Better Choice: Lettuce Leaves vs. Hamburger Buns

Everything is healthy about a burger except for the bun. Beef (especially grass-fed) is an excellent protein source, and when topped with tomato, avocado or whatever other tasty fixings you enjoy with your burger, it can be a healthy main course. Unfortunately, the large quantity of bread usually served with the burger can largely undermine the health benefits of this meal. 

Using lettuce as a wrap can seriously increase the nutritional value of your burger, as it adds nutrients and decreases the carb count. You can replace the bread with a more nutrient-dense source of complex carbohydrate—like sweet potato, extra vegetables or a small portion of whole grain. 

Remember that not all lettuce is created equal. Opting for a dark leaf lettuce like romaine, or even another leafy green such as kale, chard or collard greens, will make for the most nutritious burger “wrap.” 

Why You Should Skip the Bun 

Hamburger buns contain about 20 grams of carbohydrate and around 150 calories. They offer practically no vitamins, minerals, fiber, amino or fatty acids, and very little protein (about 3-4 grams). Refined grains (especially white flour) have been linked to inflammation, obesity, type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases 

Health Benefits of Dark-Leaf Lettuce 

Not only is lettuce one of the vegetables lowest in carbohydrates, but it is also rich in certain key vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins A, K, C and folate. Check out the following health benefits: 

Low Calorie and Nutrient Dense 

Nutrient density is defined as a maximum number of nutrients, calorie for calorie. Being that lettuce is very water-dense and low in calories, it is sometimes thought to be low in terms of nutritional value, which is certainly not the case. Along with the vitamins mentioned above, dark and red leaf lettuces also offer manganese, potassium, copper, iron, vitamin A, beta carotene and molybdenum. 

Heart-Healthy 

Thanks to lettuce’s beta carotene content, it is considered a very heart-healthy food. Both beta carotene and vitamin C work hand in hand to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol, which can form plaque build-up in the arteries and put you at higher risk of a stroke or heart attack. Lettuce is also a good source of fiber—as are all leafy greens—which is another important component of heart health. 

Good for Weight Loss 

Any low-calorie and nutrient-dense foods—particularly vegetables—are ideal inclusions to a weight-loss diet. Vegetables up your fiber intake, which helps to keep you satiated (full) and less likely to overeat.   

3 Quick and Easy Lettuce Wrap Ideas 

While it might feel hard to give up the bread initially, try out some of these fun and delicious recipes to spice up your lettuce wraps. You might be surprised that you don’t miss that bun, after all. 

Black Bean Avocado Wrap (Serves 1) 

Ingredients: 

  • 3 large pieces romaine lettuce 
  • 4 slices turkey (or other nitrate-free deli meat) 
  • 1/2 avocado 
  • 1/2 cup black beans 
  • 1 sliced tomato 
  • pinch of salt 

Instructions: 

  1. On each piece of lettuce, arrange turkey, avocado, beans, and tomato. Top with salt, and pepper if desired. 
  2. Roll together like a burrito, and enjoy! 

White Bean Wrap (Serves 2) 

Ingredients: 

  • 1/2 cans of white beans, drained and rinsed with fresh water 
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil 
  • 3/4 tsp. sea salt 
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper 
  • 2 large lettuce leaves for wraps 
  • 1/4 onion, sliced 
  • 1/2 carrot, thinly sliced 
  • 1/2 avocado, thinly sliced 

Instructions: 

  1. Using the back of a fork, mash together the white beans with olive oil, salt and pepper until thoroughly combined. 
  2. Lay your lettuce leaves out and spread your mash evenly. 
  3. Top bean mixture with onion, carrots, sprouts and avocado. Get creative here too, adding any other veggies or toppings you have around or sound good to you. 
  4. Enjoy! 

Turkey Wrap (Serves 1) 

Ingredients: 

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil  
  • 1/4 onion, chopped 
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms 
  • 4 oz. ground turkey 
  • 2 large lettuce leaves 
  • pinch of ground ginger, cumin and cayenne 
  • 2 tbsp tamari sauce or coconut aminos 
  • 1 tbsp mustard 
  • 1 tbsp hot sauce (optional) 

Instructions: 

  1. Heat your coconut oil in a skillet and add your onions and mushrooms. Cook for a few minutes and then add ground turkey. Stir frequently until the turkey meat is no longer pink.  
  2. Add all of your spices and 1 tbsp tamari sauce, cooking for a few more minutes altogether.  
  3. In a small bowl, combine your mustard, hot sauce and remaining tamari sauce. Whisk together well. 
  4. Lay out your lettuce leaves and evenly top with the turkey mixture, then drizzle the dressing on top.  
  5. Wrap up and eat!