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Understanding the Chemicals In Your Hot Dog

In the upside-down world of labeling, hot dogs can be “all-natural” even if they contain nitrates.


Here's what fireworks, chemical fertilizers, and frankfurters have in common­: They all contain nitrogen compounds. Sodium nitrates, which are used as a preservative in standard hot dogs, have inspired a decades-long scientific debate over their possible health risks to humans. Perhaps you'd like to keep tabs on how much nitrate is in the hot dogs you're scarfing this summer­­. Unfortunately, you can't.

Here's the thing: Even uncured, “nitrate-free” meats contain healthy doses of nitrates. So do many raw vegetables and most municipal water supplies. In fact, "natural" meats can contain even more nitrite than your standard heavily-processed bacon strips and hot dogs. A recent report in The New York Times pointed to a study that found “natural hot dogs had anywhere from one-half to 10 times the amount of nitrates that conventional hot dogs contained"—usually courtesy of naturally occurring nitrates in celery. (Celery juice is often used in the meat.)

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Beware of Whole Grain Inflation

Subway offers sandwiches on 9-grain bread. You can find 10-grain, 12-grain, and even 15-grain breads in supermarkets. What do all these claims mean?

Subway offers sandwiches on 9-grain bread. Krispy Kreme has multigrain donuts and Dunkin Donuts offers multigrain bagels. You can find 10-grain, 12-grain, and even 15-grain breads in supermarkets. As Rob Beschizza wrote on BoingBoing, "The shelf seems to be graining under all that whole grain goodness."

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Map: Where Laws Requiring Labels for Genetically Modified Foods Are Pending

A transgenic salmon has ushered in a wave of legislation requiring labels for genetically modified foods. What's your state doing?

There's basically no way to tell if your food has been genetically modified. Or, for that matter, no way to tell if it was grown from a plant once doused with radiation. There are no labeling requirements for heirloom crops either. Genetics just hasn't been something most of us think about when we're hunting the supermarket for a meal.

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