Grill a Guiltless Burger: The Healthy Cheeseburger Recipe

Craving a juicy cheeseburger? Try this healthy cheeseburger alternative. STACK Expert Kait Fortunato remakes the American classic with a few simple swaps.

paradisiac cheeseburger

Editor's Note: From the fast food drive-thru and the take-out box to the backyard BBQ, STACK expert Kait Fortunato is taking our favorite indulgences and turning them into healthy, everyday meals. Now you can eat what you love on a daily basis without impacting your performance or health. These simple do-it-yourself recipes prove you can eat good fats, lean protein and whole grains but still have a meal that tastes great. This week, Kait shows you how to create a healthy cheeseburger.

The Almighty Cheeseburger

I'm excited to kick off my new STACK feature: meal makeovers! I'm a huge advocate for eating what you love and indulging in your favorite foods. Even better is being able to enjoy treats on a regular basis.

Sometimes, nothing sounds more satisfying than a juicy, fresh-off-the-grill burger topped with cheese. Particularly in the summertime. Juicy burgers are basically an American barbeque tradition and a drive-thru staple. Especially when you add a quality bun, lettuce, tomato, toppings (mayonnaise, mustard and/or ketchup) and complete it with a serving of French fries. (Ordering a burger? See the best choices at Burger King,Wendy's and The McDonald's Dollar Menu.)

Doesn't just picturing the sizzling patty make your mouth water? Despite their tastiness, we know cheeseburgers are not a healthy everyday choice. Just glance at the red flags of high saturated fat and sodium counts. (See how your selection fares: Select the Leanest Cuts of Beef.)

Traditional Cheeseburger Meal

Nutrition Profile

  • 563 calories
  • 28 grams fat
  • 9 grams saturated fat
  • 50 mg cholesterol
  • 885 mg sodium
  • 54 grams of carbohydrates
  • 3 grams fiber
  • 20 grams protein

This meal will overall leave you feeling lethargic with low energy as the day progresses. From the standpoint of a sports dietitian, I would much prefer athletes pack their plates with healthier fats, whole grains and less sodium. Here's how to create a healthy cheeseburger.

Healthy Cheeseburger Meal

Bison Burger on whole grain bun topped with avocado, spinach and spicy mustard, served with carrot fries.) 

With an almost identical taste and texture as ground beef, lean ground bison is an excellent choice for a healthier cheeseburger. The average serving of bison meat contains one-third of the fat of beef. It also contains more iron per serving! Essential for cell growth, iron promotes oxygen delivery to your cells during exercise, resulting in less fatigue and better athletic performance. High intensity exercise depletes your iron storage, so it's important for athletes to regularly consume foods rich in this vital nutrient. This means you can indulge in this meal frequently!

Swapping the refined white bread bun for a whole grain bun contributes to satiety while adding a serving of whole grains. We're also trading out the cheese for the avocado. Although total fat is similar, the key is in the type of fat. Avocado adds healthy, satisfying omega 3 fats, whereas full-fat cheese is high in saturated fat. The creamy texture of the avocado also limits the need for dressings like ketchup and mayonnaise.

When foods are rich in flavor and spice, they are more satisfying and filling. Spicy mustard is a perfect example of this as it adds flavor without extra calories and fat.

Finally, the roasted carrots on the side are a great swap for white potatoes. Providing a wide array of nutrients, carrots are known for their ability to stabilize blood sugars. Plus, you still get a crunchy texture similar to fries.

Ingredients for one bison burger

  • 1/3 pound ground bison
  • 1 whole-wheat bun
  • 1/2 small avocado
  • 1/3-cup fresh spinach
  • 1 tablespoon spicy mustard


(Cooking note: Because of its lower fat content, bison meat needs to be cooked at a lower heat for less time than ground beef.  Here is an excellent tutorial for using bison meat.)

  • Form the ground bison into a flat hamburger patty; feel free to mix in herbs or spices.
  • Place on the grill over medium-high heat until cooked to an internal temperature of 140F.
  • Assemble burger with avocado and spinach.

Nutrition Profile

  • 635 calories
  • 30 grams fat
  • 6 grams saturated fat
  • 70 mg cholesterol
  • 367 mg sodium
  • 24 grams of carbohydrates
  • 8 grams fiber
  • 40 grams protein

Happy grilling! (Are you a vegetarian or looking to try something new? I also highly recommend this Black Bean Burger recipe for another great burger swap.)

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock