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Beef vs. Vegetarian Burgers

Karen Alexander, Licensed Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

June 14, 2019

Hamburgers are one of the staples of the American kitchen. On average, Americans eat three hamburgers a week, which represents nearly 50 billion burgers a year or 156 burgers per person annually. In this bulletin, I will share the pros and cons of both beef and vegetarian burgers as well as two delicious recipes for you to try at home.

Pros of eating meat hamburgers
• Conventional or grass fed meats are a good source of protein, phosphorus, iron, zinc, selenium and B vitamins (B3, B6, B12).
• Conventional beef has more fats (including saturated fats) than grass fed beef.
• Grass fed beef can be a rich source of certain important fatty acids, in particular, the omega-3 fatty acids (ω3), omega-6 (ω-6) fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid, as well as vitamins A and E.
• Too much red meat can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and some types of cancer.

Cons of eating meat hamburgers
• High in saturated fats and iron facilitate the formation of cancer-causing substances during the cooking process.
• You probably are getting some anabolic hormones, pesticides and other toxins from chemicals on the feed, when you eat conventional ground beef.
• If processed, hamburger meat might contain nitrates salt, which is linked with increased risk for colorectal and stomach cancer.
• Requires more water (1800 gallons per pound of ground beef) and more fertilizers for its production.

As we have discussed in previous bulletins, eating more than 12-18 ounces of red meat per week increases the risk of colorectal cancers, regardless of how you cook them. Although a large marketing campaign advertised pork as the new white meat, according to the AICR beef, lamb and pork are all red meats and thus awareness about the intake is recommended. On the other hand, according to researches eating any amount of processed meat regularly (including bacon, sausage, ham, salami, etc.) increases the risk of stomach, colorectal cancer and breast cancer.

For more information visit these links:
Processed Meats and Alcohol Linked to Stomach Cancer AICR Reports
Can Red or Processed Meat Increase Your Breast Cancer Risk?
Does Processed Food Increase Your Cancer Risk? 

Furthermore, grilling, barbecuing and smoking red or white meats at high temperatures forms cancer-causing substances, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (present in the flames and may stick to the surface of meat) and heterocyclic amines (formed in the meat due to the high temperatures). It should be noted that grilling fruits and vegetables do not cause the formation of those cancer-causing substances.

Here are some tips to reduce the formation of cancer-causing substances when grilling your hamburgers:
• If you pre-cook your meats in the microwave, oven or stove and put them on the grill for a final touch of flavor, this will reduce the formation of cancer-causing substances. Just make sure you cook them right away after you pre-cook them. Otherwise, you might experience a foodborne disease.
• Turn the hamburgers frequently to prevent charred areas.

On the other hand, experts in cancer prevention recommend following a plant-based diet to reduce the risk of cancer.

Pros of plant-based (vegetarian) burgers
• Depending on the recipe, they can be high in plant-based protein and fiber content
• Other nutrients may vary according to the ingredients
• Less fat content (usually cholesterol-free)
• Produces fewer greenhouse gases
• Requires less water, land, and fertilizers for its production, especially if it is grass-fed beef.

Cons of plant-based (vegetarian) burgers
• If you have food allergies, you should be aware of the ingredients of the vegetarian burger. They might contain soy protein, dairy, wheat eggs, nuts, seeds, and corn derivatives.

There is no right or wrong. It is all about balance. Remember the 80:20 rule. Watch what you eat 80% of the time and enjoy life treating yourself 20% of the time. Continue reading to get two delicious recipes for meat hamburgers and vegetarian burgers:

Jamie Oliver’s Meat hamburger Recipe

Olive oil
2 medium red onions , peeled and finely chopped
6 Jacob’s crackers, or 4 slices of bread, crusts removed
500 g quality lean minced beef
1 large free-range egg
1 handful Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Spicy Mayo
2 teaspoons low-fat mayonnaise, made with free-range eggs
2 teaspoons fat-free natural yogurt
1 teaspoon tomato ketchup
1 good pinch smoked paprika or cayenne pepper
½ juice of a lemon

To Serve
6 rashers higher-welfare smoked streaky bacon
6 large burger buns, or 18 small burger buns
1 soft round lettuce, leaves washed and spun dry
4 tomatoes, sliced
6 gherkins, sliced
a few pickled chilies

1. Put a splash of olive oil into a large frying pan on a low heat and add your chopped onions. Fry for 10 minutes or until the onions have softened, then put to one side to cool completely. Blitz your crackers or bread in a food processor until you get a fine consistency. Oil a clean baking tray and put aside. Put the cooled onions into a large bowl with the rest of the burger ingredients, and add 1 teaspoon of sea salt and 1 heaped teaspoon of black pepper. Use clean hands to scrunch the mixture together really well, then divide into 6 equal balls for burgers and 18 equal balls for sliders.

2. Wet your hands and roll the balls into burger-shaped patties about 2 cm thick. Place your burgers or sliders on the oiled baking tray and pat with a little olive oil. Cover them with cling film and put the tray into the fridge for at least an hour, or until the patties firm up. This is a good time to make your spicy mayo, so put all the ingredients into a bowl, mix well and put to one side.

3. If using a frying pan or griddle pan, put it on a high heat now and let it get really hot. However you decide to cook your burgers, they’ll want around 3 or 4 minutes per side – you may have to cook them in batches if your pan isn’t big enough. When your burgers or sliders are nearly cooked on one side, add the rashers of bacon – whichever way you’re cooking them – then flip the burgers and cook the bacon until golden and crisp. When the burgers are cooked to your liking and it’s all looking really good, halve your burger buns and warm them through. Put the bacon on a plate lined with kitchen paper to drain.

4. When everything comes together pop your burgers or sliders on to their buns, add all your lovely toppings and your spicy mayo (you know how to put a burger together!). Then tuck in with a lovely fresh salad, baked potato or potato wedges.

Food Network’s Veggie hamburger Recipe

Two 15-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 large cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs, beaten
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 whole-grain hamburger buns
Serving suggestions: lettuce, tomato slices, and red onion slices

Greek Mayo
1 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cloves garlic, grated
Juice of 1 lemon

1. For the burgers: Add the beans to a large bowl with the breadcrumbs, lemon juice, oregano, salt, pepper, garlic, eggs, and onions. Mash with a fork or your hands until the mixture is homogeneous. Portion into 6 patties and refrigerate for 1 hour.

2. For the mayo: In a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise, oregano, pepper, salt, garlic, and lemon juice.

3. Heat a medium pan over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Cook the burgers until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Place each burger on a bun, and top with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and some Greek mayo to serve.

Let us know your favorite hamburger (meat or vegetarian burger), and share with us your favorite recipe on our Facebook page.


Have a great weekend!

Karen Alexander, MS, RDN, LD/N

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