Eli5: lettuce, tomato, meat, pickles, cheese = healthy, burger = unhealthy, how ?

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Eli5: lettuce, tomato, meat, pickles, cheese = healthy, burger = unhealthy, how ?

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Ground beef and cheese are high fat, especially saturated fat. The bun is a highly processed white carb. Not terrible, but generally not what anyone would consider a health food.

Then you add fries, onion rings, chips, etc. as a side and maybe bacon, special sauce, and other toppings and you end up pretty clearly unhealthy. A typical restaurant burger is close to 1,000 calories with another 500+ calories from the side. That’s a lot for most people.

Burgers are generally considered unhealthy because they are very high in calories, therefore most of us pretty sedentary humans end up eating too much.

Also many fast food burgers are high fat meat, increasing the calories without the other beneficial nutrients. Also the vegetable portions of the burger tend to be very low relative to the normal serving sizes of these, so the fibre and nutrient contributions are lower than you’d really expect.

Like any food though, there’s very little which is completely unhealthy, it’s all about it contribution to your overall calorie and nutrient demands.

I’m assuming the classic American burger here:

* Lettuce – classic iceberg lettuce is lower in nutrients compared to many of its brethren like romaine. Also less fiber. It’s not *bad*, just not as good as some alternatives.

* Tomato – pretty healthy, no complaints here.

* Meat – Single patties can be fine, but people really like multiple patties or really thick ones. Given that it’s ground beef, it’ll have a decently high fat content, so that’s a relatively high portion of your daily intake of fat, cholesterol, etc.

* Cheese – American cheese tends to be extremely high in saturated fat and sodium, with a single slice being up to 20-25% of the recommended daily intake.

* Pickles – usually ok.

Saturated fat to clog your arteries and heme iron to give you cancer. Bonus points if it is charred. Yum!!

Don’t forget some patties could be marinated with extra sauces, so a variety of extra ingredients that don’t add anything to actual nutritional value, but makes them taste incredibly good.

But that is not to say ALL burgers are unhealthy. If you take some lean ground beef, make your own patties with a little seasoning, don’t overdo anything with extra oils, pan fry instead of char grilled, use relatively healthier bread options for the bun, or instead use extra lettuce to wrap it, and you could have a pretty healthy burger.

It’s just about the quality of the ingredients and how you make it. A homemade burger with whole grain bun, lean beef, quality cheese, and quality produce (not iceberg) and only small amounts of ‘sauce’ (ketchup, mustard, etc) can be a healthy meal.

A big Mac that has fatty meat, low quality cheese and produce, and extra sauce is not healthy.

Burgers (especially from restaurants or fast food) can be very high in sodium and bad fats… even sugar or other things we get too much of when you count toppings. They can also be really calorie dense (lots of sauces, etc.) and carb heavy (bun ratio). Red meat isn’t bad in moderation, but many people eat it too much and that can be a problem too. Additionally, burgers are often paired with twice-deep-fried and heavily salted potatoes (i.e. french fries), cheese, etc. All in all it’s easy for a typical burger experience to be high in a lot of things that people need to watch out for.

That said, on the other end… a non-burger sandwich isn’t necessarily healthy either. Processed meats have issues like high sodium as well. Sandwiches in general can also lead to us eating more carbs (bread ratio) in general and more calorie/sugar/etc dense sauces. Sandwiches are definitely not inherently healthy. They are from an era when filling up on bread was the most viable thing for a lot of people.

But it is all relative. Healthy eating is about moderation and whether a burger creates an issue for you isn’t something you can answer without seeing the rest of a person’s diet. I think the thing is that “the kind of diet” that is heavy in burgers is often heavy in other unhealthy things (e.g. french fries, fast food, excesses of red meat, fat and sodium) and also that that style of food (slapping some meat and veg between big pieces of bread) may be conducive to the wrong proportions of nutrients. Most people probably need to eat a much higher proportion of vegetables but if you look at most sandwiches and burgers, the proportion that is vegetables is often a minority.

It depends on whom you talk to.

The burger patty has a lot of fat and the bun is high in carbs. It has been assumed that eating fat makes you fat, but this has been called into question. Some believe this association came from bad science paid for by the sugar industry to try to say that fat makes you fat, but sugar does not. In this new anti-carb world, the bun would be the worst part.

Those who follow Atkins/paleo/low carb/high protein diets would eat the vegetable and the meat. Skip the bun and the sauces.

We go though cycles, in the 80s everything was about “complex carbohydrates” and pasta was the best thing to eat.

Before that, they used to advertise the amount of sugar they put in cereal because kids need calories to make it though the day.

It is really tough to get truly independent diet studies because most of the funding comes from people who have a stake in the result.

It’s nice to have the variety of foods on a well-dressed burger. Your body will appreciate things like the fiber and variety of nutrients. But calorie density is the real king of healthy vs unhealthy food choices. A burger can easily end up being in the 500-1000 calorie range, so you can see how eating a couple in a day or eating one every day can put you at risk for eating way too many calories.

Beef and cheese are also very high in cholesterol. Meanwhile beef, cheese, any condiments, and maybe even the bun can be high in sodium. So some people who have heart, kidney, or other circulatory disease may want to steer clear or alter their burger.

It’s not impossible to fit something like a burger into a healthy diet, though. You just have to plan. Maybe don’t add fries or soda. Or think of it as your big meal for the day and choose much lighter food for your other meals on a day where you eat a big burger.

Proportions. A typical hamburger is *mostly* meat, cheese, and bun. There are vegetables there, but they make up a small fraction of the total material in the meal.

If you flipped it and made a salad with lots of lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles but only a small portion of meat, bread (croutons, etc.), and cheese, then you’d have a very different nutritional profile despite using exactly the same ingredients.