Nutrition: How to build a healthier burger

DULUTH, Minn. — Arguably one of the most common summer grilling foods is burgers.

A burger is not typically known to be nutritious, it’s highly versatile, and there are many ways to make burgers more nutritious.

Start with the most important part: the patty. I assume most people think of beef, but a burger can be made with any ground meat, or you can even go meatless. Meat is often where the majority of calories come from when assembling a burger, so take some time to weigh your options.

A simple way to cut calories is to reduce the size of the patty. An adult portion of meat is 3 to 4 ounces — 4 ounces is a quarter pound — so aim for patties that are equal to or less than a quarter of a pound.

The percentage of fat in ground meat makes a significant difference in the nutrition of the final product.

• A quarter-pound patty made from 95 percent lean beef will have about 220 calories, while the same size patty made from 70% lean beef will have around 305 calories.

• A quarter-pound patty made from 93 percent lean turkey will have approximately 170 calories, while the same size patty made from 85 percent lean turkey will have about 203 calories.

There is a significant amount of variety in premade meatless burgers, and meatless is not always nutritionally better, so read nutrition labels. In my brand research, I found 4-ounce patties that contained anywhere from 90 to 260 calories. Some premade meatless burgers may also be high in sodium.

Meatless burger patties can be made with pea protein, black beans, nuts (sunflower seeds and walnuts), quinoa, rice, soy and vegetables (kale, tomatoes, carrots) and potatoes. There are many meatless-burger recipes available online, so you can customize the ingredients to fit your personal preferences and nutritional requirements.

Next up, the bun. Nutritional content of breads can also vary quite a bit, so this is another place you’ll want to spend some time comparing nutrition labels. Aim for whole grain. Also look for alternatives such as whole-grain pita pockets and corn tortillas, which are about half the calories of a standard hamburger bun.

Go easy on cheese and other creamy condiments such as mayonnaise. Add some creaminess by using avocado or even a fried egg. An ounce of American cheese contains 90 calories (3.7 grams of saturated fat) and 300 mg of sodium, while an egg fried without using extra fat contains 80 calories (1.6 grams saturated fat) and 60 mg of sodium. If you really need cheese on your burger, another option is to use a smaller portion of an intensely flavored cheese such as blue cheese or aged sharp cheddar.

Make sure to pile on the veggies, and even fruits. The standard lettuce, tomato and onion are nutritious and classic options. Go Hawaiian and top your burger off with pineapple. If using canned pineapple, add some of the juice to the ground meat to add flavor and moisture.

Grill extra vegetables such as mushrooms, peppers, onions and tomatoes to use as toppings and provide additional grilled smoky flavor.

Top off your burger with a slaw which can be made out of any kind of shredded vegetables. Some of my favorites are shredded cabbage, broccoli, chard, carrots and radishes. A slaw is a great place to get creative and add in some additional fruit such as lime, peaches, apples or mango.

This summer, remember that beef and cheese are OK, but reduce your portions on those high-calorie items and increase your potions on fruit and veggies. Enjoy!