Everyone likes a good burger…
A warm, toasted bun snugly encasing a juicy meat patty, melted cheese and lashings of sauce, what’s not to like?
But wait a minute or two because just as you’re wiping the last traces of sauce from the corners of your mouth, something strange, yet all-too familiar happens. The regret sets in. Nutrition-wise your day is ruined.
At least it used to be.
If you like a good burger, and given its standing as a global icon and Aussie milk bar favourite, that would appear to be most of us, you’re in luck.
Burgers, some of them anyway, are undergoing a makeover, morphing from fatty carb bombs that detonate in your stomach, to something that stacks up favourably against foods with entrenched health halos: salads, wraps, fruit bowls and protein shakes.
RELATED: ‘Healthy’ foods with more calories than a burger
In fact, a burger might even be one of the best post-workout meals on the market. Seriously.
“How we define what’s healthy is getting broader,” says Sharon Natoli, an accredited practising dietitian at Food and Nutrition Australia.
“It’s about keeping an open mind and not assuming that just because in the past burgers were regarded as bad for you, they still are.”
Let’s get a few things straight here. Not all burgers are created equal.
A big burger from a popular franchise chain or a towering creation from a pub will still deliver a boatload of carbs, sugar and saturated fat.
But there are increasingly leaner offerings on the market that will give you a filling protein hit and taste great, without that side of guilt.
Take Grill’d, for example, it’s Sweet Chilli Chicken burger, which features on the brand’s new 100 per cent natural menu, is made up of grilled chicken breast, sweet chilli mayo and beetroot, clocks in at 2130kJ. While other burgers at the burger restaurant can tap out at as much as 3490kJ.
Of course, kilojoule counts aren’t the whole story, particularly when you’re looking at a food’s nutritional merits. More important is the carbohydrate and sugar content, which is why, when it comes to evaluating burgers, you need to take note of the buns.
Choosing a ‘low-carb’ option can help lower the naughty numbers in that burger you’re salivating over – especially in comparison to a popular brioche bun which has on average 20g of carbs.
But how do these modern burgers compare with traditional health foods?
Well, to give you an idea, according to calorieking.com.au, a chicken wrap can hit you with over 50g of carbs (while arguably eliciting little beyond a yawn from your tastebuds in my humble opinion).
Similarly, medical database healthline.com reports that Brazilian favourite, the açai bowl, while undeniably colourful, can be brimming with up to 75g of sugar. Trust me, it takes a lot of samba to shake that off.
Salads meanwhile, are often drenched in dressings, sending fat totals skyrocketing. According to foodnetwork.com, a caesar salad can feature up to 40g of fat, 9g saturated.
What about post exercise? The dirty secret with protein bars and shakes is the sugar content, which can be over 20g in some cases. Trade a bar or shake for a burger, though, and you still get a sufficient protein hit, just without that sweet surprise.
“I would say a burger is better,” says Natoli. “But when you look at these burgers, they’re high in protein and you’re getting nutrients but from a whole food source. That’s better for you.”
According to the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare, two in three adults and one in four children are overweight or obese. Stats like that underscore the importance of studying food labels and ingredient lists carefully. That way you can judge foods on their merits rather than their reputations, says Natoli.
So, what should you look for when assessing a burger? Two words: whole foods.
“If it’s full of random derivatives, concentrates, isolates, additives, preservatives, aka lots of numbers and ingredients you don’t recognise, make it just an occasional food,” says Jacqueline Alwill, accredited nutritionist @brownpapernutrition.
The shorter the list, the better, she adds, an area where Grill’d is particularly strong.
If you can modify your burger upon ordering, choose a low-carb bun and be mindful of cheap alternatives.
“It’s hard when we’ve been trained to go for value,” says Sydney nutritionist Matt O’Neill. “You’ve got to replace that ‘value reward’ with a ‘health reward’.”
Speaking of rewards, how about a burger that’s not only tasty but made from natural ingredients and guilt-free? It doesn’t get much better than that.
Ben Jhoty is a freelance writer based in Sydney who specialises in health and nutrition. Follow him on Twitter