Is Hamburger Healthy?

Dr, Donna Restivo

Posted on June 28 2017

Hamburger became the poster child of an unhealthy diet when concern about obesity began to rise in the 1990s. In 2003, U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona testified before the House of Representatives about the epidemic, saying, “While extra value meals may save us some change at the counter, they’re costing us billions of dollars in health care and lost productivity. Physical inactivity and super-sized meals are leading to a nation of oversized people.”

But hamburger is still a large part of most Americans’ diets, and it isn’t just used for making fast food meals. This begs the question, is hamburger healthy? Can you lose weight and eat hamburger at the same time?

It depends.

The Good

First, let’s take a look at what hamburger has going for it: it’s full of iron, protein, and vitamin B-12, three essential nutrients.

Iron carries oxygen to tissues and organs and you absorb more iron from meats than you usually do from plant-based foods. Protein helps our bodies construct cells and build lean muscle. It can also act as an energy source when we run out of carbohydrates. Vitamin B-12 is necessary for the production of new red blood cells. Without B-12, red blood cells may develop abnormally, which makes it difficult for our bodies to deliver oxygen to cells, tissues, and muscles.

You also have options with most hamburger meat, including its fat content and how you prepare it.

When selecting hamburger at the supermarket, you have the option to choose leaner varieties than those you may find at restaurants. Restaurants usually focus more on providing their customers with optimal taste, which means their burgers are heavy in fat and calories. When cooking hamburger, you can drain some of the fat to make your meals leaner. You can even control your portions by limiting the size of your burgers.

The Bad

When it isn’t cooked properly, red meat can contain pathogens that lead to food-borne illnesses. Hamburger is naturally high in calories and saturated fats, so eating it too frequently can contribute to weight gain. Lower cost brands of beef may also contain ammonia, which is used as part of the process for creating beef filler products.

You also have to take a hard look at the buns and toppings you put on your hamburgers. Cheeses and bacon are also high in saturated fats. Ketchup can contain excess levels of added sugar. Hamburger buns are often processed wheat products and have lurking sugars. Try substituting your bun with healthier alternatives, like mushrooms or whole grain buns. You can even eat your burger without the bun to save some calories.

The Ugly

The unhealthiest hamburgers we eat are those that come from restaurants, especially fast food restaurants. Fast food companies fill their burgers with sodium, sugar, and additives like nitrates to preserve the meat and make them tastier. Much of the burger patty you receive from a fast food restaurant isn’t even “meat.” They often throw in bone, cartilage, and other waste byproducts to make their products cheaper.

For those who are thinking green, it’s important to note that the beef industry has a negative impact on the environment. Most cows are corn-fed. The production of corn requires a lot of water, fertilizers, and fossil fuels. Cows themselves produce large quantities of waste and greenhouse gases.

Is Hamburger Healthy for Weight Loss?

You can still eat hamburger as part of weight loss diet; it’s just a matter of making the right choices. Don’t eat hamburger too often. The Harvard University School of Public Health advises that people eat no more than 1.5 pounds of red meat per week. Cook your own hamburger as often as you can and choose leaner varieties to reduce the number of saturated fats you eat.

Consider using other types of meats, like turkey or chicken, as alternatives to beef. When choosing your toppings, use some common food substitutes to make your meals healthier, such as herbs instead of salt or leafy greens instead of iceberg lettuce.

Is hamburger healthy? It all depends on how you hamburger!


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