Dr. Thomas Dwan - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Thomas Dwan

Is Burek Bad For You?

Also Known As: Börek, Bourek, Burek, Burekas



Short answer

Burek can be part of a balanced diet when consumed in moderation. However, it can be high in calories, saturated fats, and salt, particularly if it has meat or cheese fillings and uses buttery dough. To make it healthier, opt for lean meats, low-fat cheeses, and vegetable fillings, use less added fats, and pair with nutrient-rich sides. Homemade versions can further reduce unhealthy ingredients. Enjoying burek occasionally rather than regularly can also mitigate potential negative health impacts.



Long answer

Nutritional Content of Burek: Fats, Carbs, and Calories

Burek, a savory pastry delight originating from the Ottoman Empire, is enjoyed in various forms across Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Typically made with layers of dough such as phyllo or yufka, and filled with ingredients like cheese, meat, or spinach, burek can be both a delicious treat and a nutritional consideration.

The nutritional content of burek can significantly vary based on the filling and the size of the serving. A typical piece of meat-filled burek can contain:

  • Calories: Depending on the size, a single slice can have anywhere from 200 to 400 calories or more.
  • Fats: The fat content is largely influenced by the type of filling and the amount of butter or oil used in the dough. A slice can contain 10 to 20 grams of fat, with a notable proportion of saturated fats.
  • Carbohydrates: Given that burek is a pastry, it is high in carbohydrates, ranging from 20 to 40 grams per serving.
  • Protein: Meat or cheese fillings contribute to the protein content, which can range from 10 to 15 grams per serving for meat-filled burek.

These numbers, while rough estimates, highlight that burek is quite calorie-dense, owing primarily to its fat and carbohydrate content. However, it's important to note that the type of fats used can alter the health implications of consuming burek. For example, using olive oil instead of butter can increase the amount of monounsaturated fats, which are considered healthier for the heart.

Furthermore, the dough's preparation method can also impact the nutritional content. Traditional burek often includes layers of dough brushed with fat, increasing its caloric and fat content. However, modern interpretations with less dough or the use of whole grain flour can offer more dietary fiber and reduce the glycemic index (GI) of the meal.

When analyzing the nutritional profile for health-conscious decisions, consider these factors:

  • Portion size: Smaller portions can help manage calorie intake.
  • Fillings: Opt for fillings with lean meats, low-fat cheeses, or vegetables to decrease the saturated fat content and increase the nutrient density.
  • Preparation method: Seek out or prepare burek with less added fats or with healthier alternatives like olive oil.

While the aforementioned figures provide a general idea, it's essential to reference specific recipes or products for exact nutritional values. For instance, commercially produced burek may be higher in sodium and preservatives, factors important for individuals monitoring their salt intake or with dietary restrictions.

The balance of burek's rich flavor with its nutritional aspects is an important consideration for those who enjoy this pastry regularly. Awareness of the content of fats, carbohydrates, and calories in burek is key for integrating it into a balanced diet without overindulging.

Saturated Fat and Cholesterol in Burek: Heart Health Implications

When considering the nutritional profile of traditional foods like burek, a savory pastry popular in the Balkan region, it's essential to understand the impact of its saturated fat and cholesterol content on heart health. The typical preparation involves layers of dough filled with meat, cheese, or vegetables, which may contribute to a higher intake of these components.

Understanding Saturated Fats:

Saturated fats are a type of dietary fat found predominantly in animal products and certain plant oils. According to the American Heart Association, consuming too much saturated fat can raise the level of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol in the blood, which is often labeled as "bad" cholesterol because of its association with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. The recommendation is to limit saturated fat to no more than 5-6% of your total daily calories. For someone consuming 2,000 calories a day, that's about 13 grams of saturated fats.

Cholesterol Considerations:

Cholesterol, a waxy substance found in your blood, is produced by the liver but can also be ingested from animal-derived food like the fillings in burek. While the body needs some cholesterol to build healthy cells, too much cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease. The current guideline from health authorities suggests that dietary cholesterol should be as low as possible while consuming a healthy eating pattern.

Burek's Nutritional Content:

  • Meat Filling: A burek with a meat filling is high in saturated fat as it typically includes fatty cuts of beef or lamb.
  • Cheese Filling: Cheese-filled burek variants often contain a significant amount of saturated fat and cholesterol, depending on the type of cheese used.
  • Vegetable Filling: Vegetable burek can be a healthier option, though it's still important to take into account the type of oil or butter used in both the pastry and cooking process.

