You can smell it. Hovering in the air is the aroma of grilled meat, especially hamburgers, as their drippings sizzle over the coals and create smoke that makes your mouth water. Someone in the neighborhood is having a barbecue and grilling a lot of hamburgers.
And we Americans eat a lot of hamburgers. The USDA estimates the annual consumption of 2.4 burgers per American per day. Even if you don’t often eat burgers year-round, you probably eat more than usual during the summer when the backyard grills come out of hibernation.
While we’re in the midst of grilling season and hamburgers are being thrown at Webers everywhere, it seems like the best time to review the potential side effects and possible health hazards of eating hamburgers. Read on to learn what happens to your body when you eat a lot of hamburgers, and for more, don’t miss The Secret Side Effects of Eating Watermelon, Says Science.
A quarter pound of Whopper with cheese from Burger King contains 740 calories, 57% of which come from fat. For some perspective, a moderately active woman between the ages of 26 and 50 needs 2,000 calories a day, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. That fast-food burger is almost half of all the calories your body needs. to work for a day.
With these numbers in mind, it’s not surprising that a study published in the journal Ethnicity and disease found that women who ate hamburgers from restaurants at least twice a week were 26% more likely to become obese than women who rarely ate burgers over the 14-year time period of the study.
“We recommend limiting red meat and reducing the amount of fatty red meats as they are high in saturated fat, which can raise levels of LDL, the low-density lipoprotein,” says Julia Zumpano, RD, RHPwho specializes in preventive cardiology and rehabilitation in the Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Medical Nutrition Therapy.
LDL is known as the bad kind of cholesterol because it tends to stick to the walls of blood vessels, where it can narrow them, choking off blood flow and increasing your chances of having a heart attack or stroke. Studies show that the high levels of saturated fat and trans fatty acids in hamburgers raise LDL cholesterol while lowering “good” HDL cholesterol.
Eat this! Tip: “If you eat red meat, choose lean cuts of this type,” says Zumpano. “If you’re going to eat a burger, make your own with 90 percent lean ground beef, or consider a steak instead or a lean grilled pork chop.” For cardiovascular health, you’re better off getting four grams of saturated fat from a nice steak than fast food and commercial baked goods.”
When you eat a lot of fast-food or home-cooked hamburgers, you’re also ingesting a lot of sugar in the form of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) with condiments like ketchup, barbecue sauce, pickles, and even the bun. This cheap corn sweetener is notorious for raising blood sugar quickly. Over time, high blood sugar can lead to insulin resistance and pre-diabetes, and eventually full-blown type 2 diabetes. The fact that most burger buns are made with bleached white flour, which is devoid of fiber, doesn’t help either.
Study in Circulation found that people who ate at fast food restaurants more than twice a week were at a higher risk of metabolic syndrome, a set of health problems that include high blood sugar and a bad cholesterol profile, type 2 diabetes, and coronary heart disease than people who reported not eating fast food.
Eat this! Tip: Zumpano’s Burger Build Improvements: Use mustard instead of ketchup. “Most mustards are low in sodium and rarely contain sugar.” Replace cheese with toppings like “vegetables, sauerkraut, or avocado.” And 100% whole grain bread is preferred because it contains fiber that slows digestion and the entry of sugars into the blood. “Try the thin whole-wheat buns, which are lower in calories, or eat your burger open-faced, with just the bottom of the bun, with a fork and knife,” says Zumpano.
Eating red meat and processed meats such as bacon and sausages is linked to high blood levels of a key marker of inflammation called C-reactive protein (CRP), according to a study in Journal of the American College of Nutrition. These other ingredients that usually accompany hamburgers—white flour buns, bacon, cheese, sweet condiments, and fries—are all pro-inflammatory foods. A separate study in Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that eating many of these inflammatory foods led to a 38% increased risk of cardiovascular disease compared to people whose diet did not regularly include pro-inflammatory foods.
Eating a fast-food burger loads your body with large amounts of salt, some of which contain nearly half of the daily 2,300 mg that the American Heart Association recommends most adults fall short of. A McDonald’s Big Mac, for example, contains 1,010 mg of sodium. A high-sodium diet can raise your blood pressure, and you know that chronic high blood pressure, or hypertension, is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke.
If you develop a habit of eating hamburgers, your doctor may one day tell you that you have nephrolithiasis. But you will have an idea long before you see your doctor, because you will already be suffering from the severe pain of kidney stones. A diet rich in animal protein can lead to increased excretion of uric acid, which forms those scale-like mineral deposits that are so painful to urinate. Study in magazine Clinical science found that men who ate an extra 4 ounces of ground beef each day increased their chances of developing kidney stones by 250%.
While we know these potential side effects of eating burgers, we know you probably won’t suddenly become a vegetarian. But at least you know enough about the health risks to decide to grill more fish and vegetables to limit your red meat consumption. And when you put that burger patty on the grill, be sure to follow USDA guidelines and cook it to a safe minimum internal temperature of 160°F. Also, avoid charring the meat. Studies show that very well-done meat is linked to certain types of cancer, especially colon cancer. Eating healthy is the most effective preventative step you can take. Start getting more The 50 Best Foods to Reduce Cancer Risk.
Jeff Chatari, an Eat This, Not That! contributor, is responsible for editing Galvanized Media’s books and magazines and advising journalism students through the Zinczenko Center for New Media at Moravian University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Read more