The aroma fills the neighborhood. And that distinctive sizzling sound can mean only one thing: It's grilling season. But while you're enjoying those burgers, be mindful to keep your meals healthy for your heart.
"A burger doesn't have to mean beef," says Rachel Brandeis, MS, RD, LD, a registered dietitian with a private practice in Atlanta. "By changing out ground beef, you can save on calories and cholesterol."
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Here are six heart-smart choices along with tips for better-tasting burgers.
Chicken and Turkey:
More supermarket space is now devoted to ground turkey and chicken. The trick is finding the lowest-fat versions to make burgers.
- Heart-healthy benefits: Some ground turkey breast can be 99% fat free. In addition, ground poultry breast can have fewer calories than a typical ground-beef burger.
- Serving tip: When buying chicken or turkey for patties, ask the butcher to grind boneless, skinless breast meat. Some prepackaged ground turkey and chicken may contain dark meat or skin, which can increase the amount of fat.
Made with soy protein, these patties are great-tasting meat substitutes. Although no meat is in soy burgers, they can still have a beefy flavor.
- Heart-healthy benefits: As a heart-healthy triple play, soy burgers are lower in saturated fat, calories, and cholesterol than beef patties--plus they often provide fiber.
- Serving tip: Because the texture isn't the same as regular burgers, try dressing them up with pickles, tomato, and lettuce.
Often a mix of brown rice and other grains, vegetable patties won't necessarily taste the same as grilled meat. However, a veggie burger on a whole wheat bun with a slice of tomato and low-fat cheese is a nutritional powerhouse.
- Heart-healthy benefits: Some veggie patties can be a mere 90 calories, meaning they'll satisfy appetites without expanding waistlines. Unlike some other on-the-bun options, veggie burgers can also supply some fiber.
- Serving tip: Opt for mustard, which adds additional flavor without many calories.
This thick, hearty mushroom is about 4 to 6 inches in diameter, conveniently sized for a bun. It has a firm texture that feels similar to an old-fashioned beef burger. However, portobello mushrooms won't have the same char-grilled flavor as meat.
- Heart-healthy benefits: Zero fat and incredibly few calories--only seven calories per ounce--make this mushroom a great choice.
- Serving tip: Marinate mushrooms in a low-fat Caesar or Italian salad dressing for a few hours or overnight to add flavor. Grill for about five minutes on each side.
Deer meat can be a lean option for grilling season as well. Because the meat is low in fat, it may taste drier than a beef patty. Some people also experience a "gamey" flavor from this meat.
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- Heart-healthy benefits: With about half the fat of a beef burger, venison offers about the same amount of protein.
- Serving tip: Because venison may seem a bit drier than ground beef, mix in some tomato or barbecue sauce to moisten the patties.
Brandeis shares these five additional tips for making just about any burger more heart healthy.
1. Use caution with toppers.
If you're trying to reduce fat and calories, stick with veggies like tomato, lettuce, mushrooms, and peppers to perch on your burger. Or use low-fat cheeses and spreads such as mustard, ketchup, and barbecue sauce, and opt for a turkey version if you must have bacon.
2. Go round or sirloin.
If you do buy ground beef, opt for the round or sirloin cuts--they're lower in fat.
3. Seek whole grains.
By using a bun made with whole grain, you can easily fulfill one of your three daily servings of whole grains.
4. Trim patty size.
Think thin and small to keep calories down.
5. Mix meats.
If you crave the taste of ground beef in your burgers but want a healthier option, mix half ground sirloin beef and half turkey breast.