How to make and order a kickass healthy burger.
As summer approaches and your bikinis begin to see the light of day, the smell of hot grills and sunscreen fills the air…
‘Tis the season of the backyard pool party and burgers are on the menu EVERY weekend.
Whether you are ordering a burger at a fast food joint, a dinner, or making one at home, there are ways to make sure that your burger is not a 1000 calorie monstrosity.
I have to admit…
There’s nothing worse than that sluggish, food baby feeling when you’re rockin’ your fav bikini, or just trying to keep the top button of your jeans fastened for the journey home from the restaurant (we’ve all been there…).
But the truth is, burgers and BBQs are just so ingrained into the American culture that even the vegetarian community has created many options to keep themselves included in the summer tradition. No one likes getting left out of the party, so now it’s time to up your healthy burger game and discover how to create and order a kickass healthy burger that won’t make you look (or feel) like a Thanksgiving stuffed turkey.
Meat (or whatever your patty is made of)
Clearly the traditional burger we know and love is beef based. But as many of you already know, ground beef does not have the best reputation (and deservedly so). But I’m not here to hate on any type of meat or celebrate another. I’m here to tell you about what you’re eating so you can mindfully make your own decision.
Let’s check out our patty lineup:
The beef industry is huge in the United States and this should not be a shock to you.
As of January 2016, there are 30.3 million cows being raised in the U.S. to be used for beef. The average American consumes 270.71 lbs of beef every year! That is a lot of beef when you consider the nutritional value of beef.
A serving of ground beef is 4 oz (or a ¼ lb burger patty), which will cost you 305 calories, 20.2g of fat (8.1g saturated fat). The issue with ground beef is that high saturated fat content. When the suggested intake of saturated fat for men and women is somewhere between 11-16g per day, 8g is a big chunk of your daily allotment.
In addition to what we know about the relationship between saturated fat, cholesterol, and heart disease (new research may be turning this theory on its head), there is a new relationship being studied between red meat consumption and cardiovascular disease. The breakdown of carnitine (found in red meat) in your gut by trimethylamine to produce trimethylamine-N-oxide may be the true culprit of the rising incidence of heart disease. Trimethylamine-N-oxide is associated with plaque buildup in the arteries, eventually leading to heart attacks and strokes.
There is a lot of research looking at why exactly we see an association between red meat consumption and poor health outcomes, but as far as you should be concerned, a good rule of thumb here it to limit your consumption of beef and other red meats to once or twice a week.
Often the common alternative meat option at burger restaurants, the turkey burger is a good healthy alternative to beef. A 4 oz turkey patty will only cost you 170 calories, 3g of fat (1g saturated fat). You get about the same amount of awesome protein but with less of the nasty saturated fat.
Bison has become a more common burger meat option in the U.S. (since we have saved the buffalo from going extinct). While still a red meat option, its nutritional profile is much better than beef. A 4 oz bison patty will cost you 207 calories, 17g of fat (7g saturated fat, 6g monounsaturated fat). Not only is bison lower in calories than beef, but the higher unsaturated fat content makes it a much healthier choice.
On a personal note, I am a huge fan of bison, with the flavor being far superior to beef.
While you may think foregoing the meat automatically means a healthier burger here, you may be surprised to learn that this is not always true. Many veggie patties are high in carbohydrate-based fillers or pack in the processed soy ingredients. It’s also worth mentioning that not all restaurants grill their veggie burgers. A lot of the time, they are fried. If you are going to have a veggie patty, you should aim to eat one that actually contains vegetables of some kind, and find out how it is cooked before blindly ordering.
Here are some simple veggie patty guidelines to stick to:
- Pick a patty with an ingredient list that has words you can pronounce
- Keep the sodium low (less than 400 mg)
- Still aim for high protein (bean-based patties are a good option)
Are you gonna want cheese on that?
