Burgers are undeniably one of the most beloved and indulgent comfort foods enjoyed by people around the world. However, traditional burgers often pack a hefty calorie and fat punch, making them a less-than-ideal choice for those seeking a healthier lifestyle. The good news is that with a few smart tweaks and ingredient substitutions, you can transform your favorite burgers into wholesome and nutritious delights. In this article, we’ll explore various ways to make burgers healthier without sacrificing flavor and satisfaction.
Now that all elements are healthy, why are they junk food when combined into a burger?
The perception of burgers as “junk food” is often due to the way they are traditionally prepared and consumed, rather than the individual components that make up the burger. Let’s explore some reasons why burgers are often associated with being less healthy:
High-Calorie and High-Fat Content
Traditional burgers often contain large beef patties cooked with added fats, such as butter or oil, leading to a higher calorie and saturated fat content. The combination of a fatty patty, cheese, and a refined bun can contribute to a calorie-dense meal that may exceed recommended daily intake.
Some fast-food burgers or pre-packaged options contain processed meats, which may have higher sodium and preservative content. Processed meats have been associated with an increased risk of certain health conditions when consumed in excess.
Commercially prepared burgers, especially at fast-food chains, tend to be oversized, leading to larger calorie intake in a single meal. These large portion sizes can contribute to weight gain and other health issues if consumed frequently.
Unhealthy Toppings and Sauces
Traditional burger toppings like bacon, extra cheese, mayonnaise-based sauces, and sugary ketchup can add unnecessary calories, unhealthy fats, and added sugars.
Lack of Fiber
Many traditional burgers lack significant amounts of dietary fiber, which is essential for digestive health and can help with weight management and controlling blood sugar levels.
Burgers are often associated with fast food, and fast-food consumption has been linked to a higher intake of calories, sodium, and unhealthy fats due to the convenience and affordability of these meals.
Easy tips to make burgers healthier
It’s important to note that not all burgers are unhealthy.
By making mindful choices and modifications, burgers can be transformed into a nutritious and balanced meal:
Opting for leaner meats or plant-based alternatives.
Choosing whole grain or whole wheat buns for added fiber and nutrients.
Loading up on fresh vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and avocados for added vitamins and minerals.
Using healthier cooking methods like grilling or baking instead of frying.
Preparing homemade burgers, which allows you to control the ingredients and portion sizes.
Ultimately, the perception of burgers as “junk food” comes from the way they are commonly prepared and consumed in fast-food settings or through highly processed, calorie-dense options. By making healthier choices and balancing the ingredients, burgers can be a satisfying and nutritious meal enjoyed as part of a balanced diet.
Choose Leaner Meats.
The foundation of any burger lies in the meat. Opt for leaner cuts of beef, such as sirloin or ground turkey, to reduce the overall fat content. Additionally, consider experimenting with alternative protein sources like chicken, bison, or plant-based options like black bean or lentil patties for a healthier twist.
Go Beyond Beef.
Embrace the world of burger possibilities by exploring non-meat options. Portobello mushrooms, grilled eggplant, or a mix of quinoa and veggies can create delicious and nutritious vegetarian or vegan burger alternatives. These options provide a range of vitamins, minerals, and fiber while being lower in saturated fat.
Sneak in Veggies.
Bulk up your burgers with nutrient-rich vegetables to add flavor, texture, and vital nutrients. Finely chopped onions, bell peppers, spinach, or grated carrots are excellent options. Not only will this boost the nutritional value, but it’ll also make the burger juicier and more colorful.
Use Whole Grain Buns.
Swap out refined white buns for whole-grain varieties. Whole grain buns are higher in fiber, which aids digestion and helps keep you feeling full for longer. They also provide essential vitamins and minerals that refined buns lack.
Mind Your Toppings.
The toppings you choose can make a significant difference in the overall healthfulness of your burger. Opt for fresh, sliced tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and avocado instead of high-calorie, fatty toppings like bacon and excessive amounts of cheese. These additions provide valuable nutrients and healthy fats.
Consider Lighter Cheese Options.
If you can’t imagine a burger without cheese, opt for lighter alternatives such as reduced-fat cheese or use smaller amounts of flavorful cheeses like feta or goat cheese. You’ll still get the creamy, savory goodness without the extra calories.
DIY Sauces and Condiments.
Many store-bought sauces and condiments are laden with added sugars, unhealthy fats, and preservatives. Instead, try making your own healthier versions at home. Use Greek yogurt as a base for creamy sauces and experiment with herbs and spices for added flavor.
Grilling or Baking Instead of Frying.
