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Healthy up your burgers this grilling season
Burgers don’t have to be off the menu if you’re trying to eat healthier. Try one of these five lighter burger ideas at your next cookout.
Summer is right around the corner. You may be ready to fire up the grill. But what to put on it?
Burgers are a go-to. But beef tends to be high in saturated fat. And saturated fat is linked to a higher risk of heart disease.1 The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to about 13 grams a day for a diet based on 2000 calories a day.1 Burger lovers might be surprised to learn that the average burger has about 8 grams of saturated fat.2
But there are plenty of ways to make a lighter burger. Replacing ground beef with other lean protein sources such as ground chicken or turkey, fish or beans, or even opting for a portobello mushroom as the main ingredient, can make a big difference. Here are 5 burger ideas to lighten up your next backyard barbecue.
Healthy option #1: Bean burger
Beans are a great plant-based protein alternative. They’ll also give you a boost of heart-healthy fiber, which most Americans aren’t eating enough of. Fiber has all sorts of health benefits. It can lower cholesterol and help you manage blood sugar.3
Some bean-based patties tend to fall apart on the grill. Adding eggs plus breadcrumbs can help hold them together. For extra protection, you might want to place a small sheet of foil under the burger. Or you can cook the patties with a little bit of oil in a cast-iron pan on the grill.
Try this easy recipe:
- Add 2 cans of black beans, rinsed and drained, to a large bowl. Then add 1 small onion, minced; 2 garlic cloves, grated; 2 minced chipotle peppers in adobo sauce from a can, plus 2 tablespoons of the sauce; 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce; and 1 teaspoon of cumin. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Mash everything together with a fork or potato masher until you have a thick paste. (You may still have some whole beans in the mix.) Mix in 2 eggs. Then fold in 1 cup of panko breadcrumbs.
- Form the mixture into 6 patties. Grill over medium-high heat for about 6 to 8 minutes on the first side. Flip and cook for about 5 minutes more. Serve on a bun and top with guacamole and salsa.
Healthy option #2: Seafood burger
Try surf instead of turf for a healthier burger. Chopped or ground salmon or tuna make a great base for a seafood burger. Not only will you cut the amount of saturated fat in your burger, you’ll also get a healthy dose of omega-3 fat.
This healthy fat has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, among other benefits. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least 2 servings of fish a week.4
Try this easy recipe:
- Cut 1 1/2 pounds of boneless, skinless salmon or tuna into chunks.
- Add about a quarter of the fish to a food processor with 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon of mustard and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Process until it forms a paste. Add the rest of the fish, 1/4 cup of chopped fresh herbs (such as dill, parsley or tarragon) and 1 tablespoon of capers to the food processor. Pulse until everything is mixed but there are still small chunks of fish.
- Form the mixture into 4 patties. Brush with olive oil, then grill over medium-high heat for a few minutes per side until the internal temperature reaches 145°F. (Place a small piece of foil under the patties if they aren’t holding together.) Serve on a bun with tartar sauce and coleslaw.
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Healthy option #3: Turkey or chicken burger
Ground turkey and chicken are great low-fat choices. They are both good sources of protein too.
The key to a great burger here is adding lots of bold flavors and juicy mix-ins. Think of it as a blank canvas and get creative.
Try this easy recipe:
- Put 1 1/2 pounds of ground turkey or chicken to a large bowl. Add 1 small shallot, minced; 1 garlic clove, minced; a small handful of chopped cilantro; 1 tablespoon of grated ginger; 1 tablespoon of hot sauce; and 1 teaspoon of low-sodium soy sauce.
- Gently mix everything together with your hands. Try not to overwork the meat. That can make your burgers tough and dry.
- Form the mixture into 4 to 6 patties. Grill the patties over medium-high heat for 4 to 5 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F. Serve on a bun with sriracha mayonnaise and kimchi or shredded cabbage.
Healthy option #4: Portobello burger
Portobello mushrooms are one of the easiest burger substitutes. They are naturally patty shaped. And a grilled portobello mushroom has a meaty, juicy texture.
You can trim the stem, brush the cap with olive oil and throw it on the grill. They cook up fast, needing just a few minutes per side. For more flavor, give them a quick marinade before grilling.
Try this easy recipe:
- Trim the stems off 4 portobello mushrooms. Clean the caps by gently wiping with a damp cloth. Place them in a shallow baking dish.
- In a small bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of low-sodium soy sauce and 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder. Pour the marinade over the mushrooms, coating evenly. Let sit for about 30 minutes.
- Place the mushrooms on the grill, stem-side up, over medium-high heat. Close the grill and cook for about 4 minutes, until you see grill marks on the mushrooms. Flip and cook for about 4 minutes longer. Serve on a bun with your favorite toppings.
Healthy option #5: Beef and mushroom burger
Not ready to give up beef altogether? You can replace some of the ground beef with beans, grains or shredded vegetables. Simply mix them in with the ground meat and form into patties. That will cut down on the saturated fat.
Mushrooms are a great option to combine with lean ground beef. They add a nice earthy flavor that blends well with beef.
Try this easy recipe:
- Finely chop 8 ounces of button mushrooms. (Do this in a food processor, if you have one.)
- Add mushrooms to a large bowl with 1 pound of lean ground beef, 1/2 cup of minced onion, 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, 1 egg and salt and pepper to taste. Gently combine with your hands until well mixed.
- Form the mixture into 6 patties. Grill patties over medium-high heat for 4 to 5 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F. Serve on a bun with your favorite burger toppings.
Don’t forget the toppings
You can stick with any of your usual favorite toppings for most of these burgers. Keep in mind that things like cheese and bacon add more saturated fat. So go easy on them, or leave them out.
Toppings can also be a chance to sneak in more vegetables (lettuce and tomato anyone?) Here are some other healthy topping ideas:
- Guacamole (or avocado slices), sliced bell pepper and fresh salsa or pico de gallo (pepperjack cheese optional)
- Pesto and roasted red peppers (shredded mozzarella optional)
- Tzatziki sauce and sliced cucumbers (crumbled feta cheese optional)
- Hummus, fresh spinach and chopped olives
- Caramelized onions and sauteed mushrooms (swiss cheese optional)
- Grilled pineapple and a drizzle of BBQ sauce
- Pickled vegetables like kimchi (Korean fermented cabbage and spices), sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) or giardiniera (Italian vegetable relish)
- Slices of peach and tomato with a drizzle of balsamic glaze and fresh basil
- American Heart Association. Saturated fat. Last reviewed November 1, 2021. Accessed April 13, 2023.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture FoodData Central. Hamburger, on wheat bun, 1 medium patty. Published October 28, 2022. Accessed May 15, 2023.
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Fiber. Last reviewed April 2022. Accessed April 13, 2023.
- American Heart Association. Fish and omega-3 fatty acids. Reviewed November 1, 2021. Accessed April 13, 2023.
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