Researchers at the University of Michigan released a peer-reviewed study last week claiming that eating a single hot dog can take 36 minutes off of a human's life. In contrast, the study found that eating nuts could add 26 minutes to someone's lifespan.
That study could cause someone to think twice about devouring a frankfurter at a baseball game or holiday cookout. It also takes a direct shot at a sportsman who has built his legacy off of eating hot dogs.
"Interesting, I might need to eat more nuts to go back in time," tweeted 13-time Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest champion Joey Chestnut, who owns the world record for eating 76 hot dogs in 10 minutes and, by the study's calculation, would've lost one year and 15 minutes of his life for consuming his estimated 19,200 hot dogs over 16 years.
But health experts say there's more complexity than simply replacing hot dogs with nuts.
Could eating hot dogs actually shorten your life span?
Olivier Jolliet, one of the lead researchers on the study, published in the journal Nature Food, told USA TODAY that 5,800 foods were evaluated and then ranked based on their nutritional disease burden as well as their impact on the environment. Hot dogs were considered the most unhealthy.
"I wouldn't get too worried about eating a hot dog from this," Jolliet said. "Basically, we were trying to show how you can improve your lifestyle and the environment without necessarily trying to be vegan."
The study found that substituting 10% of daily caloric intake from beef and processed meats for a mix of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and select seafood could reduce your dietary carbon footprint by one-third and allow people to gain 48 minutes of healthy life per day.
"The condition of the study is for marginal change and for the every day (American) where they can make minimum changes in their diet for overall health and the environment," Jolliet said. "For Mr. Chestnut, I think he could be better for his health if he doesn't eat that many hot dogs because they are processed meats, but our study was not meant to measure extreme eating."
Should Joey Chestnut be worried?
Every Independence Day, Joey "Jaws" Chestnut takes center stage at Coney Island – with a live ESPN national audience – to do what no human has done before: Eating 70-plus hot dogs in 10 minutes. This past July 4, Chestnut eclipsed his own world record with 76 dogs.
Chestnut, 37, is a year-long competitive eater who trains to master his hot dog dominance by consuming other foods like Twinkies, burgers, tamales, gyros and chicken – dude ate 413 wings in 12 hours. Chestnut is hailed by Major League Eating as the greatest of all-time.
That doesn't happen overnight. Chestnut told The Washington Post that he sees doctors, does dietary cleanses and eats healthy (believe it or not) when he's not in-season training. So when the study started to go viral, Chestnut, accordingly, disagreed with its premise.
“People will think automatically that if they eat healthy food, they might live forever,” Chestnut said. “And then I see on Twitter like, ‘Oh, watch out, Joey Chestnut’s going to die.' There are so many other things to a person’s health than their worst eating habits. The only way I can continue doing (competitive eating) is by being healthy.”
Nutrition expert Dr. Cate Shanahan, author of "The Fatburn Fix" and a former consultant for the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Yankees and Green Bay Packers, said Chestnut is "better off than the average American" when he's eating healthy and exercising in conjunction with competitive eating.
"We have to define what is healthy eating carefully," she said. "... If Mr. Chestnut does avoid seed oils, he can eat all the hot dogs he wants a couple times a year for a contest because the extra (food consumption) turns into body fat."
Can hot dogs be a part of a healthy diet?
Regardless of moderation, hot dogs are not exactly healthy. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) reported ham, hot dogs and other processed meats may contribute to colorectal cancer. Hot dogs also are high in saturated fat and sodium. Just one hot dog can contain over a quarter of your day’s sodium allowance and over 14 grams of fat.
Shanahan believes that while processed meats like hot dogs can inherently be unhealthy, it's wrong to zero in on just hot dogs as the study does in highlighting the food.
"We haven't established that hot dogs are toxic and not all hot dogs are created equal," she said. "... What's most important to know about hot dogs is they don't have seed oils. And what's most unhealthy is industry-produced vegetable oils that accumulate in our body fat and disrupt our body's energy-producing systems."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hot dog shortens life, study says. Is Nathan's Joey Chestnut worried?