You don't want fries with that

The nutritional nitty-gritty of the hamburger


Jamie Kripke

The unwholesome state of the American diet is often summed up in one word: hamburgers. Nutritionists point to hamburgers as a high-fat, nutrient-poor meal, yet we can’t seem to get enough of them. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association estimates that each American eats an average of 47 burgers a year — nearly one a week — and that restaurants served up more than 8 billion hamburger patties in 2004.

So what exactly are you getting when you bite into a burger? We assembled a burger that you might make at home or buy at a fast-food place, then asked the Stanford Prevention Research Center to run a nutritional analysis.

Our burger consists of:

  • White enriched bun
  • 4-oz. broiled hamburger patty (20 percent fat)
  • Slice of processed American cheese
  • 1 Tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbsp. ketchup
  • 1 Tbsp. deli mustard
  • 1/2-inch-thick slice of tomato
  • 1/4-inch-thick slice of onion
  • Leaf of iceberg lettuce
  • Sliced kosher dill pickle

Weighing in at 538 calories, our burger constitutes 27 percent of the total calories in a typical daily 2,000-calorie food plan. And that’s just the entrée for one of your three meals. Add some fries or potato chips and a soda to wash it all down, and you’ll have swallowed a large portion of the day’s total calories in one sitting.

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In addition, 294 of the burger’s calories come from fat, and 96 of those calories are the saturated “bad” fats that raise your cholesterol and clog your arteries. The burger alone contains half of your saturated fat allotment for the whole day since saturated fat intake shouldn’t exceed 10 percent of your total calories.

And the burger racks up a whopping 1,334 milligrams of sodium — more than half the daily maximum of 2,400 mgs. Although burgers don’t taste sweet, the bun and other components contain 11 grams of sugar, which is 21 percent of the recommended daily maximum.

Then there are the burger’s deficiencies. For instance, the tomato, onion, lettuce and pickle combined barely add up to one serving of vegetables. And the hamburger provides just 8 percent of the daily amount of fiber you need to keep your digestive system working properly. Unless the rest of your meals are chock-full of veggies and whole grains, your food pyramid will collapse.

Before you fire up the grill next time, remember the nutritional cost of that hamburger. It’s food for thought.

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