Are boutique burgers healthy?


We compare the health stats for gourmet burgers from Grill'd and Burger Edge with a McDonald's Big Mac.

woman_holding_hamburger

Big whack


Whether you're frequenting upmarket restaurants, food trucks or fast food chains, there's a good chance you'll see a 'boutique' or 'gourmet' burger on the menu. They're often the ones touting locally sourced, ethically farmed, hormone free, 'real' ingredients.

We looked at 40 burgers from gourmet burger chains Burger Edge and Grill'd, and compared their nutrition information with that of standard offerings from burger giants McDonald's and Hungry Jack's. Here's what we found.

Do quality ingredients mean 'healthier'?

Gourmet burgers are usually promoted as having quality, indulgent ingredients and being super tasty. But we've noticed some chains championing their gourmet burgers as "healthy", too. "Healthy burgers" is the slogan used by Grill'd on its store signage, for example, and its website says it has the "tastiest healthy burgers going around". Burger Edge claims its inspiration was "driven by a growing shift in casual diners wanting a fast, healthy and value for money burger".

We're told that many people are choosing to buy from gourmet burger chains in the belief that the offerings are better for them. And with 63% of Australian adults overweight or obese a switch to healthier food options should be encouraged. But do the burgers live up to their "healthy" reputation?

You might expect that with all those premium, fresh ingredients, most gourmet burgers would compare favourably to a Big Mac, which isn't exactly the poster child for health food. Certainly Grill'd claims its burgers have 'no nasties' (including no preservatives in its buns, and no artificial preservatives in its dressings), whereas a range of additives are included in the ingredients lists of burgers from McDonald's. But we found that all of the gourmet beef burgers we looked at (and most of the chicken and veggie burgers too) had more kilojoules than a Big Mac, and many weren't shy with the saturated fat and salt either.

High-kilojoule culprits

Of the 40 gourmet burgers analysed, 31 had more kilojoules than a Big Mac (2180kJ). Topping the kilojoule charts were The Mighty* (lowcarb bun, 3508kJ) from Grill'd and The Okker (wholemeal bun, 3500kJ) from Burger Edge, both beating the Big Mac by more than 40%.

The reason for this is pretty simple. The gourmet burgers are bigger (385g for The Mighty and a whopping 515g for The Okker, compared with Big Mac's 216g). And while the added bacon may be 'crispy trim' and the egg 'free range', the inclusion of these ingredients along with cheese and mayo/aioli inevitably contributes to kilojoule creep.

If you were to pick a healthier burger from the menu, you might automatically gravitate to the vegetarian options. But even the gourmet veggie burgers – seven of 10 gourmet veggie burgers we analysed – can be more calorific than a Big Mac. Sure the veggie components are healthy, but that's before you add cheese, mayo or aioli which bump up the kilojoule content of the burger overall.

Another simple mistake is to equate 'low carb' with 'low kilojoules'. Grill'd offers a Low Carb SuperBun which you can order for any of your burgers. It's free from gluten and dairy, which is great for people who need to avoid those ingredients or if low carb is a priority for you. But the low-carb bun is made with egg, almond meal and coconut cream, and as a result has more kilojoules than the traditional bun.

The burgers with highest fat

Almost two-thirds of the gourmet burgers analysed had more fat than a Big Mac (28.6g), and some contained startling amounts of artery-clogging saturated fat. 

Because a higher intake is thought to be associated with an increased risk of heart disease, it's recommended that we limit our daily energy intake from saturated fat to 10% – which, if you're an average Australian adult with a daily energy intake of 8700kJ, means capping your daily saturated fat intake at 23g. Grill'd The Mighty (low-carb bun) manages to fit 19.9g in a single burger (a Big Mac has 11.3g).

A smaller proportion of gourmet veggie burgers and chicken burgers were high in saturated fat compared with the beef burgers, with some notable exceptions – the Grill'd Caesar's Palace chicken burger (low-carb bun), for example, has 16.6g, 72% of the daily limit.

