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The Wellness Burger – Tips to turn your favorite foods into healthy choices

We eat about 13% less beef today than we did 10 years ago. That decline can probably be explained by the following (approximate) equation: fat + cholesterol = increased risk of heart disease. And although the beef industry is aggressively marketing leaner beef products, the fat content is still widely variable, and it’s often hard to recognize a low-fat piece of beef despite the different labels and grades on the packages. Meanwhile, hamburgers may have earned a bad reputation among health-conscious people, but they are still a good source of protein, and there is also a fair amount of B vitamins, iron, and zinc in ground beef. So what can you do if you are trying to make positive changes to your diet, but you still love a good burger? The answer lies in the preparation.

You can enjoy a burger as part of a healthy diet by following these steps:

1. Choose your meat carefully Go to a store with a butcher, choose a very lean cut of round, then ask the butcher to trim all the fat and grind the meat for you. This will result in a burger with only 20% of its calories coming from fat.
2. Portion control – Use three ounces of meat for each patty.
3. Taste matters too – If you are concerned the lean beef will be too dry, mix in a little tomato juice, chopped onion, or Worcestershire sauce before cooking.
4. Cooking methods – Broil or panbroil your burger instead of frying it in oil or butter. If you like to have cooked mushrooms or onions on your burgers, simmer them in stock (or water) instead of sauteing in butter.
5. Finishing touches – Use a whole wheat bun or whole wheat bread instead of white. Add a slice of tomato and some lettuce. Beware that adding cheese and mayonnaise to a hamburger more than doubles the calories and significantly increases the fat content.

This hamburger will have 315 calories, 7 grams of fat, 34 grams of protein, 72 milligrams of cholesterol, and 415 milligrams of sodium.

The hamburger makeover above is just one example of how you can keep favorite foods in your diet, by simply revamping them to make them healthier. There are many, many small changes you can make to the foods you eat that will allow you to enjoy those foods in a healthier way. Here are 10 quick and easy ones:

1. Choosing whole wheat breads instead of white breads
2. Opting for brown rice instead of white (brown rice actually has a richer, nuttier flavor – it just takes longer to cook).
3.Changing from whole milk to a reduced fat milk
4. Choosing reduced fat cheeses to replace full fat cheeses
5. Eating air-popped popcorn with sodium-free seasoning instead of microwave buttered popcorn
6. Eating an orange instead of drinking a glass of orange juice (many fewer calories)
7. Substituting applesauce for the fat (butter or oil) in a recipe for baked goods (just use an equal amount of applesauce as the recipe calls for)
8. Breading fresh fish by dipping them in skim milk and then bread crumbs, rather than buying frozen breaded fish fillets
9. Using reduced fat mayonnaise, margarine (sparingly), and salad dressings instead of the full fat varieties
10. Trying dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate

Remember, making (and keeping!) any changes to well-ingrained habits is never easy. Start small, try a few easy changes in the list above, and see what works for you. Then try a few more, and see how you feel. You can usually bet that once you start to grow accustomed to the healthier changes, you will want to keep making more. And also keep in mind that eating healthfully is not all or nothing. Aim to make healthful choices most of the time, and then you will have a little room for small indulgences. If food is a pleasure to you, it should continue to be so. Try to make your day-to-day diet both healthy and appealing – it can be done!

What are your thoughts on revamping ingrained eating habits? Do you have any tips or tricks to share? Let me know in the comments!