Burgers, Lightened Up

by in Meal Makeovers, May 28, 2009

Turkey Burger
Spring and summer are prime time for burgers — they’re so perfect for cookouts. Today is actually National Burger Day, and what better way to celebrate than with a few tips and recipes. Whether you like beef, poultry or veggies, there’s a patty out there for you. Here are some ways to build a lighter — but still yummy — sandwich.

Burger Lovers Beware
Calories and fat abound in many burgers because of fatty meats, huge buns and heaps of cheese and creamy sauces. Instead of banishing these from your plate, think about ways to trim them down. A little less of each will shave off calories, and you won’t miss a thing in the flavor department — promise! (Read more about what to do when ordering burgers in my recent post, “But I Just Want a Cheeseburger”)

Leaner Meats
Fatty cuts of meat are high in saturated fat and cholesterol (not so good for the old ticker). Leaner alternatives — 90-95% lean ground beef, ground chicken or turkey breast, bison, and fish (salmon makes great burgers) — are lighter alternatives. When it comes to ground poultry (chicken and turkey) always get breast meat; if the package just says “ground turkey,” there’s dark meat and skin mixed in, making it much higher in fat. The pre-made veggie burgers contain a mix of beans, grains or soy-based meat substitutes. Some also have eggplant or portabella mushrooms. These are often lower in fat and calories (just make sure your bean burger is baked, not fried).

Most restaurant and fast food burgers are so big, just biting into them can be a challenge. That should be a loud warning bell. Trimming down the portion saves more calories and fat. A smart serving is about 3 ounces (about the size of a deck of cards). Cut your burger in half and save the rest for later, if possible.

Toppings and Buns
If you love cheese and mayo, consider low-fat versions and opt for one, not both. Sliced avocado makes a creamy addition to a burger and offers less saturated fat and cholesterol (see below for more flavorful topping ideas).

In my humble opinion, a ton of bread distracts from a tasty burger — plus, it piles on unnecessary calories. If possible, use thin breads like sandwich bread, English muffins or even a wrap or pita. Small hamburger buns are fine, too –- read the labels and look for buns that are 180 calories or less. Try whole grain breads for extra fiber while you’re at it.

Bring On the Flavor
Leaner meats get a bad reputation for being bland. Even though fat does provide flavor, there are other things you can do boost taste but not the calories. I usually add fresh herbs, spices and tangy sauces to my burger mixture — it also help keep burgers moist (so will chopped mushrooms or onions).

Cheeseburgers are a classic, and topping your burger with a strong cheese like blue cheese or sharp cheddar will make a huge impact on taste — just keep the additions small. Of course other classics are mustard, ketchup, BBQ sauce, steak sauce, teriyaki and salsa are good choices — all of which are lighter than cheese or mayo. (Just stick to one tablespoon portions to keep the sodium in check). And don’t forget to pile on the fresh vegetables like ripe tomatoes, onion, spinach, lettuce and cucumbers. Even with a smaller burger, you’ll still feel full with loads of fiber-rich veggies.

One of my favorite tricks: mix salsa or mango chutney with whole-wheat bread crumbs and add it to a turkey burger mixture — it keeps my burgers extra juicy and gives them a special kick.

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Comments (6)

  1. Krikri says:

    Burgers toppings can be very fatty as they may be made so to make the food look sumptuous.But with care, we can avoid ones that pose risks for us. Cheese and mayo tend to the most common but we can use others without much loss in flavor.

  2. Diane says:

    Add chopped sun-dried tomatoes to your meat before cooking – Yummy and nutritious!

  3. Evan Thomas says:

    Yum! We always buy 85% grass-fed, hormone free beef. And I eat that over a bed of lettuce or spinach instead of a bun. It saves calories and I have a gluten-intolerance so buns are just out.

  4. George Levinthal says:

    When I make turkey burgers I saute shallots or green onions and garlic in a little olive oil and then add that, with the little excess oil into the turkey meat. It adds a little fat to the meat and helps it from drying out. I serve mine with homemade guacamole, tomato, dijon mustard and a low fat or low sodium pepper-jack chese.

  5. Dee says:

    Spinach, mushrooms, tomato, green, Sharon, or Vidalia onions, on top of a lean custom ask the butcher in the grocery store for all white meat turkey meat ground .to make your own burgers. Natural moisness added. Seasonings w/o salt are the best choices. Sit it atop sliced lettuce, strips of peeled carrot, & some edamame. Nutritious & delicious!

  6. kitty says:

    I use 85% ground beef (1 lb) and add: onion (white or red), green pepper, pimento (or red pepper if avail) worchestershire sauce, water, 1 egg, bread crumbs or rice, dijon, celery, honey, parsley, parm cheese, ketchup for top. Yum

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