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Good Habits #1 – How To Eat Hamburgers Without Dying Young

Like any red-blooded American, I like hamburgers.  I really like them.  A lot. Of course, it’s not the healthiest thing you can eat.  I’ve seen butchers cutting steaks, and I’ve seen the fatty scraps of meat that they cut off and push to the side.  This is the stuff that goes into the grinder. So the stuff that makes hamburgers is just about the highest calorie beef offering there is.

And as I discussed in my last piece, sometimes the extra calories come from the stuff we put on top of the other food.  So after slathering two buns with mayonnaise and topping the fatburger with tons of cheese, you’re taking the first step on the long road to myocardial infarction.  Add a side of fries and a sugary drink (or a beer, if you’re a real patriot), and you’ve taken the second and third steps. I may go into more detail on these other things in a future piece, but for now, back to the beef.

Obviously, given the choice between dying horribly of a heart attack and giving up hamburgers forever, the heart attack is the preferred option.  So foregoing hamburgers is not a realistic scenario. One is painful and usually ends in death, but the other is simply un-American. If I’m not eating hamburgers, how can I truly be free?  I’m not sure if this is exactly what Patrick Henry was talking about when he said “Give me liberty or give me death”, but I see an obvious parallel.

The typical fatburger (say, 80% to 85% lean) has around 280 calories per patty.  Add the rest of the stuff on a burger and the calories add up quickly. And god forbid you have a double hamburger or cheeseburger.  If you regularly take in that many calories, you might as well just lie down and die and save the healthcare system the cost of dealing with all of your imminent chronic diseases.

Fortunately, there are entire databases of alternatives to use instead of the fatburger.  I use the Cronometer app, but it’s not the only thing out there. Using any one of these databases, we can look up dozens of substitutes to ground beef.  

One choice is dead birds instead of dead cows.  Two, in particular, are noteworthy. The first one I noticed is ground chicken.  A single patty of this stuff is only about 160 calories. There is a serious problem with this, though.  

In my home state of Georgia, putting a piece of chicken on a bun when it hasn’t been breaded and fried is the worst sort of heresy.  Even thinking of eating grilled chicken can place you on the path to perdition.  What profit a man if he gains good health at the cost of his immortal soul? So I tend to pass on this.

The other dead bird I found is ground turkey.  It also has about 160 or so calories per patty.  And you don’t lose patriotism points by replacing beef with turkey since turkey (unlike beef) is native to North America.  Remember, Benjamin Franklin once proposed having the turkey be our national bird, instead of the bald eagle. So it’s super patriotic.  I’m glad that didn’t work out, though. Having a bird of prey as your national symbol is so much better than having a bird people use for target practice.

There is a problem with this one as well, though.  It just doesn’t taste the same. Technically, that’s true with the chicken as well.  But the blasphemies associated with grilled chicken that I noted above render any discussion of taste moot.  But as for ground turkey, you’re not truly having a hamburger. It’s just a turkey burger. And turkey burgers are fine, I suppose.  But if I want a true hamburger, this is insufficient. So I’ve had to look into other things to replace ground beef.

Those of us who like fish might consider salmon burgers.  Salmon may be the healthiest fish there is, loaded with Omega-3 whatever and other goodies.  And the calorie count is only about 130-140 or so. The problem is…they suck. I don’t know what procedures the salmon burgers are put through in the shadowy recesses of whatever soulless, corporate processing plant makes them.  But they’ve managed to take one of the best-tasting fish on the planet and make it horribly bland. Hard pass on this one for me.

There are always the vegan and vegetarian products.  I’ve tried the Morningstar brand patties, which have about 90 calories.  But they taste more like sausage than hamburger. So…no. I mean, I like sausage, but I don’t want a sausage burger.  And there are new-fangled scienceburgers that have emerged of late, notably the Beyond Burger and the Impossible burger.  But it turns out, they’re not that healthy.  

Four ounces of the Beyond Burger clocks in at about 250 calories, which is not noticeably better than the fatburger.  And the Impossible burger checks in at about 290 calories. It’s actually slightly worse than the fatburger.  So if you don’t want to eat animals, these are both possibilities for you.  But otherwise, don’t waste your time.

There is one other healthy type of ground meat that you can oftentimes find tucked away in the corner of the meat section:  Ground bison meat. The calories are about 160 to 200 per patty, and you still get patriotism points for eating a North American animal.  And for the climate-conscious, pasture-raised bison actually have negative carbon emissions.  Most importantly, the taste is pretty good.  It’s not exactly like beef, but it is sort of beef-ish.  It’s lower in fat, which makes it slightly more bland than beef, but a little judicious application of seasonings can overcome that.

But after all of this, I realized that there was an obvious thing I had overlooked: Really lean beef.  Beef that the butcher made from scraps after carving off the excess fat.  Ground beef that is over 95% lean tends to have about 160-200 calories, about like the bison.  So it’s a healthy hamburger that actually tastes like a hamburger.

So I don’t have to give up the food my country is best known for.  I don’t have to resort to eating alternative meats, although some are pretty good and I’ll occasionally do that.  I just needed to get healthier beef. And I also needed to watch out for the rest of the stuff on the burger. So I go easy on the mayo and the cheese, and maybe get a whole wheat bun or some other healthier bread.  And I’m never going to be one of the crazies who drops a cholesterol bomb (A.K.A. a fried egg) on top. Bacon is still fine, though.

And lastly, I watch the sides.  I discovered that french fries can add another 200-300 calories.  A soft drink can add about 140-350 calories, depending on its size.  Unless you drink the aspartame-laced chemical concoctions, commonly known as diet soft drinks.  And a twelve-ounce beer will add roughly the same number of calories as a twelve-ounce sugary drink.  So I’ve learned that if I want to keep eating hamburgers, I’ll need to be mindful of what I’m having with them.  But I’ll save that discussion for a later piece. 

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Published by drilldowndiet

Formerly obese CPA/health humorist using Cronometer and FitBod to lose weight. Sharing assorted life hacks to squeeze nutrition and exercise into a busy schedule. Also on Twitter at @drilldowndiet and Facebook.

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