Portion Sizes and Frequency of Consumption:

How often and how much burek you eat significantly affects its impact on your heart health. Occasional consumption in small amounts, as part of a balanced diet, may pose little risk. However, regular intake of large portions could lead to an excessive consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol, potentially harming heart health over time.

Comparative Studies and Expert Opinions:

Research on the health implications of foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol like burek is extensive. A study published in the "Journal of the American College of Cardiology" (2017) found that higher intake of saturated fats was linked to increased cardiovascular disease risk. Experts in nutrition emphasize the importance of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol for heart disease prevention. It's also recommended that individuals with pre-existing heart conditions, high cholesterol, or other cardiovascular risk factors be particularly mindful of their consumption of high-saturated-fat foods.

Healthier Alternatives:

For those concerned about the saturated fat and cholesterol in burek, there are ways to modify the recipe for better heart health:

  • Choose lean meats or increase the proportion of vegetables in the filling.
  • Opt for low-fat cheese or use smaller amounts of cheese.
  • Prepare the pastry with oils high in unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, instead of butter or lard.

Focusing on moderation and incorporating these modifications can make enjoying burek a less worrisome experience for your heart health.

The Role of Salt in Burek and Blood Pressure Considerations

A savory pastry hailing from the Balkans, burek is a beloved dish often enjoyed for its flaky texture and variety of fillings. However, one ingredient that is consistently high across different recipes is salt. The role that salt plays in burek is multifaceted: it adds flavor, affects texture, and interacts with the dough and filling. But it's worth examining how the salt content in this popular pastry might influence blood pressure and overall health.

The average salt content in a typical burek varies but can be quite considerable. Let's delve into the nutritional aspect and the potential health implications:

  • Flavor Enhancement: Salt is a flavor enhancer and essential in savory baked goods such as burek. It improves the palatability and can lead to greater satisfaction from eating.
  • Texture and Dough Preparation: In dough making, salt strengthens the gluten network, providing a desirable chewiness. It is crucial not just for taste but also for the structural integrity of the burek.
  • Preservation: Salt acts as a preservative. In the meat or cheese fillings found in many bureks, this is important for maintaining freshness.
  • Health Implications: But while salt can make burek more enjoyable, it is essential to be aware of its health impact, especially regarding blood pressure. High sodium intake is directly linked with hypertension, a key risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

For individuals consuming burek, the salt content should be considered within the context of their total daily sodium intake. Studies suggest that on average, adults should consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, with an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg for most adults, particularly those with hypertension (CDC). Yet, a single serving of burek can contain a significant portion of this daily limit.

Blood Pressure Considerations: If you’re someone with hypertension or prone to high blood pressure, it’s important to balance your diet. Consuming foods high in potassium can counteract some of the effects of sodium and help to lower blood pressure. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that those with high blood pressure pay particular attention to their sodium intake and opt for lower sodium versions of their favorite foods.

A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology underscored the importance of a balanced diet and revealed that individuals with a higher intake of sodium relative to potassium were more likely to have high blood pressure (source). This finding indicates that not only the amount of sodium but also the ratio of sodium-to-potassium in one's diet is important for maintaining healthy blood pressure levels. Therefore, it would be prudent for burek enthusiasts to complement their meal with foods rich in potassium, such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts.

Given the culinary delight that burek provides, it's not about completely eliminating this dish from one's diet but rather enjoying it in moderation and being mindful of the cumulative daily intake of salt. For those making homemade burek, reducing the salt in the recipe or choosing lower-sodium fillings can be healthier alternatives. On top of this, including potassium-rich sides can help mitigate some of the blood pressure raising potential of the salt in burek.

Refined Flour in Burek: Glycemic Index and Diabetes Risk

Burek, the savory pastry beloved in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, is often made with refined wheat flour, which significantly impacts its nutritional profile and its effects on health – particularly concerning the glycemic index (GI) and diabetes risk. Understanding the role of refined flour in burek is essential for individuals mindful of their carbohydrate intake and blood sugar levels.