Grilling or baking your burger patties is a healthier cooking method compared to frying, as it requires little to no added oil. This helps retain the natural flavors while reducing unnecessary fat intake.
Mindful Portion Control.
Burger portion sizes can quickly escalate calorie counts. Be mindful of the size of your patties and resist the temptation to supersize. Consider making smaller patties and filling up on nutrient-dense side dishes like a green salad or vegetable skewers.
Balance with Sides.
Pair your burger with nutritious side dishes like sweet potato fries (baked, not fried), mixed greens, or a colorful vegetable medley. This way, you’ll enjoy a more balanced meal with a variety of vitamins and minerals.
Sample Recipes of Healthy Burgers
Below come a couple of healthy burger recipes on MyPlate.
Vegetarian burgers can be made ahead of time and stored in the freezer. They can be served any time. To add some spice, top with salsa.
- 1 can (about 15 ounces) low-sodium whole kernel corn, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup cornmeal
- 1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup green pepper, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup cooked white rice
- 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cayenne or jalapeño chilies, seeds removed and finely chopped, (optional)
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 6 flour tortillas, 6-inch size
- In a large bowl, combine corn and cornmeal.
- Add onions, green pepper, rice, chili powder, and pepper. If using cayenne and jalapeño chilies, add them too. Mix well.
- Form the burger mixture into 6 equal patties about 1/2 inch thick, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Spray both sides of the patties with nonstick cooking spray.
- In a large pan, brown both sides of the patties over medium to high heat for 5 to 8 minutes.
- Bake the patties in the oven for 10 minutes.
- Toast the flour tortillas in the oven for 8 minutes.
- Place patty on half of the tortilla and fold tortilla over to serve like a taco.
Black Bean Burgers
Black beans and cooked rice are used as the base of these delicious burgers. Flavored with scallions, garlic, and spices, these are sure to please the whole family.
- 1 can (15.5 oz) low-sodium black beans (drained and rinsed with cold water)
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup cooked brown rice
- 2 scallions (green and white minced about 1/4 cup)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (or basil leaves or a combination)
- 1 clove garlic (peeled and minced)
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano or basil
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 4 whole-wheat buns
- Add beans to a bowl and mash with a fork until chunky. Add the egg and mix well.
- Add precooked rice, scallions, garlic and oregano, salt and pepper and mix until well combined.
- Divide the mixture into 4 portions and form each portion into a patty about 3/4 to 1 inch thick.
- Place a large skillet on the stove on high heat. When the skillet is hot, add oil. Add burgers and cook 4 to 5 minutes per side until browned on both sides and heated throughout. Place on a whole wheat bun.
A colorful, casual meal that’s surprisingly simple to prepare.
- 1 can 14.75-ounce pink or red salmon
- 2 green onions, chopped
- 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
- 8 crackers, unsalted tops (saltine-like), crushed
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 2 Egg whites from 2 eggs, whisked
- 2 tablespoons plain low-fat yogurt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- cooking spray
- 4 whole-wheat buns
- 8 leaves of Bibb Lettuce
- 2 medium tomatoes (sliced)
- 1 tablespoon lemon pepper seasoning blend
- Drain salmon; place in a medium mixing bowl and flake.
- Fold in green onions and red pepper, crushed crackers, lemon juice, egg whites, and yogurt.
- Shape into 4 patties.
- Coat large nonstick skillet lightly with cooking spray; heat.
- Cook salmon burgers until golden brown, turn, and continue cooking until the other side is golden brown.
- Serve burgers with sliced tomatoes and lettuce, and sweet potato oven fries.
Lemon juice gives these zesty burgers a real treat for your next cookout. Serve with tomatoes, lettuce, onion, and a whole wheat bun to boost your veggie and whole grains for the day.
- 1 pound turkey, ground (85% lean)
- 2 onion (medium)
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice (or 1 lemon juiced)
- 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon parsley, dried (or fresh)
- Wash hands with soap and water.
- Chop onions.
- Combine onions, turkey, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and parsley. Mix well.
- Shape the mixture into four patties.
- Fry in a pan on medium heat or grill until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F.
Transforming your burgers into healthier alternatives is a fun and rewarding journey that allows you to enjoy your favorite comfort food guilt-free. By selecting leaner meats, incorporating vegetables, choosing whole grain buns, and being mindful of toppings and cooking methods, you can create a burger that’s both nutritious and delicious. Remember, moderation is key, so savor your healthier burgers and pair them with wholesome sides to achieve a well-rounded, satisfying meal. Happy, healthy burger grilling!