrate intake as much as possible.
Saturated Fat & Cholesterol – Hot dogs are high in saturated fat and cholesterol from animal sources. The AHA recommends only 5-6% of calories from saturated fat and limiting cholesterol to 300 mg per day. Too much can raise blood cholesterol levels.
Heme Iron – Heme iron is found in meat and more easily absorbed than non-heme iron from plants. While iron is essential during pregnancy, excessive intake from sources like hot dogs could lead to excess iron.
Low in Essential Nutrients – Unlike other protein foods like lean meats, eggs or beans, hot dogs supply relatively few beneficial nutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber.
Highly Processed – Heavily processed meats like hot dogs have been associated with health risks like colon cancer, diabetes, and heart disease in some studies. Minimizing consumption is recommended.
While an occasional hot dog won’t provide major amounts of any of the concerning nutrients above, regular consumption could lead to going over guidelines and recommendations during pregnancy. Following proper handling and hygiene practices also reduces risk when eating hot dogs.
Are There Risks With Eating Hot Dogs While Pregnant?
There are three main pregnancy-related risks associated with consuming hot dogs:
1. Listeria infection – Listeria bacteria can contaminate hot dogs and deli meats and cause the illness listeriosis. This can result in miscarriage, stillbirth, and other complications. Proper cooking, handling and avoiding reheated hot dogs reduces this risk.
2. Nitrosamine exposure – When nitrates and nitrites react in the body, they can form nitrosamine compounds that are carcinogenic and may affect the baby. But this risk is low with occasional intake.
3. High sodium intake – Consuming too much sodium raises blood pressure. Hypertension during pregnancy can cause complications. But occasional hot dogs are minimally concerning.
Overall when consumed in moderation and prepared properly, most pregnant women can eat hot dogs without significantly raising their risk of complications. However, for those with hypertension or other health conditions, avoiding hot dogs may be best.
Hot Dog Recommendations for Pregnant Women
To enjoy hot dogs more safely during pregnancy, follow these recommendations:
- Limit to 2 servings monthly at most based on FDA guidelines for ready-to-eat meats.
- Choose turkey or vegetarian hot dog options which tend to be lower in fat, sodium and other concerning ingredients.
- Opt for nitrate/nitrite-free hot dogs if possible, but don’t overcook.
- Always cook hot dogs thoroughly until steaming hot, at least 165°F internal temperature.
- Avoid reheating hot dogs thoroughly and do not eat if they have been sitting out.
- Be extra cautious with hot dogs from places like gas stations, street carts, buffets, or unknown sources.
- Watch your sodium intake from other foods and pair with low-sodium options.
- Ask your doctor if you have other risk factors like gestational diabetes or hypertension before eating.
Following these precautions allows you to incorporate the occasional hot dog into your diet, while limiting any potential negative impacts on your health and your baby.
Healthier Ways to Eat Hot Dogs
If you choose to eat hot dogs while pregnant, here are some tips for making them a healthier option:
- Opt for a whole grain bun over white bread to get more fiber.
- Top with lots of vegetables like lettuce, tomato, onion, peppers or avocado.
- Use mustard instead of mayo-based condiments to limit fat intake.
- Bake or grill them instead of frying to reduce fat and calories.
- Pair with a probiotic side like kimchi, pickles or sauerkraut.
- Eat slowly and mindfully – don’t overload with excessive toppings.
- Drink water instead of sugary sodas or flavored drinks.
- Balance out with lower-sodium foods and plenty of fruits/veggies.
- Walk after eating to help digestion and blood sugar control.
Making smart choices about what you pair hot dogs with and how you prepare them allows you to satisfy an occasional craving more healthfully.
Common Concerns and Questions About Eating Hot Dogs During Pregnancy
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about hot dogs and pregnancy:
Q: Can hot dogs cause miscarriage or stillbirth?
A: There is a very slight risk of miscarriage or stillbirth associated with consuming contaminated hot dogs or deli meats that contain listeria bacteria. However, this risk is extremely low if you properly cook hot dogs to 165°F and don’t reheat them. Avoiding gas station hot dogs also reduces risk.
Q: Do nitrates in hot dogs affect the baby?
A: Nitrates themselves are not thought to directly impact a developing baby. However, when digested they can convert to nitrites and form compounds called nitrosamines which may be carcinogenic. The amount formed from occasional high-quality hot dogs is very minimal though.
Q: Can you eat hot dogs if you have gestational diabetes?
A: You can work the occasional hot dog into your meal plan, but they are not the best choice. Leaner protein options have less fat, sodium, nitrates and calories. Pair with non-starchy veggies and monitor your blood sugar carefully.
Q: Are hot dogs cooked at baseball games safe when pregnant?
A: Hot dogs purchased at concession stands or carts are riskier than cooking your own at home. Make sure they are thoroughly cooked, avoid old/reheated dogs, and limit condiments. You could bring your own as an alternative.
Q: What happens if you eat old hot dogs while pregnant?
A: Old hot dogs are at higher risk for bacterial growth, especially listeria. Always check expiry dates and the safety of reheated hot dogs. When in doubt, throw it out. Foodborne illness is not worth the risk.
Q: Can hot dogs give you heartburn when pregnant?
A: Yes, many pregnant women experience heartburn from hot dogs. The fats and sodium can trigger acid reflux. Eat them sparingly, avoid laying down after eating, and take antacids if you experience heartburn.
Q: Are hot dogs healthier if you boil them vs grill them?
A: Boiling can lower the nitrosamine content compared to high-heat cooking methods. But grilling allows fat to drip away. Go easy on charring. Prepare using the method you enjoy most and always cook thoroughly.
In moderation, hot dogs can be reasonably safe to consume during pregnancy. But they may trigger digestive issues and are not the most nutritious choice. Take precautions when cooking and storing them and limit frequency of consumption. Discuss any concerns with your prenatal healthcare provider as well.
The Bottom Line
Can pregnant women eat hot dogs? In most cases, yes, but in moderation. The nitrates used to cure hot dogs can form compounds that may increase cancer risk, but occasional consumption of a properly handled and cooked hot dog is unlikely to cause major issues.
Still, hot dogs are high in sodium, fat and other less-than-ideal ingredients for pregnancy. They provide little nutritional value compared to other protein foods. Limit hot dogs to no more than 2 servings per month during pregnancy.
If you choose to eat them, select low-sodium options, always cook them thoroughly, and avoid reheating them to minimize risks. Pair with plenty of fruits, veggies and water.
Check with your doctor about any diet concerns. With the right precautions, eating the occasional hot dog can be reasonably safe for most healthy pregnant women.