Glycemic Index of Refined Flour
The glycemic index is a value assigned to foods based on how slowly or quickly they cause increases in blood glucose levels. Foods high on the GI scale tend to spike blood sugar levels rapidly. Refined flour, which is commonly used in burek, has a high GI, usually between 70 to 90. The body digests this type of flour quickly, leading to a faster elevation of blood sugar and insulin levels after consumption.

  • Quick Digestion – Refined flour lacks the fiber found in whole grains, which slows digestion and leads to a more gradual release of glucose.
  • Influence on Blood Sugar – Foods with high GI, like those made with refined flour, tend to lead to a rapid rise and fall in blood sugar levels, which can be harmful to individuals with insulin sensitivities or diabetes.

Diabetes Risk from High-GI Foods
Consuming foods with a high glycemic index over time is linked with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Frequent blood sugar spikes may lead to insulin resistance, a condition where cells in your body do not respond well to insulin and cannot easily take up glucose from your blood.

  • Insulin Resistance – Repeated exposure to high blood glucose levels can dull the body's responsiveness to insulin, ultimately leading to type 2 diabetes.
  • Potential for Beta-cell Fatigue – The rapid need for insulin production after eating high-GI foods can over time lead to the pancreas's exhaustion, decreasing insulin production efficacy.

Studies, such as those published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, have observed the relationship between high glycemic index foods and diabetes risk. One study found that women who consumed higher-GI diets had a 14% increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those who consumed lower-GI diets (Ludwig DS, 2002).

While burek itself has not been specifically studied for its link to diabetes, it's wise for those at risk of diabetes or managing the condition to consider the implications of consuming foods made with refined flour. Moderation is key, and opting for versions of burek made with whole grain flour where possible, or balancing its consumption with low-GI foods, can help mitigate its impact on blood sugar levels.

It is crucial for consumers to understand the relationship between the refined flour in burek, its glycemic index, and the associated diabetes risk. Carefully selecting when and how often to include such high-GI foods in the diet is an essential step in maintaining blood sugar control and reducing the risk of developing chronic conditions like diabetes.

Portion Control and Frequency of Consumption for Burek Balance

Burek, a savory pastry that originated in the Ottoman Empire and is popular throughout the Balkans and Middle East, has found a place in many people's hearts—and diets. As with any food that is rich in carbohydrates and fats, portion control and the frequency of consumption are key factors in maintaining a balanced diet when indulging in burek.

Traditional burek is typically made with layers of phyllo dough, filled with various ingredients such as cheese, spinach, or meat. This delicious concoction is often brushed with butter or oil, which can substantially increase its calorie content. Given this, enjoying burek in moderation is vital to prevent an excessive intake of saturated fats and calories, which could contribute to unwanted weight gain and associated health risks if consumed regularly in large quantities.

Serving Size Recommendations:

  • For a balanced diet, consider a single, small slice of burek, approximately one-eighth of a full pie, as a reasonable serving size.
  • Pairing burek with a fresh salad can increase the nutrient content of the meal and promote a sense of fullness, potentially reducing the desire for an extra serving.

Frequency Considerations:

  • Due to its rich nature, burek is best enjoyed occasionally rather than as a regular part of one's daily diet.
  • Limiting burek consumption to once a week or on special occasions can be a practical approach to maintain dietary balance.

Experts suggest that one of the keys to a healthy diet is variety. Incorporating different foods ensures a wider range of nutrients and helps to prevent overconsumption of any single type of food. When burek is part of a varied diet, it is less likely to negatively impact overall health. However, it's important for individuals with specific dietary restrictions or health concerns, such as cholesterol issues or sensitivity to fatty foods, to consider the implications of burek more closely.

Recent studies have highlighted the impact of Mediterranean diets, which include moderate portions of cheese and meats within diverse food intake, on long-term health outcomes. While burek does not fall neatly into this category due to its typically higher fat content and lower ratio of vegetables to pastry, it still can be part of an overall healthy eating pattern when approached with mindfulness about frequency and portions.

Consultation with a registered dietitian or nutritionist can provide tailored advice considering personal health goals and nutritional needs. They can help you fit delicacies like burek into your meal plans in a way that complements other aspects of your diet, ensuring you enjoy this tasty treat without compromising your health.

