WHAT? Today is NATIONAL CHEESEBURGER DAY?! Sweet. Well, I think in honor of this grand event, I’ll talk a little bit about how to eat a SMARTER BURGER. Below, a few tips.
I am here, as a soon-to-be dietitian, advocating that it is not only OK to eat a burger from time to time—I’m in fact letting you know that there are actually BENEFITS to red meat. It is true that you can get the iron, vitamin B12, and protein for which red meat is so famed from other sources. So if you do not prefer red meat, you CAN save yourself from deficiency. Keep an eye on my Nutrient Spotlight page for updates on that. However, if you are a fan of beef, it is an extremely bioavailable source of iron—meaning your body absorbs it more easily than it does from other sources (e.g. leafy greens). And iron-deficiency anemia happens to be the most common and widespread nutrient deficiency worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. So don’t pour on the guilt—congratulate yourself for making a good choice that will provide your body with a ton of nutrients
2. Go Grass-Fed and Local
There is a fair amount of controversy surrounding the meat industry, and it’s often difficult to decipher what to avoid, and what is mainly hype. A safe bet is to choose local meats as much as possible, and look for organic grass-fed beef. This will ensure that the cows destined to be your burger were fed a diet that their gut could understand and break down properly, and that the animals weren’t treated with hormones or anything not naturally occurring in the animal already.
Happy cows come from….
3. Dress It Up Right
Many foods become demonized, thwarting high levels of not-so-good-for-us nutrients, and are forced to wear the diet-version of a “Scarlet Letter.” However, sometimes it’s not the food itself that has so many adverse effects as much as what goes with the food. Moderate amounts of ketchup and mustard (think: 1 Tablespoon) are great additions to a burger. But to get more nutrient bang for you calorie buck, try taking out high saturated fat condiments like mayonnaise to be replaced with avocado. It will introduce an interesting new texture to your burger, as well as some serious creamy goodness! And avocados provide healthy fats that are required for every day bodily functions, and can help prevent heart disease and inflammation, in addition to cancer-fighting antioxidants. Avos can also have a fab effect on hair, skin, and nails. It should be mentioned, however, that due to this super food’s high fat content (although it’s the GOOD KIND), avocados are high in calories, and should still be consumed in moderation.
Those are some delicious looking antioxidants.
ALSO—pile on as many veggies as you can! No reason to stop at the standard lettuce-onion-tomato. Through some peppers on your grill, and stack them on your burger. The hot ones have major metabolic benefits. Any non-starchy veg would probably go great on a burger—experiment! And let me know what works and what doesn’t!
One more note (as it is nat’l CHEESEburger day)… Cheese is a great source of calcium, and provides protein as well. I will admit to being an absolute cheese lover. But it’s a food to moderate, as it typically contains high amounts of saturated fat and sodium. Some cheeses are available in part-skim versions–go for those whenever possible. Or just enjoy a smaller amount of a full fat version. Either way–ENJOYMENT is very important!
4. Choose Your Bun Wisely
Not only can you pack an extra serving of veggies into your burger, but you can even utilize this meal as a chance to squeeze in an extra serving of whole grains. When at the store, all the choices we’re given in which to wrap our patties can certainly overwhelm a person. The simplest rule for choosing whole grains is this: the VERY FIRST INGREDIENT should read: WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR. If it doesn’t, it’s not a true whole grain.
^Not a whole grain (the first ingredient is ENRICHED FLOUR)*
*I know this is a confusing topic. Please feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or comment with any questions.
If you’re not a bread lover, you can even wrap your burger in a lettuce wrap. I’d recommend choosing darker romaine leaves over iceberg—the darker your veggie leaves, the more nutrients they contain. But don’t be afraid of a few carbs—they can provide much-needed fiber, as most of us don’t get what we need from our diets.
If you’re trying to avoid red meat, or prefer a more plant-based diet, you can always go for a veggie burger! Just make sure you’re not replacing a beef burger with something that’s highly processed, because health-wise you are doing yourself no favors with that choice. Your best bet may be to make one at home using whole ingredients. Here’s a recipe for one that uses LENTILS (a great plant source of protein)! You may also see beans used, and any other starchy protein. I actually was recently at a restaurant that served a veggie burger made of quinoa and beets! If you prefer to purchase a packaged version, check the ingredients list, and choose one with a short list of ingredients, and words you can pronounce. Watch the sodium level on these items as well.
And remember–as with all things–moderation is key. A burger every once in a while can provide you with major benefits. But one every day may result in lethargy, fluid retention, high cholesterol, and weight gain. So have a happy National Cheeseburger Day! And enjoy yourself!!