It's grilling season and chances are you'll be making that ever-important cookout decision: hot dog or hamburger? Some people, no doubt, are cheering "Both!" But if you're trying to make a healthier choice, then the registered dietitian in me knows that "both" is not the answer. So which one is the healthier pick? Check out how a hamburger compares nutritionally to a hot dog before you tell the grill master your order.
There are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to a burger: How big is it? What kind of beef is it? What are you putting on it? A typical burger is in the 1/3-pound range (about 6 to 8 ounces) and made from 85 percent-lean ground beef.
Served with a bun, it can pack as much as 620 calories and 9 grams of saturated fat (that's nearly half your daily limit)...before toppings. A slice of cheese adds another 110 calories and 6 grams of saturated fat. On the positive side, burgers deliver iron and zinc.
How to have a healthier burger
The USDA-approved (and EatingWell recommended) serving size for meat is a much smaller 3 ounces cooked (that's starting with 4 ounces of meat before cooking, which will shrink down to the perfect portion). A quarter-pounder gives you 11 percent of your daily value of iron and 32 percent of your daily value for zinc.
You can make your burger with lean ground beef--at EatingWell Magazine we recommend you look for 90 percent-lean or leaner. What will those choices save you? About 200 calories and 5 grams of saturated fat.
If you're eating out and not forming the patties yourself, you can cut a typical-size burger in half and load it with healthy toppings: lettuce and tomato or some grilled vegetables to add flavor without piling on the calories. You can also shave off another 121 calories by swapping a standard bun for an English muffin...bringing the total calorie count for burger and bun--er, muffin--to 300.
What you get in a typical hot dog
Hot dogs and hot dog buns are typically smaller than burgers and their diminutive size gives them a calorie advantage. An all-beef hot dog and white-bread bun will cost you a mere 270 calories. As a dinner entree, that's a pretty moderate amount (although the saturated fat is a bit high at 6 grams).
There are some downsides to hot dogs, though. First, many are sodium bombs, packing 500 mg or more per dog (a 3-ounce hamburger, in contrast, delivers around 375 mg--and if you're making it yourself you can add even less salt). Second, many hot dogs contain sodium nitrite or nitrate (additives that help extend shelf life), which are linked by some (but not all) experts to increased cancer risk. Lastly, because hot dogs are on the smaller side, you might be inclined to have more than one.
How to have a healthier hot dog
There are a few ways to find the healthiest hot dog: 1) Choose one with 370 mg of sodium or less. 2) Skip the white bun and opt for a 100 percent whole-wheat bun--you'll get more fiber, as well as more immune-supporting selenium and bone-strengthening magnesium. Better flavor, too. 3) For a heart-healthier choice, look for a dog with less than 3 grams of saturated fat. Poultry dogs tend to be leaner, veggie dogs leanest of all.
From a health perspective, I'd say the hamburger (a quarter-pounder made of 90 percent-lean ground beef) is the hands-down healthier option--it has four times the protein and iron, five times the zinc and a quarter of the sodium of a hot dog. And with a proper portion, the calories are comparable (300 calories for the 3-ounce patty on an English muffin vs. 270 for the hot dog and bun). Just know that when you start to size up that burger, you're getting more of everything...including calories.
(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at http://www.eatingwell.com.)