Burgers with high salt

If you're not worrying about your weight, you should still spare a thought for your heart when contemplating chowing down on a gourmet burger. 

It's suggested that we limit our daily intake of sodium to 1600mg (the suggested dietary target, or SDT) in order to maintain optimal blood pressure over our lifetime and in doing so reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease.  And 2300mg of sodium is the maximum we should be consuming in a day. 

Of the 40 gourmet burgers analysed, 10 had more than 100% of this SDT for sodium in a single burger (a Big Mac, by comparison, contains 62%).  

The Burger Edge Meat Lovers and Okker beef burgers were the saltiest, with both burgers exceeding 2300mg – the wholemeal versions of each have 118% and 104% of this upper limit respectively. This makes sense once you learn that their ingredients include several different processed meats, which are notorious for containing high levels of sodium.

Watch out for sugars too

Sugar isn't something you might normally associate with a burger, but can be something to watch out for – particularly if the burger comes with generous dollops of sauce, chutney or relish.

The Burger Edge Okker (white/wholemeal bun), for example, tips the scales at 21g sugars – that's more than 5 teaspoons of sugar per burger. Its ingredients include canned pineapple and tomato sauce, which would both contribute to this total.

Healthier burger options

If you're looking for that boutique taste but with fewer nutritional nasties, the following gourmet burgers from Burger Edge and Grill'd contribute less than a third of the average daily energy intake and recommended saturated fat limit – sensible if it's for just one of three meals you'll eat in a day – and less than three-quarters of the SDT for sodium.

  • Burger Edge Bombay Bash (chicken), white/wholemeal bun (1830/1870kJ, 2.1/3g sat fat, 1030/1060mg sodium)
  • Burger Edge Plain & Simple (chicken), white/wholemeal bun (1880/1930kJ, 1.4/2.3g sat fat, 1110/1141mg sodium)
  • Grill'd Sweet Chilli Chicken, traditional bun (1920kJ, 2.4g sat fat, 735mg sodium)
  • Grill'd Field of Dreams (veggie), traditional bun (1970kJ, 4.3g sat fat, 708mg sodium)
  • Grill'd Veggie Vitality, traditional bun (2150kJ, 2.7g sat fat, 1150mg sodium)
  • Grill'd Simon Says (chicken), traditional bun (2240kJ, 5.1g sat fat, 921mg sodium)
  • Grill'd Simply Grill'd (beef), traditional bun (2300kJ, 6.8g sat fat, 858mg sodium)

Takeaway message

If your priority is taste, or the provenance, quality and freshness of the ingredients, then a gourmet burger might be just what you're after. Just don't assume it'll be good for you too.
On the whole, fast food burgers (gourmet or otherwise) have a tendency to be high in kilojoules, fat and salt, so consider skipping the soft drinks and sides when you're ordering one for a meal.

How we assessed the burgers

We looked at a selection of burgers on the menu of gourmet burger chains. We focused on chains that make a claim that their burgers are healthy, and have outlets in at least four states. For each chain, we included the first beef, chicken and veggie burgers listed on the menu, the lowest and highest kJ option for each burger type and any options promoted as "healthy" or that gave the impression they were better for you. Menu items such as sliders, wraps, sandwiches and burgers with no buns were excluded from our analysis. All nutrition information was obtained from the companies' websites. Thanks to Alison McAleese at LiveLighter for collecting the data and assisting with the analysis.

*The Mighty goes by different names in different states as follows: Mighty Melbourne (Vic), Big Queenslander (Qld), Mighty Cow Eater (SA), Wild Wild West (WA), Top Territory (NT), Almighty (NSW & ACT).

Burger comparison table

We looked at 40 burgers from gourmet burger chains Burger Edge and Grill'd, and compared their nutrition information with that of standard offerings from burger giants McDonald's and Hungry Jack's. We've listed them below in order of kilojoule content (highest to lowest). To order by another criteria, simply click on the column headings.

