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Burgers will probably never have a reputation as a health food, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about what you slap between two halves of a burger bun. The concept: some meat (or meat-like) product, condiments, and the equivalent of a couple of slices of bread—it doesn’t have to fly in the face of healthy eating.
Let’s start with the patty. Some people have been known to choose a fish sandwich over a traditional burger, figuring that fish is always better than beef. This is true as long as the fish is grilled or broiled. But if the fish is fried and slathered with tartar sauce, then the grilled beef burger is the clear winner, with half the fat and a third fewer calories.
It’s a common assumption that poultry products are always better than beef. And that’s generally true. Most cuts of poultry are leaner than beef and have less saturated fat.
You’ll need to pay attention to your ground turkey labels, though. Regular ground turkey, which is what most people buy, actually has about the same amount of fat, saturated fat and cholesterol as extra lean ground beef.
But if you use ground turkey breast, you’ll come out way ahead. When you use this in place of extra lean ground beef or regular ground turkey, you’ll save 40 calories and 6 grams of fat.
In most restaurants, you’re unlikely to get a burger made with extra lean ground beef because it tends to be dry and not as flavorful. So, if you’re craving a burger at a restaurant, you’re better off with a turkey burger if it’s available.
Veggie burger patties can be a good option. They average about 100 calories and about 2 grams of fat, and no cholesterol. But they’re small, so many people need two in order to fill up—and that doubles the calories. Veggie burgers also have a lot less protein (5 grams or so per patty), compared to the nearly 20 grams you’d get in a ground turkey breast burger.
Consider the rest of the sandwich, too. If whole grain burger buns are an option, so much the better. If your low-fat patties are dry, don’t ‘wrong a right’ by adding greasy condiments (like mayo) or cheese. Opt for ketchup, mustard, steak sauce or barbecue sauce and load up on watery veggies like lettuce and tomato to add moisture.
Susan is the Sr. Director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife, where she is responsible for the development of nutrition education and training materials, and is one of the primary authors of the Herbalife-sponsored blog, www.discovergoodnutrition.com. She is a Registered Dietitian and holds two Board Certifications from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, and a Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management. Susan is also a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Susan graduated with distinction in biology from the University of Colorado, and received her master’s degree in Food Science and Nutrition from Colorado State University. She then completed her dietetic internship at the University of Kansas. Susan has taught extensively and developed educational programs targeted to individuals, groups and industry in her areas of expertise, including health promotion, weight management and sports nutrition.
Prior to her role at Herbalife, she was the assistant director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, and has held appointments as adjunct professor in nutrition at Pepperdine University and as lecturer in nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Susan was a consultant to the (then) Los Angeles Raiders for six seasons, and was a contributing columnist for the Los Angeles Times Health Section for two years. She is a co-author of 23 research papers, 14 book chapters, and was a co-author of two books for the public: “What Color is Your Diet?” and “The L.A. Shape Diet” by Dr. David Heber, published by Harper Collins in 2001 and 2004, respectively.