The Secrets of a Healthy Burger: Little swaps yield big results

May 22, 2013 | By | Comments (4)

perfect-ground-brisket-burgers-lIf you’ve noticed the ballooning sizes of the great American burger in recent years (honestly, who needs a patty that is two-thirds of a pound!), you might wonder how you can have your burger without blowing your nutrition budget. It’s a challenge, but it’s one we think we’ve mastered in a delicious way over and over. (See our collection of Healthy Grilled Burgers.)

Here, a step-by-step guide through the tweaks and what they mean to the calorie count.

For this comparison, we analyzed our Simple, Perfect Fresh-Ground Brisket Burgers and compared them to an average cheeseburger recipe that doesn’t appear outlandish or overly fatty (no cheese stuffing here).

The Patty
6 ounces vs. 4 ounces
Many recipes call for 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef to serve 4, or 6 ounces per burger. This monster patty can be unwieldy and difficult to cook. We prefer 4-ounce patties, which provide a much better ratio of beef to bun. Once cooked, a 4-ounce burger is about three ounces of grilled meat.
Savings: 4g total fat, 1.75g sat fat, 100 calories (raw)

The Beef
ground chuck vs. ground sirloin
Ground chuck has an 80/20 ratio of fat to protein. (The ratio is a percentage by weight, not by fat. In other words, in 1 pound of chuck, 3.2 ounces, or 20 percent is fat; the rest is protein.) Ground sirloin, the grade we typically recommend, has a 90/10 ratio. Brisket is a very lean, flavorful option, too. Grind it yourself or ask your butcher.
Savings: 6.7g total fat and 2.9g sat fat (ground sirloin vs. ground chuck)

The Cheese
1-ounce slices vs. 1/2-ounce slices
It might seem a fine line to cut your cheese so thinly, but it saves on both fat, calories, and sodium. Plus, it’s important to have a whole slice so you’ll have equal coverage across your burger. That ensures a bit of cheese in every bite. If you can’t find thin-sliced cheese, ask your deli counter to make your slices extra thin.
Savings: 4.4g total fat, 3g sat fat, 54 calories, and 92mg sodium

The Mayo
regular vs. light canola
You don’t have to sacrifice a creamy burger topping just to save on fat and calories. Switch from regular mayo to a lighter canola mayo (such as Hellman’s), and you’ll save big. Both burgers called for 8 teaspoons of mayo; that’s 2 teaspoons per burger. Regular mayo adds up to 7g fat, 2g sat fat, and 67 calories per burger. Use a lighter canola mayo, and you’re only adding 27 calories, 3 g total fat, and 0g saturated fat.
Savings: 4g fat, 2g sat fat, and 40 calories (per two teaspoons)

Final Numbers
The original cheeseburger recipe had 812 calories, 54.3g fat, 21g sat fat, and 1033mg sodium.

Our lightened version of the same recipe has 417 calories, 23g fat, 7.4g sat fat, and 542mg sodium.

So yes, a burger can be made lighter — and it’s still very delicious.


  1. How to Make the Perfect Hamburger in Three Steps | Cooking Light

    […] The Secrets of a Healthy Burger […]

    May 28, 2015 at 12:07 pm
  2. Five on Friday: Have a Healthier Memorial Day Weekend – Simmer & Boil | – Cooking Light

    […] but it’s one we think we’ve mastered in a delicious way over and over. Our guide to a healthier burger will keep calories in check without sacrificing any of the flavor you […]

    May 24, 2013 at 3:32 pm
  3. Simple Swaps for a Healthier Burger | Dr Chun

    […] Using these suggestions cuts total calories, fat, and sodium roughly in half.  You probably won’t even notice the difference! To read Holland’s full blog post, click here. […]

    May 24, 2013 at 3:32 pm
  4. Daniel Duffy

    You can also opt for mustard in place of the mayo to save even more, and I personally like it better.

    May 23, 2013 at 8:04 pm

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