Is it not surprising that May is National Hamburger Month? The first unofficial holiday weekend of the summer season — Memorial Day — is one of the biggest cookout days of the year. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the term “hamburger” comes from Hamburg steak, which was first recorded in English in 1884 but was probably used much earlier. A form of pounded beef called “Hamburg Steak” was common in Hamburg, Germany in the middle of the 19th century.
There isn’t a more classic staple of American cuisine than the burger. They have always been a family favorite. Quick to prepare and usually accepted by all. They are not, however, usually considered one of the healthiest choices available.
Eating a burger once in a while isn’t a bad thing. There are a lot of health benefits associated with eating burgers as they are high in biological value, protein and iron. So why does the burger get such a bad rap?
The problem is that most burgers are associated with meat that is high in fat and low in quality. Low-quality burgers are high in cholesterol, sodium and saturated fat.
Then the problem is what do you put on top of that burger? American cheese, blue cheese, dressing and fried onions? Many of these choices contribute to the fat content.
However, if you are a burger lover, fear not. Burgers can be a part of a healthy diet with proper planning and smart choices.
Healthier choices for burger meat
The first step you should take to build a healthier burger is to look at the meat you select. Choose leaner meat. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a meat is considered lean if it contains less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat and fewer than 95 mg of cholesterol for every 3 ounces in one cooked serving. You can choose an extra lean burger patty, which is defined at having less than 5 grams of total fat, less than 2 grams of saturated fat and fewer than 95 mg of cholesterol for every 3 ounce serving.
Look for labels that say:
• “Lean 10% fat 90/10” for lean burger patties.
• “Extra lean 5% fat 95/5” for extra lean burger patties.
If you would like to stay away from cow beef burger for your next meal, or if you’re looking for other alternatives, try one of these substitutes:
• Turkey or chicken: Poultry-based burger patties are quite common, with many chain restaurants offering the option of a turkey or chicken patty burger instead of the traditional patty made from cow beef. Turkey and chicken patties tend to have fewer calories and fat, while still providing a significant amount of protein.
• Buffalo or bison: Buffalo and bison burgers are more similar in taste to a traditional burger than poultry patties because they are still red meat. They also tend to have fewer calories and fat than a traditional burger, but carry the same health benefits because they are packed with protein.
• Portobello mushroom: Portobello mushroom burgers are growing in popularity among vegetarians and nonvegetarians alike. They are tasty, juicy and can even acquire the same grill marks and charbroiled taste as a regular burger. When used as an alternative to burger meat, portobello mushrooms offer a flavorful substitute that is low in cholesterol and fat, while offering a significant amount of protein and nutrients such as selenium.
• Tuna: Bread crumbs, eggs and minced tuna can be formed into tuna patties to build a better, healthier burger than fatty beef burger patties. Tuna patties also have the added health benefit of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help stave off stroke, cancer and heart attacks.
Build a better burger
To finish off building a better, healthier burger, try moving past traditional condiments and ingredients:
• Replace the regular burger bun with one made from whole grains.
• Load your burger with veggies, especially healthy ones like Romaine lettuce or spinach. The greener and leafier the vegetable, the better. Add onions, tomatoes and pickles.
• Avoid fatty condiments such as ranch dressing, and stick to ketchup and mustard instead.
• Grill your burger instead of frying it.
• Opt for a medium cooked burger instead of medium rare or well done. Overcooking the burger can create the risk of ingesting carcinogens, and undercooking the burger can leave harmful bacteria such as E. coli.
• Skipping the cheese also will save a considerable amount of calories and fat.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian and adjunct nutrition instructor at Eastern Maine Community College who lives in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.