How to Make a Gut-Friendly Burger or Hot Dog, Per RDs

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If there is one menu item that becomes a must-have as days grow longer and temperatures get higher, it is certainly grilled meat. Whether it comes in the form of salmon steak, a burger (or veggie burger), or a hot dog, summer is synonymous with outdoor cooking and protein sandwiched between buns. And while grilling is certainly a healthy cooking method, subsiding solely upon charred meat is not necessarily great for maintaining a well-balanced gut microbiome.

Luckily, there are a few easy adjustments you can make to your grilled meat-slash-alt-meat menu that can result in a meal that will boost (and even soothe) your digestive system. From pickled toppings and probiotic-rich condiments to fiber-filled mix-ins for burgers, dogs, and other forms of grilled protein, it isn’t difficult to give your summer cookout menu a gut-friendly glow-up. We chatted with a couple RDs to help determine how to upgrade grilled protein to be better for your digestive system.

How to make a gut-friendly burger or hot dog, according to dietitians

1. Add vegetables as a topping or as a mix-in to your burger.

“Any form of veggie will make a great gut-friendly burger topping, because the fiber in vegetables helps feed good gut bacteria,” says registered dietitian Krista Linares, RDN. “This includes sliced onions, tomato, lettuce, bell pepper, or avocado slices.”

Vegetables can also be mixed directly into your patty if you’re electing to make your own burgers with ground beef, fish, or turkey. This method allows you to easily increase your patty’s fiber, lean protein, vitamin, and mineral content.

Registered dietitian Keri Gans, RDN especially recommends chopping mushrooms into your burger. “Chopped mushrooms blend perfectly with ground beef and add a good amount of fiber and other nutrients to your gut-friendly burger,” she notes. “Fiber may help prevent constipation and normalize bowel movement regularity.” The addition of vegetables can also add more body and substance to your burger, creating more depth of flavor and texture.

Of course, you could add a wide range of mix-ins beyond vegetables to your patties as well. Quinoa is a particularly popular gut-friendly option for folks looking to add some nutty flavor and fiber to their burgers—plus even more protein. Eggs can also help act as a binder in burgers, especially if you’re planning on adding a number of spices.

2. Consider a fermented topping.

“Sauerkraut and relish are fermented foods that may help increase probiotics and postbiotics in your gut. These forms of gut-friendly bacteria balance your microbiome and help maintain a healthy digestive system. They can also boost your immune system and help fight infections,” Gans says. She also recommends slicing some fermented dill pickles on your burger or adding pickled veggies to your hot dog to reap the same benefits.

If you’re looking for a delicious Korean-inspired spin, Linares suggests adding kimchi as a burger or hot dog topping as well to help support healthy gut bacteria. While kimchi is traditionally comprised of fermented radish and cabbage, you can try fermenting any of your favorite vegetables (such as onions, cucumbers, or green beans) in kimchi spices to suit whatever your palette prefers most.

3. Opt for a plant-based burger.

Black bean and lentil-based burgers are delicious fiber-filled alternatives to meatier-tasting plant-based patties, like Beyond or Impossible. Vegan hot dogs made from soy or tofu are also tasty options for those looking to cut down on animal product consumption. And given the health benefits associated with many of these meat alternatives, nutritionists say that they’re worth adding to your menu every once in awhile, even if you’re not a vegan or vegetarian.

“Vegan burgers and hot dogs can be healthy choices because they are often high in fiber and protein thanks to the beans or soy they’re made from,” says Linares. “Look for an option with both protein and fiber, like a black bean burger, if you’re looking for a more nutrient-dense option.”

That said, she warns that given the sheer number of plant-based products these days, not all of them are necessarily better for you than their alternatives. In fact, as Linares notes, “eating a regular beef burger may be a similar choice, health-wise” especially if you buy high-quality, sustainably-raised grass-fed beef and know how to dress yours up with gut-friendly toppings listed above. “Some vegan options are very high in sodium and surprisingly may have very little actual vegetables in them, meaning minimal fiber and other beneficial nutrients,” says Gans. “The choice may come down to a preference based on sustainability and moving towards a more plant-based diet overall.” Make sure to read the nutrition and ingredient labels on your alternative burger or dog to confirm that the brand you’re buying from has plenty of fiber, protein, and is minimally-processed.

Final answer? If you’re looking for ways to up the ante on the health benefits of your favorite grilled foods, sometimes, simply matching your meat with some good old-fashioned vegetables—better yet, fermented ones—will do the trick.

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