How to Hack Your Burger to Make It Healthier

There may be nothing like a thick, juicy burger wrapped up in a buttery brioche bun and topped with even tastier goodness like bacon or chipotle mayo, but the sad truth is that this American staple is anything but healthy. In just one serving, you can set yourself back nearly three workouts. But is it worth giving up? We say absolutely not. You can have your burger and eat it too. Just give these healthier hacks a try. Trust us, you won’t even notice what you’re missing.

Rethink the bun

Yes, it’s delicious and hugs your burger tightly until you’ve savored every bite, but the fact is, your average hamburger bun can really pack on empty calories—meaning of little-to-no nutrition. And if you go brioche, the calorie and fat content nearly doubles. When all you’re really after is the the main event, ahem, your burger, do you really want to waste all of that space in your belly on a piece of bread? Instead, try scooping out the inside of your bun, which can cut back on 20-30 percent of the calories. Another option? Skip the bun altogether. 

Tack on healthier toppings

Crispy, flash-fried onions, thick, greasy bacon, a hunk of melted pepper jack cheese all atop a juicy burger is without a doubt a flavor combination to drool over, but is the 10 minutes you spend eating it really worth the hour-long HIIT class you woke up extra early for? Okay, it’s a toss up, but if you’re trying to flaunt those lean muscles you’ve been working so hard for and ease up on your arteries and heartburn, your best bet is to choose healthier but still satisfying, toppings like avocado, ripe tomato, raw red onions, sprouts and pickles. You certainly won’t regret the swap next time you’re sweating your buns off in boot camp.

Swap meat for savory mushrooms

Thanks to its meaty flavor and texture, a hearty grilled portobello mushroom burger is the perfect lighter option for your basic ground-meat burger. One large shroom has only 30 calories with no fat or cholesterol compared to a 3-ounce hamburger patty, which clocks in at around 235 calories, 16 grams of fat and around 76 mg of cholesterol. Throw on some caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato and avocado and you have yourself one nutrient-packed dish that’s satisfying and filling.

Use ground turkey (or chicken) instead of ground beef

If you don’t want to sacrifice that true meat flavor, give ground turkey or chicken a try—both are leaner, packed with far more protein, have less fat content and even less calories. One 4-ounce cooked turkey patty has just under 200 calories, around 11 grams of fat and only 3 grams of saturated fat; a ground chicken burger is close to the same. They’re both also loaded with good-for-you nutrients like niacin, which helps with your digestive and nervous systems, and selenium, which has antioxidant properties that help protect your cells from damage. We love this yummy jalapeño turkey burger recipe. It’s Whole30-friendly, loaded with protein and has a nice, spicy tang!

Make your own veggie burger

Good news: You can enjoy a healthy, hearty, meat-free veggie burger without having to sink your teeth into something that’s over-processed with ingredients you can’t even pronounce. Instead, you can make your own! All it takes are a boatload of fiber-loaded, vitamin-packed veggies like Brussels sprouts, zucchini, tomato and avocado, and some canned legumes like navy, pinto or black beans. Mix it up with some zesty spices like paprika, nutmeg, parsley and dill, and top off with your favorite add-ons. Looking for a good starter recipe? Give this Brussels Sprout Burgers With Strawberry Jalapeno Salsa a try.

Jenn Sinrich is an editor in New York City, a self-proclaimed foodie always looking for the healthier version of all recipes, a passionate lover of all things cheese, a friendly New Yorker, Bostonian at heart and proud Red Sox fan. Love cats? Cheese? Mac n' Cheese? Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.