There’s a month for everything, and this month, we celebrate the hamburger. The word “hamburger” comes from the German city Hamburg, and hamburger trivia tells us that the burger made its US debut (along with the ice cream cone) at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Americans eat close to 40 million burgers every day, so it seems appropriate that this popular food should have its own month to give us another reason to celebrate.
But for those of us who are health-conscious, concerned about heart health, or watching our weight, can burgers really be part of a healthy eating plan? Sure. As with any food, it’s a matter of knowing how (and how much) to squeeze it in.
Beef often gets a bad rap in terms of its health offerings. Sure, it tends to be higher in saturated fat than poultry or fish, and its higher fat content, overall, means that calories in a burger are higher than calories in, say, a skinless chicken breast. But there are some nutritional merits to ground beef: Beef is a source of high-quality protein, B vitamins, and minerals such as iron and zinc.
Every now and then, I enjoy a juicy burger hot off the grill. I don’t indulge all that often, so I figure it’s OK to savor the moment. Of course, some people eat burgers more often than others. Is there a way to make burgers healthier without sacrificing flavor or moisture? Here are some burger “bites,” or facts to keep in mind as you ready your grill for the summer.
Go lean. Whenever possible, choose lean or extra lean ground beef. Lean hamburger can come from any number of cuts of beef, including top and bottom round, top sirloin, eye round, flank, tenderloin, top loin, and T-bone. According to the USDA, “lean” meat (also known as 10% or 90/10) is meat with less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per 3.5-ounce cooked serving. “Extra lean” (also known as 5% or 95/5) is meat that is less than 5 grams of total fat, less than 2 grams of saturated fat, and less than 95 mg of cholesterol per 3.5-ounce cooked serving.
Cook wisely. One of the drawbacks of using leaner hamburger is that its lower fat content can mean that the burger is drier and, well, chewier. Higher-fat beef yields those juicy, drippy burgers that make a mess but taste so good. But lean hamburger can still produce a tasty burger. Outdoor grilling, a griddle pan, and the oven broiler can also make a lean but juicy burger. The key is to not cook it at too high of a temperature. Using medium heat will let the beef brown and retain its moisture at the same time. Also, use a spatula to flip your burgers, rather than a knife or a fork, to help preserve its juiciness.
Beef it up. Another way to add moisture and nutrition to your burgers is to mix some of the following into the hamburger before cooking: chopped onions, green peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, leafy greens (like spinach), salsa, guacamole, or fruit. Of course, topping your burger with any of these foods can give your burger a (nutritional) boost, as well.
Keep portions in check. Going out for a burger means that you’ll likely be getting a hefty-sized burger. A hamburger from the chain “Five Guys” weighs about 9 ounces and contains about 700 calories. For comparison, a 4-ounce extra lean hamburger patty contains just 185 calories. If a 4-ounce burger seems meager, remember that you can bulk it up a bit by mixing vegetables, fruit, or whole-grain bread crumbs into your ground beef (see above).
Go half and half. A lot of people have switched over to using ground turkey in place of ground beef. Turkey, in general, is much leaner than beef. However, choose your ground turkey wisely. Look for the words “ground turkey breast” on the package. If you see “lean ground turkey,” you’ll likely end up with white and dark meat turkey, along with some turkey skin. That spells more fat and calories, similar to what you’d get in lean ground beef.
You can slash calories and fat by using a combo of ground turkey breast and lean (or extra lean) ground beef to make your burgers. You’ll notice that packages of meat and poultry in your supermarket now carry the Nutrition Facts label, thanks to a new USDA ruling. This will make it easier for you to know exactly what you’re getting, at least for packaged meat and poultry items.
Don’t get “side-swiped.” I know, I know — eating burgers without fries is like July 4 without fireworks. But it does bear thinking about. French fries, potato chips, and potato salad (which, I admit, go really well with burgers) add more calories, fat, and carbs. Think about ditching some of these higher-fat side items, at least once in a while, for oven-baked fries (you can even make these out of zucchini and carrots), garden salads, or fresh fruit. If you’re worried about too many carbs, eat just half of a hamburger bun, or try either a lower-carb bun or a wrap.
Any other ideas for making a better burger?