We all have the intention to eat healthy, right? The knowledge is there, the healthy options are available, the consequences of failure writ large in the obesity statistics… but what do we do when we’re short on time and inspiration —and just in need of something comforting and quick? Penrith-based nutritionist Jane Hutchens at Lemongrove Road Holistic Health asked her typical Aussie male partner that question. “Tell them to buy better burgers,” he said. Be thankful—there is such a thing as a healthy burger!
Burger purists will tell you that a hamburger is a single 100% beef patty sandwiched in a soft bread bun, typically with lettuce and onion, and with optional (and much argued over) condiments, like tomato or barbecue sauce or mayonnaise, pickles, cheese, bacon or tomato. Australian purists might also insist on a slice of beetroot—a thing that would horrify most other nations’ purists.
Non-purists will happily add almost anything else to the basic recipe—and experiment with all kinds of non-beef patties like chicken or fish, and veggie options like falafel, lentil or tofu. Jamie Oliver does one with a grilled field mushroom—check out the receipt link on the Modewest Facebook page.
Even the traditional ones are not technically unhealthy, says Jane. “Generally, a lean beef patty in the optimum weight range of 100–150g has just 146 calories—6% of the recommended daily intake (RDI), 6.8g of fat (10% of RDI) and 100mg of sodium (also about 10% of RDI).”
So how can you go wrong?
Well… there are burgers and then there are ‘burgers’.
The best bet, says Jane, is to build your own burger. “That way you have control over what goes into it.”
“Pay a little more for high-grade meat and have lean, pure meat patties. The patties can be fish, beef, chicken, lamb and turkey—as long as they’re not bulked up with breadcrumbs and have no added salt, MSG, sugar or other flavourings. If you really love your burgers as an eat out option, then do a bit of homework and find out which burger vendors only use pure patties—or experiment with a vegetarian patty.”
The New York Times recently looked at the perfect burger, and their recommendations were: 100% coarse-ground beef patties of between 85g and 200g, handled as little as possible, cooked from cold and with 20–25% fat—no more, no less—and cooked on a griddle. Jane recommends between 10 and 20% fat and cooking on a grill pan or BBQ to allow the fat to drain off. But, she says, “avoid squishing the patty as that will dry it out.”
It’s also important to buy locally—the less your meat has been travelled and stored, the more nutrients and flavour it will have—and that goes for the lettuce and other additions too.
Bun choice can make a huge difference to the health of your burger. “The bun is where most of the salt hides in a burger,” says Jane, “and often has preservatives and sugar too. Choose a healthy option such as wholegrain or rye rather than a generic white bun.”
Better still, she says, dispense with the bun altogether. “Just layer a big lettuce leaf, your patty, tomato, grilled onion and beetroot. If you want to ease into this idea, start with having half a bun and present it on your plate as an open burger.”
Plenty of vegetables, either in or with your delicious burger, will also give you a properly balanced meal—remember, the recommendation is to have a balance of the five food groups every day. “A regular burger would be lucky to have one serve of veg,” says Jane, “so have a side salad with your burger, or make sure you catch up by snacking on a carrot and hummus, or a cup of veggie soup—or having loads of salad or steamed veg with your next meal.”
Any burger that has more calories, fat or sodium than you should have in one day is obviously a real no-no. And they’re out there.
Now that burger chains have made their nutrition information available, it’s perfectly possible to steer clear of burgers that take up a big chunk—if not all—of your RDI. For example, a McDonald’s Mighty Angus Burger will deliver more than 70% of your daily fat allowance and about 80% of your sodium allowance. A Hungry Jack’s Ultimate Double Whopper has 30% more fat than you need in an entire day and over 15% more sodium. And, anything stacked high with bacon, egg, cheese or hash browns is much, much worse.
“Come to think of it,” Jane says, “any burger with a ridiculous name is probably not going to be good for you.”
They say the road to hell is paved with ‘good’ intentions, and this bizarre burger may just prove that point. Last year the world’s most expensive burger was eaten in London and it cost the equivalent of $385,000 to make. Why? Because it was ‘cultured beef’—grown in a laboratory from cow stem cells. It had to be coloured with beetroot and saffron to make it look like beef, and none of the tasters mentioned whether it tasted good—though they did agree that it was meat-like.
The scientist behind the ‘Frankenburger’, Dr Mark Post of Maastricht University, actually wants to find a way to reduce the environmental impact of meat production. “Cows are very inefficient—they require 100g of vegetable protein to produce only 15g of edible animal protein,” said Dr Post. “With cultured meat, scientists can make meat production more efficient because they can keep all the variables under control. They also do not need to slaughter any cows.” Dr Post thinks that commercial production is a decade or two away. (Source: theguardian.com, Monday 5 August 2013)
Jane says it’s not a burger she would contemplate—how about you?
The final word is just to have common sense. “In burgers—as in all your food—opt for quality over quantity, and chose fresh, vibrant and delicious over processed, fake and toxic.” Jane says. “Choose to enjoy, appreciate and care for what you eat over mindless, distracted disengagement.”
MIX IT UP
Try a blend of meats to reduce the overall fat content without losing flavour.
How about a patty of tofu, pumpkin, oven cooked falafels, or even a whole field mushroom?
Try an open burger (half a bun) or a bun-free burger.
Flavour your patty with fresh and dried herbs and spices rather than sugar and salt-laden bottled sauces.
Try putting a dent in the top of your burger so it can hang on to a bigger pile of veg—as well as lettuce, try adding baby spinach, sprouts or grated carrot too.
A sensible patty is 100–150g—over 200g is overkill. And if it’s too big to bite into, it’s too big, full stop.
Double patties, double cheese, double bacon—it’s all just more of everything than you need.
Nasty processed meats, cheese and sauces tend to be high in salt and additives. Short-term they give you bad breath and a bad gut, and long-term they can lead to heart disease and cancer.
Poor quality mince often has high levels of saturated fat, and burgers with greasy onions and bacon, too much cheese and lashings of sauce, are heart attacks on a plate. If the fat runs down your arm, it’s not a good sign.