HAWC dietitian, nutritionist turns cheeseburger into healthy grill out option

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Turn the traditional cheeseburger into a healthier Memorial Day cookout feature with just a few tweaks.

The average hamburger bun provides an average of 240 calories, most of which are 'empty' calories if you choose a white bread bun.
"Choose a whole-wheat bun for more fiber, vitamins and minerals, or use an English muffin as a bun, which can save you about 120 calories and provide an extra 2 grams of fiber," said Marita Radloff, a dietitian nutritionist at the Robins Health and Wellness Center.  "Going bunless and using Romaine lettuce leaves will also increase your vegetable intake while saving empty calories. "

Choose ground beef that is 90-95 percent lean beef to save 230 calories and 6 grams of fat, Radloff said.

"Make the patties smaller (no bigger than the palm of your hand) to save on calories and make more portions perfect for leftovers," she said. "Ground turkey, chicken or salmon are also tasty lean options that save calories and fat while also changing it up from the usual ground beef. Just be sure to use herbs and spices since these have less fat, therefore less built-in flavor."

For toppings, Radloff said add an avocado instead of mayonnaise for a healthier creamy consistency along with heart healthy monounsaturated fats. Instead of sodium-laden ketchup, add hot sauce, sriracha, or chipotle-infused spreads for lots of low-calorie heat. Other low-calorie condiments include mustard (try different types, such as honey, hot and spicy, whole grain), homemade ketchup or ranch, or even hummus.

To save on calories, go easy on the cheese. Skip the fat-free cheese (the less fat, the less it will melt) but instead choose a small portion of your favorite kind of rich flavored cheese. Some suggestions are Gouda, sharp cheddar or bleu cheese, to pack in tons of flavor for fewer calories.

Radloff said if you're at a BBQ and don't want to feel deprived, try a little bit of everything, including half a cheeseburger, so you don't sacrifice flavors.

With some minor changes, people can enjoy a cookout classic without wrecking their healthy eating plan.