Burgers remain a top food item for many folks for a number of reasons—childhood cravings, financial value, quick satiety, and convenience when considering food options on the go. A 2017 study found that 56 percent of consumers say they eat some type of burger at least once per week (down from 68 percent in 2013). Luckily, when it’s burger night, there is a good-tasting burger available for a variety of dietary lifestyles. If you enjoy beef, do not eat red meat, or don’t eat any meat at all, you can still have a wonderful burger night full of fun and nutrition.
Beef or Turkey Burger?
Lean red meat can be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet and is one of the best protein sources that we can eat, containing roughly 22–28 grams per four-ounce serving. Red meat also contains a variety of highly bioavailable nutrients, including heme iron, zinc, and B-vitamins.
Those of us worried about the fat content in our burger should note that less than half of the fat content in lean red meat is saturated. Still, choosing lean meats (those that are lower in total fat) over those that are higher in fat is a good way to reduce our intake of saturated fatty acids. There are 29 cuts of beef that meet government guidelines for lean. For pork or beef, it is better to choose cuts with the words “round” or “loin” in the name, or those that contain 95% or more lean ground beef.
Many folks who don’t eat red meat may opt for a tasty turkey burger instead. Ground turkey provides an additional great source of lean protein (15–22 grams per four-ounce serving) and nutrients such as phosphorous and potassium.
To ensure that poultry and cattle are processed safely and humanely, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has developed federal laws and standards to protect animals during processing steps. These include the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, passed in 1978, which ensures proper practices in the slaughtering of animals and further ensures that they will not experience needless suffering. In addition to this law, a regulatory requirement specific to poultry states that animals should be slaughtered using Good Commercial Practices, very similar to those outlined in the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.
The USDA also has a stringent set of rules that meat processors must follow if they want to be a federally recognized establishment. These rules need to be followed to avoid citations from inspectors. They include the Poultry Products Inspection Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act. They verify that the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act and Good Commercial Practices are being conducted accurately. These rules also focus on ensuring accurate labeling and preventing misbranded labels (i.e. a label that doesn’t clearly indicate what is in the package).
Regulated and declared safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “meat alternative” burger patties are popping up in popular restaurant chains and in many grocery stores nationwide. These burgers allow people who prefer to not eat meat to still enjoy a burger that goes a little beyond the norm of the veggie-based and black-bean burgers many of us are used to seeing.
These plant-based burgers pack 20 grams of protein per serving and are made of four main ingredients: water, pea-protein isolate, canola oil and coconut oil. This makes them both vegan- and vegetarian-friendly. Interestingly, manufacturers also use beets to help the burgers have a reddish color and “bleed” as a ground-beef burger would.
The pea-protein isolate in plant-based burgers has become a popular protein resource over the years and can also be found in a variety of protein powders and snack bars. Peas are legumes, which are an excellent source of protein. The pea protein found in plant-based burgers is made by extracting the soluble pea protein from yellow split peas and grinding the dried peas into a powder. As a bonus, pea protein is gluten- and lactose-free, making it a great option for individuals with those dietary restrictions. And peas are cholesterol-free and low in fat—two other ways in which pea-fueled burgers can be a healthy alternative to meat-based patties.
Note that if you’re going for a pea-protein burger more often, you may want to up your citrus intake. Plant-based foods such as peas have what’s called “non-heme iron,” which your body doesn’t absorb as well as the heme iron in pork, red meat, fish and poultry. Consuming vitamin C-rich foods such as orange juice can help increase the absorption of non-heme iron.
Burgers for Everyone
Now that the grilling and picnic seasons are upon us, it’s cool to know that there is more than one way to get your burger fix. Each option serves up protein, safety and tastiness to meat and non-meat eaters alike.