From Memorial Day picnics to Labor Day barbecues, and all kinds of festivities
in between, this is the season for burgers. (Which could be why National
Hamburger Month is set during May to kick things off.) But even though
burgers are perfect for summer, their calories and saturated fat aren't as ideal.
"Oversized, full-fat beef patties, buns made from refined, carb-heavy
white flours and unhealthy toppings give burgers their bad nutritional
Cali Kent, MS, RDN, supervisor of clinical dietetics at
Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. "But giving them a makeover with some healthy substitutions and
tweaks can make them a not-so-guilty pleasure." Try some of these
tricks at your next summer party:
1. Give your buns a nutritional lift. "There are many options for replacing standard burger buns with a
healthier choice," Kent says. "Protein lovers know to wrap burgers
in lettuce leaves, but you can also use Portobello mushrooms or round
slices of zucchini or similar veggies. If you still want the bread taste
a bun provides, try whole-wheat versions; lower the carb count by making
your burger open face, using only a bottom bun, or hollow out the top
2. Lean in to a healthier patty. Just about anything can be made into a burger these days- vegetables, beans,
grains --but for many people, it's just not a burger without the beef.
"If you are craving the taste of a traditional burger, you should
lighten it up to avoid consuming too much saturated fat," Kent says.
"Pick ground beef that is 90 percent to 95 percent lean--it will
have less fat than regular ground hamburger meat (see box). Then reduce
the amount of meat in the burger by replacing some of the ground beef
mushrooms, spinach or zucchini, which adds nutrients as well as juiciness to the
lean meat, which can be dry."
3. Think small. The Whopper. The Big Mac. The Double Double. We're used to a "bigger
is better" mentality when it comes to fast-food burgers packed with
patties and toppings. But, as with most foods, portion control is key.
"A small burger with high-quality fresh ingredients will satisfy
your taste buds without a massive calorie count," Kent says. "When
making a burger patty, it should be no bigger than the palm of your hand,
about 4 ounces." And a smaller patty means a smaller bun and less
toppings--which means less calories overall.
4. Don't hold the tomato ... or any other veggies. Think beyond the standard tomato, onion and iceberg lettuce--they're
great on a burger, but you can pile on a host of veggies to get more nutrients.
"Grilled vegetables such as peppers, mushrooms and eggplant add a
wonderful flavor profile," Kent says. "And there are several
greens you can use, such as arugula, frisee or even grilled Romaine lettuce
leaves. The more healthy toppings you include, the less likely you'll
have room for cheese, and that cuts out a good deal of saturated fat and
5. Don't be afraid to get a little saucy. While mustard is generally a healthy condiment. ketchup can have hidden
sugars and mayo can add unwanted fat. "Look for ketchup brands with
no added sugar and mayonnaise alternatives. Make homemade condiment versions
to control what goes in them.," Kent says. "You can also get
creative in the sauces or dressings on your burger. Hummus, guacamole,
almond or cashew butter and tahini echo the creaminess of mayonnaise but
can be better nutritionally. Try spicing up a plain flavor with fresh
herbs and some lemon juice. Another option is to simply mash avocado with
some lime juice and your choice of seasonings.
Salsa adds a spicy kick; make your own or look for a jarred one that's low
in sodium. Finally, make your own pickle relish or olive tapenade. You
want a sauce with a lot of flavor and without a lot of calories."
Ground beef fat count (total fat per 100 grams of beef):
Regular: 30 grams
Lean: 10 grams
Extra-lean: 5 grams
Veggie burger fat count: potentially 0 grams of fat and a whopping 5 grams
of dietary fiber, 15 grams of protein