In my last post, I described some theoretical tools I've found useful in assessing whether I want to eat something, especially when I'm focusing on making optimal food choices. I also promised to explain the place hamburgers, milkshakes and french fries have in my life.
Without further ado... hamburgers!
First off, I think hamburgers might be the most unfairly maligned food on earth. A hamburger "done right" has got to be one of the best foods on the planet, and given how frequently some version of burger is available at restaurants, it is quite frequently the most predictable, most measurable item on the menu. That said, my optimal hamburger order is probably not what some envision when thinking about this food.
In terms of food quality, not all hamburger meat is equal. Fast food restaurants hit the news for infusing their burgers with pink slime in recent memory, and some restaurants put all sorts of stuff in their burgers besides meat. For this reason, my first question about my burger (generally to myself prior to setting foot in the restaurant, not my server) is how close the cow was to its natural state - I consider the source of the meat. Thankfully in San Francisco many restaurants are proud of their commitment to local, sustainable farming, so I can often determine whether my meat is likely to be responsibly raised and grass fed. I generally do my best (without offending my friends or family) to choose restaurants that I believe use the best quality food available, and am willing, within reason, to pay a premium knowing the meats and vegetables are organic, local, sustainable, and as close to their natural state as possible. I also try to determine whether the burger contains just meat, or other things (chemical-infused spices, or for me bread crumbs, worst of all) that would be against my preferences. If I decide the meat is up to my standard, that's great and I'll be back!
Next, I question whether the burger has anything in it or on it that I know will cause me grief if I eat it. Namely, I know that eating cheese on my burger is closely correlated with a subsequent breakout (quite pesky), and that if I eat the bun I will feel like I might die due to "knives" in my gut, or subsequent sleepiness and crushing anxiety. I've learned these two sensitivities through trial and error, and each time I start to think maybe it's all in my head (as some on the internet would have you believe) and eat bread in particular, I'm reminded quite strongly that it's not my imagination. In practice, for me, this means that I never eat a burger with the bun (unless it's gluten free, and even then usually not). I always get a lettuce wrap, or just hold the bun altogether and eat it with a fork (and knife if I'm being civilized), because the consequences of gluten poisoning are never worth eating the bun - it's just never delicious enough to warrant the trade-off. Cheese, on the other hand, is sometimes worth it. I basically ask myself whether I want cheese badly enough to wear its effects around on my face for a few days. Sometimes, it's totally worth it (sorry Rob!)
Side note: I don't know if this is scientifically supported, but if a restaurant uses styrofoam or plastic for my "to-go" burger without a bun I will not be back. A hot burger soaking through its lettuce wrap and melting the plastic or styrofoam (thanks SF for banning that stuff!) container makes me feel like I might be getting cancer on the spot. This could be all in my head, but since this is a post about my thought process, I figured I'd get that one out there also.
Finally, I assess whether the burger is consistent with my goals (and macros). This is where burger toppers come in, and one of the main places burgers can become "bad". I know, generally speaking, how much meat I'm getting with the burger. I know that I'll be getting about 2/3 protein and 1/3 fat in terms of calories when I eat it, and no carbs. An egg is about half protein and half fat, as is bacon, and avocado is 100% fat, but healthy fat of a variety I consider fair game especially when I'm not cutting weight aggressively. Grilled onions or mushrooms often have a lot of fat in them, so they're not my first choice because I don't know what kind of fat (healthy or unhealthy) and they don't add enough for me in terms of flavor to warrant the use of my fat grams/calories. In the event I'm having a cheese day, cheese is mostly fat with a little bit of protein. From a caloric perspective, ketchup is a small dose of sugar, mustard is nearly negligible, and mayo/special sauce is a waste of calories (fat). I decide whether to add any of these toppers based on what sounds good, and how big of a meal I need. Most days, the burger by itself is plenty of food for a single meal, but if I'm behind on food for the day (hangry) or know I won't be eating for awhile I'll add some toppings.
Once I've thoroughly assessed my burger and its toppings (a process that takes about 13 seconds now that I'm used to the process), I decide whether I'd like to add a shake or fries. This process is much like the above in terms of food quality - if it's a restaurant with responsible meat sources, their milk and potatoes will probably also be up to par. The oil the fries is cooked in is an additional consideration - my favorite place uses tallow from their grass fed burgers (awesome!), but some places use processed seed oils, or contaminate their oil with gluten from chicken nuggets, etc., so this can be a reason to say no to fries.
In terms of food sensitivity, as I stated above, I'm accepting a breakout if I choose the milkshake, but some of the time that's worth it. There is some discussion in the Paleo community of white potatoes being a sub-optimal choice because of antinutrient content that increases gut permeability and contributes to systemic inflammation if I understand the argument against them correctly, so I try not to let white potatoes become a staple of my diet. I do eat them, but in moderation (and skinned when possible). If sweet potato fries are an option, I usually go for them because they have less arguments against them.
Finally, milkshakes and fries occasionally fit my macros. If I'm having a hungry day due to low caloric intake to the point of the meal, or I've been working out really hard, I may have "room" for at least some of either in terms of overall calories. My burger already has my protein and fat needs met for the meal, so I'm primarily trying to add carbs at this point. In terms of calories, milkshakes are a somewhat even split between carbs, protein and fat, and french fries are somewhat evenly split between carbs and fat. Neither would be my first choice of carbs, but especially when I'm not in a cutting phase I can choose to eat a lower fat meal later in the day to make up for being a little high on fat at this particular meal. If I choose against the fries and shake, I know I need to go find carbs elsewhere later. People who can eat the bun, made almost entirely of carbs, wouldn't have this issue. At this point I could get much farther in the weeds with regards to macro "Tetris" but this is probably sufficient to make the point. The last part of this component is to decide if I want my own, or if I'm willing to share!
This concludes my Good Food Bad Food thoughts for now. If you have further questions, please don't hesitate to ask in the comments, or contact me!