Chain menu item Burger type Serve size
(g)
Energy
(kJ/serve)
Protein
(g/serve)
Fat total
(g/serve)
Fat saturated
(g/serve)
Carbohydrates
(g/serve)
Sugars
(g/serve)
Sodium
(mg/serve)
Energy
(% daily intake)*
Fat saturated
(% of daily limit)**
Sodium
(% of SDT)***
Sodium
(% of upper limit)***
Grill'd The Mighty (low carb bun) 45 Beef 385 3508 55.7 57.9 19.9 21.8 13.3 1362 40 86 85 59
Burger Edge The Okker (wholemeal bun) 44 Beef 515 3500 44.1 43.1 16.3 65.3 21.3 2400 40 71 150 104
Burger Edge The Okker (white bun) 43Beef 515 3460 42.7 41.5 15.4 69.0 21.1 2370 40 67 148 103
Grill'd The Mighty (traditional bun) 42Beef 385 3260 52.2 39.1 13.1 51.8 11.3 1510 37 57 94 66
Burger Edge Meat Lover (wholemeal bun) 41Beef 437 3250 47.3 38.0 17.6 57.9 13.1 2720 37 76 170 118
Grill'd Caesar's Palace (low carb bun) 40Chicken 284 3208 57.4 54.4 16.6 10.4 3.8 992 37 72 62 43
Burger Edge Meat Lover (white bun) 39Beef 437 3200 45.9 36.4 16.7 61.6 12.9 2690 37 72 168 117
Burger Edge Hail Caesar (wholemeal bun) 38Chicken 361 3080 47.1 37.8 11.0 48.9 7.8 1850 35 48 116 80
Grill'd Crispy Bacon & Cheese (low carb bun) 37Beef 307 3078 47.6 51.9 18.1 18.1 9.6 1172 35 78 73 51
Burger Edge Hail Caesar (white bun) 36Chicken 361 3040 45.7 36.2 10.1 52.6 7.6 1820 35 44 114 79
Burger Edge Veggie Patch (wholemeal bun) 35Veggie 379 3010 21.1 35.6 10.2 73.9 10.7 1500 35 44 94 65
Burger Edge Veggie Patch (white bun) 34Veggie 379 2960 19.7 34.0 9.3 77.6 10.5 1470 34 40 92 64
Grill'd Caesar's Palace (traditional bun) 33 Chicken 284 2960 53.9 35.6 9.8 40.4 1.8 1140 34 42 71 50
Burger Edge Crumbed Parma (wholemeal bun) 32 Chicken 365.5 2910 40.0 31.8 9.5 59.6 10.3 1510 33 41 94 66
Hungry Jack's Whopper 31Beef 280 2900 29.6 40.0 11.7 53.7 8.6 667 33 51 42 29
Burger Edge Crumbed Parma (white bun) 30Chicken 365.5 2860 38.6 30.2 8.6 63.3 10.1 1480 33 37 93 64
Burger Edge Chicken Deluxe (wholemeal bun) 29Chicken 391 2850 42.5 33.2 11.0 50.1 9.6 1770 33 48 111 77
Grill'd Crispy Bacon & Cheese (traditional bun) 28Beef 307 2830 44.1 33.1 11.3 48.1 7.6 1320 33 49 83 57
Burger Edge Chicken Deluxe (white bun) 27Chicken 391 2800 41.1 31.6 10.1 53.8 9.4 1740 32 44 109 76
Grill'd Garden Goodness (low carb bun) 26Veggie 344 2640 19.4 40.2 10.8 34.0 11.5 1020 30 47 64 44
Grill'd Nourish & Flourish (low carb bun) 25 Beef 334 2570 36.2 44.0 14.3 19.1 11.3 971 30 62 61 42
Grill'd Garden Goodness (traditional bun) 24Veggie 344 2560 17.4 23.3 4.6 77.5 9.7 1220 29 20 76 53
Grill'd Simply Grill'd (low carb bun) 23 Beef 276 2548 35.2 43.5 13.6 17.4 9.2 710 29 59 44 31
Grill'd Simon Says (low carb bun) 22 Chicken 283 2488 44.8 39.2 11.9 13.7 6.3 773 29 52 48 34
