It’s that time of year. The sun is out, the grill is out, and those burgers are ready to be cooked to the perfect temperature. But maybe you’re on a diet, so you feel you can’t have a burger. What if you can have that burger you’re craving just by putting a healthy spin on it? Would you be interested?

We asked Jeff Lucchino, MS, RD, CSSD, a registered dietitian nutritionist at UPMC Sports Nutrition, to weigh in on the subject. A specialist in sports dietetics, weight management, and disease prevention, Jeff shared his top 5 tips for turning that high-calorie burger into a healthier version:

1. Choose a Leaner Ground Meat

As simple as it sounds, choosing 90% or leaner ground beef decreases the fat and the overall calorie content. A 3-ounce 80/20 patty has 16 grams of fat and 213 calories. But a 3-ounce 90/10 patty has only 8 grams of fat and 150 calories.

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2. Swap a Traditional Bun for a Thinner One or Lettuce Wrap

This is another simple, easy swap to reduce carbohydrates and calories but still enjoy that delicious burger. If you want to keep the bread, there are 110 calories in a bagel thin compared to 230 calories in a traditional hamburger bun. That’s a savings of over 100 calories.

To put the calorie savings into perspective, the average 180-pound person burns a little over 100 calories by walking a mile. Not a fan of exercise? Jeff suggests you choose a calorie-saving lettuce wrap. Lettuce has very few calories (a cup has only 5 calories).

3. Add Some Color to Your Burger

There’s nothing wrong with an original hamburger or cheeseburger, especially if you lighten it up with tips one and two. But you can combine different fruits and veggies to add flavor and nutritional value. Jeff’s favorite fruit to add to a burger is pineapple — although initially he was skeptical about the taste. But trying it once sold him on the flavor combo and he rarely goes without. The pineapple tastes great and adds vitamin C, bromelain (a protein-digesting enzyme), and fiber.

There are other amazing fruits and vegetables you can add to your summer burger for some extra nutrition, including:

  • Avocado
  • Greens: romaine lettuce, Bibb lettuce, spinach, field greens, arugula
  • Tomatoes
  • Onions
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Mushrooms
  • Pickles
  • Tropical salsa: mango, avocado, tomato

4. Try a Hamburger Alternative

When choosing hamburger alternatives, a generic veggie burger isn’t the only option. Think about protein alternatives for ground meat. These are Jeff’s top 3:

  • Chicken/turkey
  • Black bean/veggie
  • Salmon

By swapping ground meat for an alternative, you’re opening yourself up to a different flavor profile — and an entirely new nutrition profile! Salmon, for example, contains omega 3s, which occur naturally in fatty fish. Omega 3s reduce inflammation and may lower the risk of heart disease.

5. Don’t Forget Healthy Side Dishes

When you create your favorite healthy burger, pair it with something healthy and tasty! These are some of Jeff’s favorite side dishes that serve as healthy complements to revised burgers at your next outdoor barbeque:

  • Fresh fruit salad
  • 3-bean salad
  • Baked potato or sweet potato fries (fresh potatoes, sliced into fry-size portions, baked)
  • Homemade salsa with baked chips
  • Homemade guac and veggie tray
  • No-mayo coleslaw (use nonfat Greek yogurt)

Want to learn more or schedule a session with Jeff? Please call 724-720-3081 or email

About Sports Medicine

Sports and physical activity bring with them a potential for injury. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury – or improve athletic performance – UPMC Sports Medicine and the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program can help. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our experts partner with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers, and about 100 other high school, college, and regional teams and events throughout Pennsylvania – working daily to build better athletes.