It is hard to believe that the modern day burger is only about 75 years old. Today, for most people this food is a regular staple in their diets and many cannot imagine life without it. Most of our population today was brought up on burgers in one way or another. According to the documentary Fast Food Nation, the average American eats 3 hamburgers per week.
Yet today we know that this food item is tied to a lot of controversy; it is blamed for being one of the most unhealthiest foods one can eat. Is this a fair claim? Let’s address this in detail and see why the burger is considered one of the most desired and deadly foods.
The Traditional Beef Burger
The most common and traditional burger looks something like this:
- White, heavily refined and nutrient-stripped bun (sugar, hydrogenated oils, preservatives, etc.)
- Lowest quality beef from factory farmed animals (fed GMO feed, given hormones, drugs, etc.)
- A slice or two of the lowest quality, highly processed cheese (modified ingredients, from factory farmed animals, preservatives, etc.)
- A leaf or two of Iceberg lettuce (conventionally grown with pesticides & synthetic fertilizer)
- A slice or two of tomato and/or onion (conventionally grown with pesticides & synthetic fertilizer)
- A slice or two of a pickle (conventionally produced with vinegar, sugar & preservatives)
- Some highly processed condiments like ketchup, relish, mayonnaise and/or mustard (include sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup, and preservatives)
- Comes from fast food restaurants
*If it is a processed veggie burger, it would include GMO corn and/or soy and normally some other refined ingredients.
To add to this, the average burger is:
- Around 500 (of mostly empty and/or harmful) calories (which is about a quarter of all the calories one should have in a day based on a 2,000 calorie diet)
- Contains around 1000 mg of sodium (which is about half of all the sodium one should have in a day)
- High in saturated fat
- High in trans fat
- High in cholesterol
- High in protein
- High in refined carbohydrates
- Low in fiber
- Low in natural nutrient density
Now how does that stimulate your appetite? Remember, this is the average burger too. Most extremes at fast food places include multiple beef patties, cheese slices and bacon coming in at a whopping 1000 calories on average, with 2000 mg of sodium! (This is not even considering any drinks or sides that may go along with it). The fat content is almost entirely made up of unhealthy fats which lead to elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Many would assume the high protein is a positive thing, but it is not. The average American to this day worries about getting enough protein while they get too much. High protein diets are linked to liver and kidney problems, and internal acidosis, which leads to a slew of diseases like osteoporosis. The refined carbohydrates spike our insulin and give our pancreas an unnecessary workout. This is not even mentioning the chemicals, drugs and hormones included in this food, or high-heat grilling involved (produces carcinogenic heterocyclic amines), which add to numerous health and weight problems. And so, is it any wonder we have the weight, heart disease, diabetes and cancer stats we do today?
One may wonder too, what drives most people to flock to burgers like moths to light? We know this food is one of the most popular choices for people today with the fast food restaurant prevalence, how we celebrate barbecue season, camping trips and other holidays clearly indicating this. When we begin to examine what drives people to desire burgers so much, several items stand out. An addiction to fatty, greasy, fried and salty foods is one set of prime reasons, with convenience being a major second. The fact that most of us do not give any regard to what our bodies really need, what helps them or what hurts them and plead nutritional ignorance is also a sign of our desire for burgers. The burger seems hardy and satisfying, and most erroneously see it as a food that does a good job at fulfilling the requirements to eat based on the 4 food groups.
So is there a healthier burger than this? For sure. But can we actually call it healthy? That is a tough one to answer. While there are healthier burgers, I really don’t think that any burger is capable of being classified as an optimally healthy food item that can be depended on to add nutritional benefits only, without causing any harm.
My Journey With Burgers
I was one of the few individuals who did not grow up with burgers. Having been born in Europe, I was no stranger to beef patties or the “schnitzel”, but not familiar at all with the traditional American burger. Having come to Canada when I was very young, I still had lots of time to adopt burgers as part of my lifestyle. Thankfully my parents were not into burgers either, and fast food was never an option for us.
Therefore even in those days, when I still used to eat meat, I had no appetite for burgers. Something about that ground down meat and not knowing what is really in it, never sat well with me either. To date, I can proudly say that I had less than a handful of traditional beef burgers in my life. As I got older and began to learn about the health drawbacks of eating burgers, or fast food in general; the contamination problems with beef; factory farming and chemical additives, burgers ceased to exist altogether for me as any possible food source. And so when I transitioned to a 100% plant diet, I never went the route of veggie burgers for I was never used to or interested in eating burgers in the past.
Eventually I learned about all the delicious homemade recipes for bean or legume patties. They looked great and they sounded great from a health, nutrition and taste perspective, but I still had no motivation to try any personally. That was….until one day.
As I love to get creative in the kitchen, and experiment with whole, natural food in a variety of delicious ways, one day I had the desire to experiment with some bean patties. To date, I have only made a handful of different batches, as I like to try out new recipes, but each time they proved to be very delicious! My biggest motivation factor for doing so was learning how to make a homemade falafel (cooked, not fried), more than any kind of burger. They were a success! I would still not eat these on any kind of regular basis, as they are a heavily cooked food item and not acid-alkaline balanced, but it is nice to know that this different food option is there for the odd time.