6 Easy Steps to Healthy Burgers You’ll Love

A how-to guide to choosing the best ingredients
lettuce wrap burger is a healthy choice

You don’t want to heat up the kitchen — or clean pots and pans. The solution? Fire up the grill and throw on some burgers for a quick meal with minimal fuss.

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Keep in mind that the quality of your ingredients determines whether you’re serving a healthy meal to your family, or one that’s loaded in saturated fat and cholesterol. Follow these tips from preventive cardiology dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD, for choosing the right buns, burgers, add-ins, toppings and condiments for your health.

How to build a better burger

Before you throw those burgers on the grill, consider this: What ingredients you choose — from buns, the burgers themselves, add-ins, toppings and condiments — determine whether you’re serving your family a healthy meal or one loaded with artery-clogging fats. 

1. A better base

Skip the bulky Kaiser roll. Instead, give your burger a whole-grain foundation to benefit from the added fiber. Keep carbs low by opting for smaller mini pitas or sandwich thins. Or, go against the grain and simply wrap your burger in a lettuce leaf.

The following bases all have fiber, thiamin, manganese and selenium in them:

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  • 100% whole-wheat bun.
  • Whole-wheat mini pita.
  • Whole-wheat sandwich thin.

2. Pick your patty

Burger persists may insist on beef, but a moderate intake of red meat is important for your cardiovascular health and to lower your risk of diabetes. If you do opt for beef, make sure it’s lean. Aim for two punch patties for mini burgers or 4 ounces (vs. the standard 6 ounces) for a regular burger.

3. Add-ins with an edge

Want an easy way to boost flavor without extra calories? Sprinkle in the seasonings. You can customize your burger with any blends of herbs and spices your heart desires. But if you don’t mix your own, make sure to choose a low-sodium store-bought blend.

  • Curry powder.
  • Cajun seasoning.
  • Minced garlic.
  • Italian herbs like oregano, basil, marjoram, thyme and rosemary.

4. Traditional toppings

Your toppings can make or break a burger, both tastewise and nutritionally. Don’t pile on the bacon (which is high in cholesterol and saturated fat). If you decide to indulge, try limiting yourself to one piece — or use leaner turkey bacon.

  • Lettuce.
  • Tomato.
  • Red onions.
  • Low-fat sliced cheese.
  • Mushrooms or peppers sauteed in olive oil.
  • Pickles.

5. Pile-ons with pizazz

Complex toppings aren’t for everyone. But if you’re not against having fun with nontraditional flavors, you’ll never grow bored — and boost your burger’s nutrient profile!

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  • Spinach, arugula and spouts.
  • Avocado.
  • Jalapenos and/or banana peppers.
  • Roasted red peppers.
  • Sliced olives.

6. Flavorful finishes

When considering your condiments, skip the saturated-fat laden mayo. If you truly can’t resist, use reduced-fat mayo, and just one tablespoon. Also, make sure your ketchup doesn’t contain high-fructose corn syrup, which can lead to insulin resistance, obesity, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

  • Ketchup.
  • Yellow mustard.
  • Hot sauce.
  • Fresh salsa.
  • Hummus.

Eating out?

To help you cut back on fat and calories when ordering hamburgers, do the following:

  • Choose a single patty, preferably 3 to 4 ounces in size.
  • Choose from the children’s menu or pick a junior size.
  • Skip the cheese.
  • Opt out of bacon.
  • Skip the mayonnaise or special sauce and try ketchup or mustard instead.

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