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A Healthy Take on Hamburgers & Hot Dogs

Let’s be frank, hot dogs and burgers may not be the healthiest choice but they are hard to beat fresh off the grill. Learn how to enjoy those summer favorites with health in mind!

A Healthy Take on Hamburgers & Hot Dogs


From the sweet potato fries to the coleslaw to the s'mores, is there anything better than a summer cookout?

Oh, wait...

Nothing beats a burger fresh off the grill or the smoky taste of a hot dog just taken from the flame!

While these classic summertime favorites may not be the healthiest, there are ways to get around this.

Here are some tips on how to make your cookout a touch healthier this grilling season!

What's the Beef with Hamburgers?

A standard 4-ounce 80 to 84 percent ground beef burger supplies about 280 calories and 18 grams (g) of fat. It contains 7 g of saturated fat as well.

To put this in perspective, the American Heart Association recommends aiming for a dietary pattern that achieves five to six percent of calories from saturated fat.

Based on a 2,000 calorie diet, the recommended fat intake equates to more than 120 calories or 13 g daily. While percent daily values may be higher or lower depending on calorie needs, the burger supplies over half a day's worth of saturated fat.

Luckily, burgers can pack in a lot of protein, about 28 g per 4 ounces, without always packing on fat.

We are here to help you make health-conscious choices for your next burger and offering healthy homemade hamburger recipes!

1. Use a lean or extra lean burger patty.

Burgers tend to be high in fat, specifically saturated fat. As you make your burger choice, fat should be the biggest determining factor.

Select a lean or extra lean meat, aiming for a lean point no less than 90 percent. Here are some examples of leaner burger options based on a 4-ounce serving:

90 to 94 percent beef burger: 230 calories, 12 g total fat, 4 g saturated fat
93 percent ground turkey: 235 calories, 13 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat
96 percent ground pork: 210 calories, 7 g total fat, 2 g saturated fat

Most people may worry cutting out the fat will cut out the flavor. However, jazz up burgers by using a spicy rub or mixing in some herbs.

2. Consider veggie burgers.

Vegetarian diets are not new, though plant-based eating patterns have really taken off over the past decade. These include countless veggie burger recipes and products on store shelves.

It is important to note, though, a plant-based burger is not synonymous to healthy. Some burgers can be rich in carbohydrates, saturated fat, sodium, and unwanted preservatives.

A homemade black bean burger is perfect for someone following a loose or strict vegetarian diet. It is also a cost-friendly and ample in protein and fiber, leaving both your wallet and appetite full!

And not to mention, the prep time is often less than 15 minutes with the help of a food processor. The burger can harness a variety of flavors, too, including red pepper flakes and a dash of Worcestershire sauce.

3. Wrap the burger with a lettuce bun.

A hamburger bun can add hundreds of more calories to the burger and increase carb content. A common way to lower these values is by opting for a lettuce-wrapped burger.

Simply take a leaf or two from a clean head of iceberg lettuce. Make sure the leaves are pat dry before assembling.

4. Consider the delicious toppings.

Toppings and condiments can quickly add up, so sometimes it all matters on the assembly!

Rather than melting on numerous slices of cheese and mayo, give these healthy burger toppings a try:

• Shredded nonfat cheese
• Sliced tomato
• Slivered red onion
• Shredded lettuce
• Pico de gallo
• Plain Greek yogurt

The Low-Down on Hot Dogs

One beef hot dog calories, no bun, clocks in at about 190 calories. Side-by-side, hot dogs seem to be the better choice with calories in mind.

However, hot dogs tend to be laden in fat and lack protein. Also unlike hamburgers, hot dogs can contain carbohydrates even without the addition of ketchup, relish, and other toppings.

The carbs in hot dogs are often due to additives such as corn syrup. They are common culprits of the unwanted fillers nitrates and nitrites, too.

Here are some key things to remember when choosing hot dogs for the grill.

1. Watch the sodium.

Traditional hot dogs are high in sodium, nearing 600 milligrams (mg).

The AHA recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. They even encourage limiting sodium to no more than 1,500 mg daily.

Watch out for sodium in hot dogs while sticking to one serving. Be conscious of other BBQ favorites that may be rich in sodium such as baked beans, potato salad, and chips.

2. Be mindful of the fat.

Hot dogs actually contain more fat, which contributes the most to the caloric total.

More specifically, a hot dog supplies about 17 g of total fat and 11 g of saturated fat.

Hot dogs tend to be low in protein as well, falling shy of 7 g of protein in a beef hot dog. This is quite a difference between the 28 g of protein offered in the burger mentioned above.

Words like "low-fat" and "lite" help identify hot dogs with lower fat content. Turkey franks also tend to have reduced fat content.

3. Keep it clean and natural (for the most part).

Some products claim to be "all-natural" and have a cleaner ingredient label.

On the ingredient label, look for products mostly made from beef, pork, and spices. These can include chicken sausages in a variety of flavors such as sun-dried tomato and Italian-style.

Like veggie burgers, plant-based hot dogs are available. They are often prepared with the following plant-based protein sources and grains:

• Pea protein
• Soy protein
• Tofu
• Wheat flour

But beware, meatless hot dogs can still contain lots of sodium, added oils, and other additives.

4. Eat in hot dogs (and hamburgers for that matter) in moderation.

There is lots of confusion questioning if hot dogs are bad for you. Simply put, they can be.

Processed meats, including hot dogs, are deemed cancer-causing, or carcinogenic, to humans. The World Cancer Research Fund reports there is evidence that red or processed meat are both causes of colorectal cancer.

The World Health Organization (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) also suggests red meat is probably carcinogenic. This is mostly specific to colorectal cancer with some evidence for pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer.

All-in-all, enjoy a hot dog or hamburger in moderation while likewise balancing the diet with nutrient-rich foods.

Written By Sarah Asay, RDN. Published on November 07, 2012. Updated on March 20, 2020.

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