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Do you really want to dig into that processed meat, saturated fat and sodium?
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updated 7/3/2011 12:04:15 PM ET 2011-07-03T16:04:15

Each year between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Americans consume 7 billion hot dogs (that's 818 every second!), according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council.

But before you top these summer standbys with ketchup and relish and dig in, there are a few things you need to know.

"A hot dog is a processed meat that is generally high in unhealthy saturated fat and sodium and contains nitrites, which may be cancer causing," says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD.

Find other TODAY Health fans -- like us on Facebook!

So how do you pick out the healthiest hot dog?

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Prevention magazine walks you through the nutrition label so you know which harmful or suspicious ingredients (mechanically separated turkey, anyone?) to look out for — and how to pick a more nutritious dog.

Beef and Pork: Both are high in protein — and in unhealthy saturated fat and cholesterol; the meat could come from pig and cow skeletal muscle and by-products.

Mechanically Separated Turkey: A pastelike substance produced when tissue is removed from bones through a high-pressure sieve. This product is versatile and cheap—and not just for turkey dogs.

Sodium Nitrate: Helps preserve the red tint of cured meat. Studies have shown that consuming sodium nitrite may increase cancer risk and trigger migraines.

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Corn Syrup: A combo of cornstarch and acids, corn syrup is used as a thickener and sweetener. It contains no nutrients but does add extra calories.

Extractives of Paprika: As a spice, paprika is a good source of fiber and vitamins A and E. However, the extractive form doesn't offer much aside from color.

Better Buy: Applegate Farms Organic Beef Hot Dogs made with USDA-certified organic beef and without nitrites and corn syrup, these dogs are lower in saturated fat, calories, and sodium than typical supermarket or ballpark fare.

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Video: Hot dog champs share their tips

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    >> a segment we going to do outside before the rain. the nathan's hot dog eating contest . reigning champion joe you "jaws" chestnut, last year's winner, and two ladies in what will be the women's division. sonya thomas and juliette lee joining us on an increasingly crowded couch. good morning to august ll of you.

    >> we were supposed to be outside.

    >> we arranged all the hot dogs outside. we may be able to get them in.

    >> a pile of 68 hot dogs , joey , how many you ate when you set the world record back in 2009 .

    >> yes. delicious.

    >> size up your chances this year?

    >> my chances -- i feel pretty good. my competition better be ready. anybody who has the guts to show up, better come hungry.

    >> will you feel someone on your tail, do you train all year long?

    >> i love to eat naturally. so that's kind of like training. for about six weeks building up to this contest, eating hot dogs , teach my body a cycle, how to digest hot dogs and do whatever it takes to get it down and move on.

    >> you don't see me eating one much less two of these hot dogs . there's a difference between liking to eat and going this far, and i want to turn it over to tim, is that what's going on --

    >> our makeup department didn't do that to you?

    >> no.

    >> last year you were nine hot dogs shy of winning the competition. how do you make up nine hot dogs ? do you have to -- is the training regimen different?

    >> i'm not training differently. certainly making sure i feel good after the contest and you may not win the first, may not win the second, you just keep pushing and plugging away. eventually good things happen. i'll try to beat joey again this year and if it doesn't happen this year i'll try again next year.

    >> interesting this year. there's a women's division for the first time this year and i want to ask you a question. 41 hot dogs . another pile with 41. that's the amount of hot dogs , your personal best . correct? that was your personal best ?

    >> this is my personal best , yes.

    >> probably feel pretty good, pretty confident going into this know you have a whole division dedicated to women?

    >> i'm confident and happy about that. then i'm going to try to break my own record.

    >> how's the training been for you?

    >> it's turning out -- actually, it's good. i don't have any specific training. i've been doing this for years. just focus.

    >> the training isn't walking into a restaurant and ordering 41 hot dogs , sitting down at a table and turning heads?

    >> no.

    >> finally, juliette, the 2008 major eating rookie of the ear, major league eating rookie of the year, how do you know you're good at this? at what age do you say, i'm good at this?

    >> five years ago. so i started my first contest, won the contest. so i knew i was pretty good at that.

    >> really? as a child, did you eat an incredible amount of food? did your parents say, wow, this kid is going to eat us out of house and home?

    >> i ate a lot before i ever got out. always make fun. the girl eat a lot. it's not -- it's not very nice.

    >> a b.y.o.b. policy? you must --

    >> i knew you would.

    >> that's how you are a champion.

    >> not even opened yet.

    >> i'll be breaking the seat pretty soon.

    >> excellent. joey , and all of you, thank you very much. we want to wish you the best of luck . it's raining. you brink a lot of water, maybe this is adding to the big news of the festivities. i'm not

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