Breaking News for the 4th: 'No Such Thing as a Healthy Hot Dog'

The New York Times celebrated the Independence Day holiday weekend with a joyless story on the front of Saturday's Business Day on the cancer threat posed by your all-American cookout. William Neuman reported 'What's Inside the Bun?' (Back in April, Neuman revealed the 'darker side' to Captain Crunch cereal.)

If there is no such thing as a healthy hot dog, how do you limit the damage at this weekend's weenie roast?

Don't count on the label to help much. Those pricey 'natural' and 'organic' hot dogs often contain just as much or more of the cancer-linked preservatives nitrate and nitrite as that old-fashioned Oscar Mayer wiener.

But since the health concerns first emerged, scientists have gained more understanding of the role of nitrate and nitrite in human health and have discovered the preservatives also have benefits, for example, in the healthy functioning of the cardiovascular and immune systems.

Some in the meat industry have seized on these discoveries to dismiss as outdated the link between nitrite in processed meat and cancer. They insist processed meats are safe.

But many scientists say the evidence of health risks remains persuasive. While the occasional hot dog or piece of bacon is probably O.K., they point out that high levels of salt and saturated fat in processed meats also contribute to health problems.

A less feverish view of the hot dog threat points out among other things that one serving of arugula (and vegetables in general) contains far more nitrite than cured meat.

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