Healthier Burek Variations and Homemade Alternatives

Burek, a pastry enjoyed in many Eastern European and Mediterranean countries, typically consists of thin layers of dough, such as phyllo, that are filled with cheese, meats, or vegetables. While traditional recipes can be high in calories and fats, particularly saturated fats, there are ways to enjoy this dish in a healthier context. Let’s explore some modifications that can transform your burek indulgence into a more nutritious option.

Whole Wheat or Gluten-free Dough:

  • Using whole wheat phyllo dough can increase the fiber content, which is beneficial for gut health and helps maintain a feeling of fullness for longer.
  • For those with gluten sensitivities, gluten-free dough options made from rice or other gluten-free flours provide a safer alternative without sacrificing the burek experience.

Leaner Proteins:

  • Opting for lean meats such as chicken or turkey can considerably reduce the saturated fat content.
  • For a vegetarian twist, consider using tofu or legumes as protein-packed, plant-based fillings, which can also add to the dish’s fiber content.

Lower-Fat Cheese Options:

  • Traditional burek often includes rich, creamy cheeses. Switching to low-fat or fat-free cheese can decrease the amount of saturated fat and calories.
  • Use a moderate amount of cheese and consider mixing in herbs for flavor to compensate for the reduced fat content.

Vegetable Inclusions:

  • Increase the nutritional value by adding a variety of vegetables such as spinach, mushrooms, or bell peppers, which provide vitamins, minerals, and additional fiber.
  • Vegetables not only enhance the flavor but also contribute to your daily recommended intake of veggies.

Health-Conscious Cooking Techniques:

  • Instead of deep-frying or brushing with large amounts of butter or oil, use olive oil spray or brush lightly between the layers to reduce the total fat content.
  • Baking instead of frying can make a significant difference in the fat content and overall calorie count of the burek.

Portion Control:

  • Create smaller, individually-sized portions to help manage calorie intake. This also makes it easier to enjoy burek as a snack or a light meal rather than as a large and potentially overindulgent main dish.

Herbs and Spices:

  • Enhancing the burek with fresh or dried herbs and spices not only boosts the flavor profile but can also contribute health benefits, as many herbs and spices contain antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties.

These variations and alternatives offer not only a chance to enjoy burek in a more health-conscious way but also an opportunity to experiment with flavors and ingredients that you may not have considered before. Always aim to integrate a balance of macronutrients – proteins, fats, and carbohydrates – and a generous helping of vegetables for a well-rounded, nutritious meal. By crafting your burek at home, you take control of the ingredients and their quality, potentially turning this traditional delight into a dish that aligns with your personal health goals.

When considering changes to traditional recipes, always remember that moderation is key. A healthier burek can certainly fit into a balanced diet, especially when you are mindful of the ingredients and the way it is prepared.

Frequently asked questions

Traditional burek can be adapted for vegetarian diets by using fillings like cheese and spinach. For a vegan diet, fillings would need to replace animal products with plant-based ingredients such as tofu or a mixture of vegetables.

Due to its high-calorie content primarily from fats and carbs, burek should be consumed in moderation, especially when trying to manage weight. Smaller portions and infrequent indulgence can help prevent excess calorie intake.

Burek is typically high in carbohydrates due to its pastry content, making it less suitable for a low-carb diet. For those on such diets, it would be wise to consider other alternatives or enjoy burek in very modest portions as an occasional treat.

Healthier adaptations of burek can include using whole wheat or gluten-free dough to increase fiber, opting for lean meats or plant-based proteins for fillings, using lower-fat cheese options, and incorporating more vegetables. Additionally, baking rather than frying and using less oil or butter can reduce fat content.

Ask a question about Burek and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • increased blood pressure
  • blood sugar spikes
  • feeling of fullness
  • satiety
  • temporary energy boost

Possible long-term side effects

  • weight gain
  • heart disease
  • increased ldl cholesterol
  • hypertension
  • type 2 diabetes
  • insulin resistance
  • cardiovascular disease
  • beta-cell fatigue

Ingredients to be aware of


  • protein intake from meat/cheese
  • satisfaction and enjoyment
  • macronutrient balance (with modifications)
  • fiber intake (with whole grain dough)

Healthier alternatives

  • smaller portions
  • whole grain flour
  • lean meats
  • low-fat cheese
  • vegetables
  • olive oil
  • baking instead of frying
  • low-sodium fillings
  • potassium-rich sides
  • fresh herbs and spices

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 03-20-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 03-20-2024

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