Barbecue season is upon us, and that means burgers. This week I investigate how to make your burger better, healthier and tastier.
Burgers aren't exactly diet food. A 6-ounce burger has more than 400 calories. When you add the bun, mayo, cheese, ketchup, etc., you're up in the 700 to 800 range.
However, with a few smart choices, you can eat healthier. Start by choosing the right meat. The less fat (especially the "bad" saturated fat) there is, the fewer the calories.
Leaner meats tend to dry out more during cooking and less fat means less flavor. So how can you improve the healthful burger's taste and texture?
Using other meats or veggies to make your burgers may save you calories and fat:
Also, chef Cary Neff's recipe for black-bean griddle patties from Conscious Cuisine (Sourcebooks, 2002) is a low-calorie treat. See the recipe at www.dietdetective.com/articles/food/recipe_light.html.
Buns add anywhere from 110 (regular 1.5-ounce white bun) to 180 calories (kaiser roll). For more fiber, choose a 100-percent whole-grain bun. Another good choice is a whole-wheat English muffin (120 calories) or a light multigrain English muffin (100 calories), or 2 slices low-calorie 100 percent whole-grain bread (80 calories).
Instead of cheese (70 to 120 calories a slice and plenty of saturated fat), add lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions or even celery. Or try "lite" or reduced-fat cheese. Fat-free single-serving slices have about 30 calories each. Also look for cheeses that are not reduced-fat but are thinly sliced (only 40 to 60 calories). Avoid bacon (70 or more calories per strip) or use turkey bacon at half the calories.
Avoid mayo (100 calories per tablespoon); add ketchup, mustard, herbs and veggie toppings for extra flavor.
ON THE SIDE
Watch out for the obvious: fried potatoes, potato chips (150 calories per handful), coleslaw (more than 250 calories per cup), pasta salad (400 to 500 calories per cup).
MAD COW AND E. COLI
Most food-safety experts agree that mad cow disease poses a minuscule risk to U.S. consumers. However, food poisoning is possible, so avoid cross-contamination: Don't let raw meat touch foods that won't be cooked, and cook meats to the right temperature (160 degrees F for ground meats and pork; 165 for ground poultry). For information on food safety, see www.dietdetective.com/articles/food/food_concerns_that_matter.html.
Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public-health advocate, and author of "Breaking the FAT Pattern" (Plume, 2006). Sign up for the free Diet Detective newsletter at www.dietdetective.com.