There’s no shame in enjoying a juicy burger every now and then. Just make sure to incorporate some healthy habits to keep your red meat consumption — and any associated health risks — at bay.
These easy tips will help you have a healthier cook out:
1. Lighten up the bun.
“The vessel for your favorite BBQ food usually adds about 150 to 200 calories, and that’s on top of the 400-plus-calorie burger,” says Natalie Rizzo, registered dietitian and owner of Nutrition à la Natalie in New York City. “Instead, opt for a lettuce-wrapped burger, which will reduce the calories, add some nutrients, and even give you a little hydration boost.”
Can’t live without the bread? Look for a whole-grain version to pack more filling fiber into to your meal.
2. Swap in some veggies.
“Americans are consuming too much heart-unhealthy saturated fat in their diet, with the majority of it coming from meat dishes such as burgers,” says Joan Salge Blake, a doctor of education, registered dietitian nutritionist and clinical associate professor of nutrition at Boston University. “To decrease the amount of saturated fat in your burger — but not the size of it — use half the amount of lean ground beef and add tons of diced onions, mushrooms and peppers. Your burger patty will still be a robust size but with more heart-healthy veggies.”
3. Serve a power side.
Whip up a lentil salad, roast some chickpeas, or top a green salad with black or pinto beans. Beans, lentils, dried peas and other legumes boast resistant starches. These starches help reduce the colon cancer risk that’s linked with eating a diet high in red meat, per 2014 research in Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
4. Sprinkle on some rosemary.
“One of the best things you can do to keep your burger healthy is to slash heterocyclic amines (HCAs), the carcinogens created during the grilling process,” say Tammy Lakatos Shames and Lyssie Lakatos, registered dietitian nutritionists and co-founders of 21-Day Body Reboot. “You can do this by adding rosemary to your burger [and marinade] before you grill it. The potent antioxidants found in the rosemary can reduce HCAs by as much as 90 percent.”
5. Kraut up your burger.
“Sauerkraut does more than give your burger a delicious flavor boost,” says Rizzo. “It’s actually a good source of probiotics, aka the good bacteria that live in your gut. These bacteria contribute to the health of your gut and are essential for a healthy digestive tract and immune function. Certain things like an unhealthy diet, undue stress, or a harsh round of antibiotics can affect the balance and health of the probiotics in the stomach. So it’s important to feed your gut with natural sources of probiotics, like sauerkraut.” Not all sauerkrauts offer probiotics — so shop for one that isn’t pasteurized, meaning it should have its beneficial bacteria intact.
6. Opt for mini burgers.
“If you feel overstuffed and lethargic after eating a large burger with fries, order sliders off the appetizer menu instead,” says Stephanie McKercher, a registered dietitian nutritionist and recipe developer at The Grateful Grazer in Conifer, Colo. “You'll still get all the delicious flavors of a regular hamburger, but sliders are easier to save for later or split with a friend. If you're feeling adventurous, you can even try grilling your own at home.”