The question you dread when you are trying to have some self-control. You know you don’t need the extra 80-100 calories added to your burger with the addition of cheese, but it just the melted, gooey deliciousness is hard to say no to…
Pretty much any cheese is fair game on your burger, so let’s just go through the cheese option line up:
- Cheddar: 80 calories, 7g fat (4g saturated fat), 130 mg sodium
- American (that yucky processed stuff): 70 calories, 4.5g fat (3g saturated), 220 mg sodium
- Swiss: 70 calories, 5g fat (3g saturated fat), 35 mg sodium
- Provolone: 70 calories, 5g fat (3.5g saturated fat), 125 mg sodium
- Pepperjack: 80 calories, 6g fat (4g saturated fat), 140 mg sodium
- Goat cheese: (1 oz) 80 calories, 6g fat (3.5g saturated fat), 150 mg sodium
- Feta: (¼ cup) 70 calories, 6g fat (3.5g saturated fat), 330 mg sodium
When choosing a cheese here, just try and keep the saturated fat and sodium low. Also, stay away from that processed cheese…
What you wrap your meat in can really make or break your burger experience. But luckily in terms of health, the choice is very simple.
Like when choosing any other bread product, you want to aim for something whole grain that packs a healthy punch of fiber. Not sure about this whole grain thing? You can get a little more incite from my food trends article…
The average whole wheat burger bun will cost you 140 calories but has 4g of fiber (the white bread ones often have none).
You are gonna need that fiber for a healthy colon after eating all that meat…
Feeling extra healthy? Wanna limit those extra carbs?
GO LETTUCE WRAP! Virtually the pennies equivalent of calorie cost, lettuce wrapping your burger in some good ol’ romaine lettuce will save you some serious calories and add to your daily intake of vegetables.
Burgers without some condiments or sauce of some kind are just kind of sad…But you have to make sure you are using them to compliment your burger.
“Smother” is typically not a descriptive term you want aim for when dressing your meal.
While a good source of the antioxidant lycopene, ketchup is high in sugar. One tablespoon of commercial ketchup has about 4g of sugar. This may not seem like much, but rarely do you use only a tablespoon of the stuff.
One of the more nutritionally angelic of the condiment choice, mustard is a pretty healthy choice. It’s also a pretty polarizing condiment, with some people who literally fear the stuff…
A teaspoon of yellow mustard will only cost you 3 calories! Feel free to load on the mustard, but a little goes a long way.
Eating mayonnaise is like eating liquid fat.
Regular mayonnaise (1 tablespoon) will cost you 90 calories, 10g fat (1.5g saturated fat). And while not sweet in flavor, often one of the main ingredients is sugar.
If there was a list of nutritionally pointless foods, mayo would be pretty high on that list.
Just SKIP it!
Lettuce, tomato, onion. Those seem to be the classic burger vegetable toppings we know and love.
But don’t be afraid to load your burger with the vegetable choices less ordered.
Arugula, avocado, mushrooms, cucumber, sprouts, grilled peppers, and pineapple can all be an awesome addition to your burger.
Hipster burger places have made the topping options virtually endless. I would not normally thank the hipster community for anything, but in this case, their contribution to the burger world has made building a healthier burger a viable option.
When it comes to veggie toppings, keep the following in mind:
- If they are fresh, pile it on!
- If they are pickled, limit them.
- If they come in some kind of fancy processed form (tapenade, confit, etc), limit them.
While it is fairly common to eat a burger paired with a side of fries, if you want to save calories, this is not the way to go.
I talked about why not to order chips in my healthy burrito article, and the same holds true in this situation. Adding sides like french fries or onion rings pretty much cancels out any of the small, health(ier) decisions you may have made in creating a healthy burger.
Don’t ruin it by eating a fried pile of carbs!
Opt for a lightly dressed salad, fresh fruit or baked potato chips if you feel like a burger isn’t going to be enough.
Whether you are grilling up burgers at your house or out at your local diner, you can make some choices about your burger that can make it a nutritional nightmare or part of a healthy day’s eating.
Be sure to keep you beef alternatives in mind, keep the bun high in fiber, and pile on the veggies and you are sure to have a health(ier) burger.
I’d love to see your favorite healthy burger!
Did you learn something? Tweet it:
Or Pin it: