Burgers are an American culinary staple. But if you’re ordering a burger at your favorite chain restaurant, its nutrition content is likely not top-of-mind. To put it bluntly: burgers are not a ‘health’ food. Still, it is possible to order a somewhat healthier burger next time you decide to indulge in one, according to dietitians.
“We all enjoy a fast food stop now and then, and by choosing healthier options, like salads or grilled chicken dishes, you can probably meet your goals more easily,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It – Taking You from Label to Table.
But if you’re in the mood for a burger, she notes that most will contain around the amount of sodium you need in an entire day and way more calories, fat, and saturated fat you’d otherwise want in a single meal. Luckily, there are ways to make your burger healthier with some simple swaps.
“If you want a better burger, you can build one by adding some veggies (lettuce, tomato, onion) and trimming some add-ons (like cheese, bacon, and sauces/dressings),” says Taub-Dix.
Here are 10 of the healthiest burgers at major restaurant chains, according to dietitians.
Per Serving: 540 calories, 26g fat (11.5 g saturated fat), 380mg sodium, 39g carbs (2g fiber, 8g sugar), 16g protein
“This burger is lower in calories compared to other fast-food burgers and you can always add toppings like lettuce, tomato, and grilled onions to help make this burger more filling,” says Amber Pankonin, MS, RD, registered dietitian, and owner of the food blog Stirlist. “Keep in mind that condiments like mayonnaise or ketchup can add additional calories and sodium, so be mindful of how much you add.”
Per Serving: 740 calories, 48g fat (19 g saturated fat), 1280mg sodium, 42g carbs (0g fiber, 9g sugar), 33g protein
“The great thing about this option is that you can easily modify it in order to make this burger a little healthier,” says Pankonin. “This burger comes with two classic patties topped with American cheese, mayonnaise, and onion straws. You could ask for a single patty or ask to leave off the cheese or onion straws. That would easily lower both total calories, fat, and sodium.”
Per Serving: 700 calories, 51g fat (16 g saturated fat), 1240mg sodium, 36g carbs (5g fiber, 4g sugar), 30g protein
“Compared to other burgers on the menu, this burger offers a little more fiber because of the avocado,” says Pankonin. “You could ask to hold the bacon which would lower total calories, fat, and sodium.”
Per Serving: 990 calories, 60g fat (22g saturated fat), 1070mg sodium, 56g carbs (2g fiber, 11g sugar), 56g protein
“There are limited burger options at Cracker Barrel, so you’ll have to make a few modifications in order to make it healthier,” says Pankonin. “This burger comes with two slices of Colby cheese, so you could ask for a single slice or no cheese at all. The other option would be to hold the mayonnaise as that will also add a significant amount of calories, fat, and sodium.”
Per Serving: 990 calories, 60g fat (22g saturated fat), 1880mg sodium, 64g carbs (3g fiber, 19g sugar), 46g protein
“There are several burger options at Cheesecake Factory but this one is the lowest in calories and sodium. In order to make this healthier, you could ask for the burger to be wrapped in lettuce or go bunless,” says Pankonin. “The Brioche bun contributes to quite a few calories and sodium, so skipping the bun could help if you’re concerned about calories and sodium.”
Per Serving: 850 calories, 53g fat (22g saturated fat), 1220mg sodium, 46g carbs (4g fiber, 11g sugar), 48g protein
“The lowest calorie option is the Oldtimer with Cheese Burger at 850 calories, half of which come from fat,” says Taub-Dix. “This isn’t what I would necessarily call a ‘healthy’ option, but considering that the other Big Mouth Bites could bring in 1,200-1,700 calories per burger, it might be one of the better choices.”
She adds that although Chili’s burgers include some of their highest-calorie options, you can customize your choice to slim down the burger to change its nutritional profile.
“Perhaps a plain burger without cheese could bring down the calories, fat, and sodium, or better yet—try one of their Black Bean Burgers at 200 calories per burger and enjoy some plant protein and slash your saturated fat and sodium content (8 g fat, 1 g sat fat and 540 mg sodium),” says Taub-Dix.
Per Serving: 810 calories, 50g fat (24g saturated fat), 1620mg sodium, 50g carbs (2g fiber, 14g sugar), 38g protein
Taub-Dix is a fan of this burger from Outback Steakhouse, but she suggests removing the cheese to reduce calories and fat. “If you’re okay with a smaller portion, you might want to downsize to the Joey Menu and choose a Boomerang Cheeseburger, which only has 590 calories,” she says.
Per Serving: 370 calories, 18g fat (8 g saturated fat), 850mg sodium, 24g carbs ( 0g fiber, 5g sugar), 29g protein
“Shake Shack Hamburger is probably one of the lowest calorie picks for burgers with the least amount of saturated fat and sodium per burger,” says Taub-Dix. “There’s probably no need to scale this one down any further (but you might be tempted to grab a 750-calorie chocolate shake!).”
Per Serving: 880 calories, 55g fat (22 g saturated fat), 1970mg sodium, 48g carbs ( 5g fiber, 11g sugar), 50g protein
“If your whole family wants to go to Texas Roadhouse and you really want to get a burger, this might be the best burger option there,” says Taub-Dix. “You can ditch the cheese, getting rid of 200 calories.”
Per Serving: 1120 calories, 66g fat (20g saturated fat), 1880mg sodium, 90g carbs ( 7g fiber, 7g sugar), 43g protein
“The Classic Burger seems to be the best of Applebee’s choices. The only burger weighing in with less calories is the Impossible Cheeseburger (non-meat), yet this one provides a whopping 2,600 mg sodium and it’s not much better in the total fat (56 g) and saturated fat (18g) categories,” says Taub-Dix.