Burger Edge The Pulse (wholemeal bun) 21Veggie 340 2470 19.0 26.6 4.4 64.3 6.1 1660 28 19 104 72
Burger Edge The Pulse (white bun) 20Veggie 340 2430 17.6 25.0 3.5 68.0 5.9 1630 28 15 102 71
Burger Edge The Original Edge (wholemeal bun) 19 Beef 336 2320 27.3 24.0 7.4 54.7 9.6 1500 27 32 94 65
Grill'd Simply Grill'd (traditional bun) 18 Beef 276 2300 31.7 24.6 6.8 47.4 7.2 858 26 29 54 37
Burger Edge The Original Edge (white bun) 17Beef 336 2280 25.9 22.4 6.6 58.4 9.4 1470 26 29 92 64
Grill'd Mustard and Pickled! (traditional bun) 16Beef 305 2250 37.2 20.5 8.6 47.7 7 1190 26 37 74 52
Grill'd Simon Says (traditional bun) 15 Chicken 283 2240 41.3 20.4 5.1 43.7 4.3 921 26 22 58 40
Grill'd Veggie Vitality (low carb bun) 14Veggie 331 2220 14.0 32.4 8.9 32.8 12.8 950 26 39 59 41
McDonald's Big Mac 13Beef 216 2180 26.9 28.6 11.3 37.4 6.4 993 25 49 62 43
Grill'd Sweet Chilli Chicken (low carb bun) 12Chicken 325 2168 37.8 30.8 9.2 19.6 12.0 587 25 40 37 26
Hungry Jack's Veggie Whopper 11Veggie 252 2160 12.8 22.2 1.8 65.3 9.8 883 25 8 55 38
Grill'd Veggie Vitality (traditional bun) 10 Veggie 331 2150 12.0 15.5 2.7 75.7 11.0 1150 25 12 72 50
Burger Edge Vegan Delight (white bun) 9Veggie 394.6 2040 15.2 9.6 1.7 79.2 16.9 1560 23 7 98 68
Grill'd Field of Dreams (traditional bun) 8Veggie 333 1970 17.6 24.1 4.3 42.0 2.8 708 23 19 44 31
Burger Edge Plain & Simple (wholemeal bun) 7 Chicken 311 1930 30.8 14.1 2.3 49.4 9.0 1141 22 10 71 50
Grill'd Sweet Chilli Chicken (traditional bun) 6 Chicken 325 1920 34.3 12.0 2.4 49.6 10.0 735 22 10 46 32
Burger Edge Plain & Simple (white bun) 5Chicken 311 1880 29.4 12.5 1.4 53.1 8.8 1110 22 6 69 48
Burger Edge Bombay Bash (wholemeal bun) 4 Chicken 348 1870 33.9 10.4 3.0 49.6 8.2 1060 21 13 66 46
Burger Edge Bombay Bash (white bun) 3Chicken 348 1830 32.5 8.8 2.1 53.4 8 1030 21 9 64 45
McDonald's McChicken Burger 2Chicken 187 1810 19.0 21.9 3.3 38.6 4.0 638 21 14 40 28
Hungry Jack's Grilled Chicken Classic 1 Chicken 174 1550 18.9 19.7 4.4 29.4 4.3 629 18 19 39 27

Table notes

* The average Australian adult consumes about 8700kJ a day.

** It's recommended that we limit our daily energy intake from saturated fat to 10%. For an average Australian adult with a daily energy intake of 8700kJ, this means capping daily saturated fat intake at 23g.

*** SDT = suggested dietary target. It's recommended that we limit our daily intake of sodium to 1600mg to help reduce risk of stroke and heart disease. 2300mg is the upper limit/maximum we should be consuming in a day.


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