IIf there is one menu item that becomes a must as the days get longer and temperatures rise, it is certainly grilled meat. Whether as a salmon steak, burger (or veggie burger) or hot dog, summer is synonymous with outdoor cooking and a protein sandwich between rolls. And while grilling is certainly a healthy cooking method, maintaining a balanced gut microbiome just omitting charred meat isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Fortunately, there are a few simple adjustments you can make to your grilled meat slash alt meat menu that can result in a meal that will kick-start (and even calm) your digestive system. From pickled toppings and probiotic condiments to high-fiber mix-ins for burgers, dogs, and other forms of grilled protein, adding a gut-friendly shine to your summer cookout menu isn’t hard. We caught up with a few RDs to find out how you can improve grilled protein to make it better for your digestive system.

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

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

“Any form of vegetable makes a great gut-friendly burger topping because the fiber in vegetables helps feed good gut bacteria,” says registered nutritionist Krista Linares, RDN. “This includes sliced ​​onions, tomatoes, lettuce, peppers or avocado slices.”

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

Registered nutritionist Keri Gans, RDN, particularly recommends chopping mushrooms into your burger. “Chopped mushrooms go perfectly with ground beef and add a good amount of fiber and other nutrients to your gut-friendly burger,” she notes. “Fiber can help prevent constipation and normalize bowel movements.” Adding vegetables can also add body and substance to your burger, resulting in more flavor and texture.

Of course, you can also add a wide variety of mix-ins to your patties that go beyond vegetables. Quinoa is a particularly popular gut-friendly option for people looking to add some nutty flavor and fiber – and even more protein – to their burgers. Eggs can also act as a binder in burgers, especially if you plan on adding a variety of condiments.

2. Consider a fermented topping.

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

If you’re looking for a delicious Korean-inspired spin, Linares recommends adding kimchi as a burger or hot dog topping as well, to support healthy gut bacteria. While kimchi is traditionally made from fermented radish and cabbage, you can try fermenting any of your favorite vegetables (like onions, cucumbers, or green beans) in kimchi seasonings, depending on what your palette likes best.

3. Opt for a plant-based burger.

Black bean and lentil-based burgers are delicious, high-fiber alternatives to meatier, plant-based patties like Beyond or Impossible. Vegan hot dogs made from soy or tofu are also delicious options for anyone looking to reduce their consumption of animal products. And given the health benefits associated with many of these meat alternatives, nutritionists say it’s worth adding them to your menu every now and then, even if you’re not a vegan or vegetarian.

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

However, she cautions that with so many herbal products available these days, not all of them are necessarily better for you than their alternatives. In fact, as Linares notes, “eating a regular beef burger might be a similar choice from a health perspective,” especially if you are buying high quality, sustainably grown beef and know how to beautify yours with gut-friendly toppings listed above. “Some vegan options are very high in sodium and, surprisingly, can be very low in vegetables, which means they are low in fiber and other beneficial nutrients,” says Gans. “The choice may be based on a preference that is based on sustainability and an overall focus on a more plant-based diet.” Make sure to read the nutrition and ingredient labels on your alternative burger or dog to make sure that the brand you are from buy, contain a lot of fiber and protein, and have minimal processing.

Final answer? Sometimes when you’re looking for ways to enhance the health benefits of your favorite grilled dishes, simply pairing your meat with some good, old-fashioned vegetables – better still, fermented ones – is enough.

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