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18 May 2006
In Search of the Better Burger

By Eddie Burkhalter
JSU News Bureau

Hamburgers are part of Americana, and a long-time favorite with students on-the-go, including those at Jacksonville State University. But concern over health and the nutrient content of their favorite meal has some JSU students changing the way they think of their beloved beef.

"I do worry about how unhealthy burgers are for me," says JSU freshman Erica Howard. "So I try and only eat them two or three times a week."

Is there a way to make burgers healthier? How about adding seaweed?

Scientists at the University of Newcastle have examined the properties of brown-colored seaweed called Lessonia and Laminaria, found in the Far East, South America and parts of Norway and Scotland. By removing some of the fat of a burger and replacing it with the extract from the seaweed, scientists believe it can slow digestion and greatly boost the burger's fiber content without changing the taste.

If a seaweed burger sounds a bit too much, try a different meat. Leaner cuts of meat are a healthier choice. For variety, make burgers with lean ground beef, veal, chicken or turkey. Increase the nutrient value by adding finely minced carrots, celery and onions to the mixture; bind with some bread crumbs or matzo meal. Be careful not to over-handle the mixture or your burgers will be tough.

JSU's Dr. Tim Roberts, associate professor of family and consumer sciences, says good old-fashioned safe cooking is still the soundest advice, no matter which meat you select.

"You need to make sure the meat is cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees," Roberts said. "This is essential in removing all of the harmful organisms, such as e coli."

Here are some other tips:
  • When making a beef burger, use lean beef and cut the amount in half; then fill it with vegetables, tomatoes and lettuce.

  • Sear all vegetable burgers over high heat first to lock in moisture.

  • To keep turkey and veggie burgers juicy, don't press down on the patties while cooking.

  • Instead of hamburger rolls, try pita pockets or English muffins.

  • Spruce up your burger with greens (experiment with arugula and watercress, if available) and mustard, salsas or chutneys. Consider trying a sauce of nonfat sour cream plus mustard, which add flavor without adding fat.

  • When making a turkey burger, look for ground turkey made from white breast meat. Dark turkey meat may contain skin and commonly contains as much fat as ground beef.
The manner in which a burger is prepared can be as unhealthy as the fat content. Grilled meat contains known and suspected carcinogens. While it has not been firmly established whether it contains enough to significantly increase your risk of cancer, many health researchers are taking the better-safe-than-sorry approach.

Grilled meats produce at least two types of potentially dangerous chemicals: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs). PAHs are formed from imperfect combustion found in smoke and burned matter. In large enough quantities they can cause cancer in humans. In barbecue grills they are formed by dripping fat that flares up, charring the underside of the meat.

HCAs are the result of reactions between chemicals in muscle meat produced by high heat or prolonged cooking. Unlike PAHs, HCAs are found inside the meat. Also unlike PAHs, HCAs are not more likely to be produced during grilling. They can be produced in an oven or a frying pan if the heat is too high.

Here are some tips that may help reduce the risk:
  • Do not overcook your food.

  • Avoid flare-ups by not placing your food directly over coals

  • Cook at lower temperatures.

  • Cut away blackened bits.

  • Microwave meat for one or two minutes before grilling to reduce the chemicals that produce HCAs.
For more information on cooking healthy hamburgers, go to Mayo Clinic and type "hamburgers" in the search box.

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