Healthy Recipes

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How to Make a Burger or Hot Dog Healthier

Grilling on the Fourth? There's no buns about it when it comes to these healthy hamburger and hot dog recipes. Get grilling the right way with these tips, courtesy of our dietitian.


Nothing beats a burger, fresh off the grill, or the succulent taste of that smoky hot dog, just taken from the flame.

These classic Fourth of July favorites may not be the healthiest, but there are ways to get around this.

Courtesy of our dietitian, Carrie, here are some tips on how to shop, how to grill, and how to make your cookout just a little healthier.

Classically Healthy Burgers

Sometimes nothing beats a burger, hot off the grill. This Fourth of July, we want to help you make the best choice when it comes to this American favorite.

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

Toppings and condiments can also quickly add up, so sometimes it all matters on the assembly! Luckily, burgers pack in a lot of protein, so we are here to help you make the leanest choice possible!

Bubba burger has a variety of options that can be found in your local grocery store. Where the original variety has 35g of fat and 15g of saturated fat, the reduced fat variety has 19g of total fat and 8g of saturated fat. Choosing the reduced fat variety will help save you calories and will get rid of that extra fat. Bubba burger also makes a turkey burger that would make the best choice, with only 5g of total fat and 1.5g of saturated fat.

Jennie-O makes a line of lean turkey burger patties that are all natural, with as little as 9g of fat. Their extra lean seasoned turkey patties have only 5g of fat. You can jazz up turkey burgers by using a spicy rub or mixing in some herbs and a little shredded cheese. Forget what you've heard: turkey burgers can have just as much flavor and fun as a traditional burger!

Many generic burgers found in the freezer section often come in a leaner option, if you know what choice to make.

The numbers listed on the packages like 80/20, 90/10, or 95/5 may be confusing and sort of misleading. These percentages actually refer to the proportion of protein and fat by weight, not the proportion of calories. So for every 100g or 3.5oz, there is 20g of fat in an 80/20 ground beef. This would equal 180 calories from fat!

It is a common misconception that an 80/20 ground beef has 20% of the calories from fat, when in all actuality, fat contributes almost 75% of the total calories. So when choosing burgers in bulk, go for the leanest choice possible like 95/5.

When choosing ground beef, always go for the extra lean ground beef. Ground round and ground sirloins also make good choices. Lean ground turkey can also be used as a replacement for beef. Bison and lamb have also been gaining popularity in the burger world. A 90% lean ground bison provides a burger that is juicy and makes quite a flavorful experience. When experimenting with lamb, choose the shoulder meat, which has about 2/3 less fat than pre-ground lamb from the supermarket. Then grind it yourself with a stand mixer or hand grinder, or ask the butcher to do it for you. Also remember there are lots of great recipes that feature salmon or tuna as well, which pack in a ton of flavor as a special treat.

Here is a great recipe you can follow from Cooking Light.

Surprisingly Healthy Hot Dogs

Traditional hot dogs are usually a mix of turkey, chicken and pork. Hot dogs actually contain more fat, which contributes the most to the caloric total. These traditional hot dogs are also high in sodium and usually contain added nitrates/nitrites as preservatives.

98% fat free hot dogs have carbohydrates added to them along with other fillers. There is no additional protein to replace the fat that is removed and the sodium is still just as high…

Classic turkey franks may be lower in sodium and slightly lower in fat, but just like the 98% fat-free choice, they do not supply enough protein, nor could it be classified as a lean source.

Applegate Organic & Natural Meats has natural and organic choices for hot dogs, available in a turkey, beef, or chicken variety. These dogs are made with grass fed beef or certified organic meats without added nitrites or chemical preservatives. These options are a bit lower in sodium, knocking off about 100mg, and have 2-3 more grams of protein than your average dog.

Archer Farms (the Target brand) makes a variety of all natural chicken sausages that are lower in fat (about 1/3 as much as a traditional dog) and pack an average of 10-12 grams of protein per sausage. They also come in tantalizing flavors such as sun-dried tomato, spinach & garlic, or Italian style. Ranging from 70-90 calories per dog, two of these would be a good choice, either diced up or on a wheat bun to meet your protein requirements.

Wellshire Farms also has a line of hot dogs and sausages that are free of preservatives and nitrites. Their line of Lou’s Famous Chicken Sausages contain 14-16 grams of protein! Although they are free of preservatives and added nitrates, they do contain a lot of sodium, around 500 mg per dog. These also come in a variety of flavors such as artichoke calamata, cilantro chicken and aged provolone.

If you follow a vegetarian diet, there are some dogs out there that can bring protein to the table. Smart Dogs makes a veggie protein link with 8g of protein and only 45 calories. To be expected, there is still over 300mg of sodium, but this product is fat free. They also make a line of sausages with 13 grams of protein, but this variety contains over triple the calories and almost double the sodium.

Tofurky also makes vegetarian dogs which are organic with all non-GMO ingredients. Their hot dogs have 10 grams of protein and would make a good choice for those who follow an organic or vegan diet.

So, here are some key things to remember when choosing your dogs for the grill:

Get your protein! Hot dogs are viewed as a meat but the classic hot dog, has less protein than a bistroMD protein snack.

Watch the sodium! If you are on a sodium-restricted diet, only have one dog and add an additional source of protein to the meal.

Look at the Fat! Turkey and chicken dogs are typically lower in fat along with vegetarian dogs.

Keep it clean! You can easily land a processed meat with lots of added chemicals and added nitrates and preservatives. In today’s market, there are great options available without the yucky stuff added!

Written By bistroMD Team. Published on November 07, 2012. Updated on February 19, 2020.


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