No one with a lick of sense would even suggest that hot dogs are some kind of healthy miracle food. At the same time, there are those on the other end of the spectrum that try to make it seem that enjoying our favorite comfort food is just one step above chowing down on Soylent Green. Like most things in life, the reality is probably found somewhere between the extremes.

But make enough noise–and in our social media-driven world, that’s hardly difficult–and the accusations start sounding like reality. We’re going to look at a couple examples and try to deflate the myths.

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Around the turn of the millennium, Digital Journal reported that the PCRM proclaimed hot dogs carried a cancer risk that put them in the same category as cigarettes, and like cigarettes, should come with a warning label that helps consumers understand the health risk.

Processed red meat, sodium, nitrates–there are lots of potential bad guys hiding in that frankfurter. But before we place too much credence in this report, we might do well to consider the source. See, the PCRM isn’t just a bunch of doctors: they’re a bunch of doctors with a vehement pro-vegan/vegetarian agenda.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that–they certainly don’t try to hide the fact. And they throw out some believable statistics. But in words attributed to Mark Twain, “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.” In other words, selective use of statistics can be used to support just about any angle you can imagine.

This is where it would help to have some trust in the people behind the allegation. But the fact is, even illustrious groups like the American Medical Association have repeatedly accused the PCRM of distorting facts as a means of promoting their agenda. That makes it a bit hard to simply accept the hot dog/cigarette connection without a grain–or a shaker–of salt.

American Institute for Cancer Research

The PCRM may not be giving us the whole picture, but neither are they just making this all up. The American Institute for Cancer Research has found that the processed meat found in foods like hot dogs can increase your risk of colorectal cancer by as much as 36% …

… if you eat a hot dog literally every single day. And that’s a health-risk that would make even celebrated risk-takers would shun.

More specifically, the report concluded that a person eating 3.5 ounces of processed meat every day–that’s about one jumbo dog–has a 36% higher risk of colorectal cancer than someone who eats no processed meat. Eating 7.0 ounces of processed meat daily, and the risk jumps to 72% higher. You get the idea.

OK, so man doesn’t live on franks alone. But as bad as smoking? Seriously?

As it turns out, no: the reality is, a 36% increase–while not something to take lightly–is in fact nowhere NEAR the risk associated with cigarette smoking. According to the Center for Disease Control, smoking doesn’t simply increase your risk of lung cancer, but multiplies a person’s risk by as much as 20 times.

The Bottom of the Bun

At the end of the day, enjoying an occasional hot dog will not cause colon cancer. They’re not the healthiest choice, but really, what comfort food is?

Still, telling Americans to eat fewer hot dogs is a good thing. Less sodium means less heart disease. But equating a picnic snack with inhaling toxins–and suggesting dogs should carry warning labels like cigarettes–that’s a bit hard to swallow.

Even with mustard.