16 Ways to Make Your Burger Healthier

Featured Article, Healthy Cooking Tips, Healthy Recipes and Nutrition
on June 26, 2013

Spry editor Lisa Delaney is one of the rare souls who know what it’s like to be an “after.” This journalist and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl shed 70 pounds—and six dress sizes–and has kept it off for 20 years. She answers your questions here each week.

DEAR FORMER FAT GIRL: My family loves burgers—and I do too—but I know they’re not exactly the healthiest things to eat. Any suggestions on lightening them up?—Patty

DEAR PATTY: I’m a burger girl too, especially during the summer, when they can make a quick, crowd-pleasing supper served al fresco, to break up those seemingly interminable summer work weeks. I’ve got several tricks (OK, 16!) that can make them healthier without compromising flavor. Some are simple, some are a bit out-of-the box. Pick and choose for yourself!

1. Go lean. If you’re beef-eaters, choose lean ground sirloin (instead of fatty ground beef) that’s 90 percent fat-free or leaner. A 3 oz. patty of 90 percent fat-free will set you back 182 calories and 9g fat, compared with 80 percent fat-free beef, which weighs in at 231 calories and 15g fat.

2. Choose a whole-wheat bun. Even just a few years ago, you’d be hard-pressed to find 100 percent whole-wheat buns in mainstream grocery stores. Nowadays, though, brands like Pepperidge Farm have jumped on the whole grain trend. If family members balk at “healthy-looking” bread, you can even opt for white whole-wheat buns.

3. Put your bun on a diet. Shave off 80 to 100 calories as compared with regular whole wheat or white buns by going with a “light” whole wheat English muffin weighing in at 100 calories, or a whole wheat sandwich thin.

4. Consider sliders. Mini-burgers are oh-so-chic—and a great way to keep portions under control. Serve several healthy sides (like this Feta Cheese Cole Slaw, sweet potato oven fries, corn on the cob), and no one will have room for a second slider.

5. Top with avocado. A recent study suggests that creamy avocado—which I slather on just about everything anyway—can stifle a spike in a marker of inflammation that typically occurs after eating a burger. A schmear of avocado, with its heart healthy fats, is also a great substitute for saturated fat- and salt-filled mayo.

6. Top with super-green greens. We love the crunch of iceberg too, but dark leafies like spinach or even romaine provide more of a nutritious kick.

7. Add beans. To reduce the amount of fat you’re taking in and boost fiber in your beef burger, mix in partially smashed black beans, as in this Beef and Black Bean Burger recipe.

8. Pick poultry. I have to admit—over the years, I have abandoned the beef altogether for ground turkey or chicken. I typically use 93 percent fat-free instead of the super-lean 99 percent fat free, because the latter is frankly way too dry for my taste.

9. Add grains. For leaner cuts of meats, including beef, bison and poultry, try adding grains like rice and prepared couscous for moisture.

10. Mix in some grilled veggies. Chopped grilled veggies (onions, peppers, even zucchini or eggplant) add moisture and boost flavor, especially in more neutral meats like turkey and chicken.

11. Try sauce inside. Punch up the flavor and combat the dryness of lean meats by adding barbecue sauce or a hit of hot sauce right into the meat before you patty it up.

12. Just add cheese. A bit of grated cheese—your choice—will also help bind leaner meats and add a creamy texture.

13. Mix meats. Pair a fattier cut like lamb with neutral, leaner turkey for a moist, tasty result.

14. Go ethnic. Make a leaner burger more interesting with classic flavor combinations: oregano and feta for a Greek twist or chicken burger with sesame, soy, ginger and garlic for an Asian flair.

15. Forget the meat altogether. While pre-packaged veggie burgers can be dry, try making your own. These Grain Burgers by vegetarian chef and cookbook author Steve Petusevsky uses brown rice as a base and incorporates carrots, zucchini, mushrooms and other veggies with Asian flavors like cashews, soy sauce and tahini (sesame paste).

16. Make over your mayo. Mix equal parts mayonnaise with fat-free Greek yogurt for all of the creaminess and half the fat and salt of the stuff straight-up.

Lisa Delaney is editor of Spry magazine and Spryliving.com. Ask her your question here.