You may like them red, brown or white; grilled, fried or steamed, but hold your wieners! Every hot dog you eat shaves off more than half an hour off your life, a new US study by the University of Michigan suggests.
The study, published in the Nature Food journal, may have said that eating a hot dog could lose you 36 minutes of healthy life but it also underscores that there are other food items that can make you gain additional minutes to your life, too.
Researchers evaluated over 5,800 food items by their nutritional disease burden to humans and impact on the environment. According to the researchers, they analyzed individual foods based on their composition to calculate each food item’s net benefits or impacts.
Together with nutritionist Victor Fulgoni III, the researchers developed the Health Nutritional Index, which turns these information into minutes of life lost or gained per serving size of each food item consumed. It is based on the Global Burden of Disease study, in which disease mortality and morbidity are associated with a single food choice of an individual.
Through the nutritional index, the study revealed that sugary drinks, hot dogs, breakfast sandwiches and burgers were among food items linked with most minutes of life lost. While fruits, non-starchy vegetables, ready-to-eat cereals and cooked grains were related to largest gains.
For example, researchers found that consuming a beef hot dog on a bun translates to 36 minutes of life lost “largely due to the detrimental effect of processed meat.” While indulging in an 85-gram serving of your favorite chicken wings means 3.3 minutes of life lost due to its sodium content and harmful trans fatty acids.
Among other food items that slash out minutes of healthy life are soda (1 can, 12 minutes), double cheeseburger (8 minutes), and bacon (6 minutes).
In comparison, eating a 30-gram serving size of nuts and seeds yields 25 minutes of gained healthy life, which is an increase in good-quality and disease-free life expectancy, according to the researchers. The study also found that a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is associated with a 33-minute increase, driven by its nut content.
Other food items that are deemed to gain you minutes of healthy life include baked salmon (13.5 minutes), banana (13.5 minutes), tomatoes (3.8 minutes), and avocado (2.8).
The researchers also took the environmental impact of food into account, including the amount of water used and waste it produced to make the food items.
Food items are classified into three color-coded zones. First, those in the “green” zone are foods that are both nutritionally beneficial and have low environmental impacts. These are predominantly made out of the following:
- Whole grains
- Some seafood
In the “red” zone are foods that have either considerable negative nutritional (driven by adverse health effects associated with processed meats) or high environmental impacts. These include the following:
- Beef, processed meat, pork and lamb, known to be associated with considerable greenhouse emissions
- Cheese-based food
- Salmon dishes
Meanwhile the “amber” zone are food items that offer choices of intermediate foods that are either slightly nutritionally detrimental or generate modern environmental impacts. These include:
- Most poultry
- Dairy (milk and yogurt)
- Egg-based food
- Cooked grains
- Vegetables produced in a greenhouse
With these, the researchers acknowledged that there are foods that are healthy to eat but bad for the environment, and vice versa.
“Previous studies investigating healthy or sustainable diets have often reduced their findings to a discussion of plant-based versus animal-based foods, with the latter stigmatized as the least nutritious and sustainable,” the study said.
“Although we find that plant-based foods generally perform better, there are considerable variations within both plant-based and animal-based foods that should be acknowledged before such generalized inferences are warranted.”
So, should people be worried about competitive eaters Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi because of the hundreds of hotdogs they have eaten in their lifetime? Or should one recklessly indulge in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to gain more minutes?
The researchers emphasized that what they consider the addition of “minutes of healthy life” corresponds to “an increase in good-quality and disease-free life expectancy.”
The study also shows that swapping 10 percent of daily caloric intake of beef and processed meats for a mix of fruits, whole grains, vegetables, nuts, legumes and select seafood could produce health benefits—48 minutes of life per day and one-third lower dietary carbon footprint.