The turkey is a bird native to the United States and many of us will be making it the star attraction at our Thanksgiving table this week. In fact, Benjamin Franklin suggested the wild turkey — not the bald eagle — was a better symbol of the national bird of the United States!
With so many people preparing the bird this week, you may be wondering: Is turkey healthy?
Good news for turkey lovers: It will likely be one of the healthiest dishes at your gathering. Turkey, a type of poultry, has an abundance of vitamins and minerals, making it an ideal, nutrient-dense form of high-quality protein. Learn about the benefits of turkey, the difference between white and dark meat, and recipes for putting your leftovers to good use.
Turkey Nutritional Information:
A 3-ounce serving of roasted turkey (meat and skin) contains:
- 161 calories
- 24.3 grams of protein
- 6.28 grams of fat
- 8.1 grams of niacin
- 1 mg iron
- 2.1 mg zinc
- 25.3 mg selenium
One of the most impressive aspects of turkey is its high protein content. The protein contained in turkey and other types of poultry is considered to be of high biological value. This means that turkey contains all the amino acids necessary for human health.
Studies show that protein consumption can contribute to bone health and muscle integrity. It can also cause a feeling of satiety, meaning you are more likely to feel full after consuming it. The protein in turkey may be particularly beneficial for older people, as studies suggest that doubling the protein in later stages of life can help build and maintain muscle.
Other benefits of eating turkey include:
- It can be helpful in diabetes treatment. Eating turkey could also help better manage diabetes. The protein in turkey could play a role in improving body composition and blood sugar control. A 2023 randomized trial found that both a high-protein and regular-protein diet helped people with type 2 diabetes improve glucose control and weight loss.
- It can help you lose weight. Studies show that eating poultry can facilitate weight loss and weight control due to its high protein content.
- It can reduce the risk of heart disease. A study published in the journal Circulation found that replacing red and red processed meats with healthier protein sources helped reduce the risk of heart disease. Eating poultry reduced the risk by 19%. Additionally, a nutrient found in dark turkey meat called taurine has been found in studies to reduce the risk of heart disease.
- It may help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer: Another study found similar benefits in reducing breast cancer risk when replacing poultry with red meat. Turkey also contains high levels of selenium, a trace mineral linked to a lower risk of certain cancers. Finally, studies have found white meat (e.g., turkey breast) to be moderately protective or neutral when it comes to cancer risk.
- It’s good for the planet. Finally, a new study suggests that swapping poultry for other animal proteins may be better for the planet.
More nutritional information on everyday foods
White meat vs. dark meat turkey
The Thanksgiving turkey at the center of your table has two main ingredients: dark meat and white meat.
A 3-ounce serving of roasted turkey breast contains about 1.8 grams of fat and 125 calories; 3 ounces of roasted dark meat contains 5.1 grams of fat and 147 calories.
Both the white and dark meat versions of turkey contain B vitamins, iron, choline and protein, but there are slight differences in the macronutrient composition.
- Dark meat turkey contains much more fat than white meat turkey (consisting of limited amounts of saturated fats, with the predominant fats being monounsaturated and polyunsaturated). The skin has the most fat.
- Dark meat also tends to add more moisture to the cooking process than white meat versions.
- White turkey meat has fewer calories and slightly more protein, especially in the turkey breast.
- White meat protein sources also lack moisture due to the lack of fat.
Risks in Turkey: Nitrates and Salmonella
Aside from not being a suitable choice for vegans, the turkey’s cooking method and shape are its biggest drawbacks.
For example, turkey deli meat can contain high amounts of sodium and preservatives like nitrates – the more processed the turkey product is, the less nutrient dense it may be. Additionally, preparing your turkey in a fried version may increase ingredients linked to certain cancers and the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Because raw turkey carries the risk of salmonella and other germs, improper handling or preparation of raw turkey can lead to illness. Storing, thawing, cooking, and serving your turkey according to food safety guidelines can reduce the risk of foodborne illness. When cooking turkey and other poultry, you can reduce this risk by cooking it to 165 degrees Fahrenheit and serving it immediately.
Does turkey make you sleepy?
The idea that your Thanksgiving meal might make you sleepy has to do with tryptophan, an amino acid found in turkey. However, experts point out that this is a myth. Many foods contain tryptophan and the sleepiness you feel is most likely caused by carbohydrates or alcohol consumed on Thanksgiving Day.
The vision of the beautiful Thanksgiving table is often that of a whole bird on a platter. However, turkey is also popular in ground or sliced versions, so it can easily be enjoyed all year round. Turkey may be the star ingredient in turkey burgers, turkey chili, and turkey tacos, and leftover turkey makes great recipes after the big feast. Here are more ways to enjoy turkey.
Perfect Thanksgiving turkey
Citrus Marinated Thanksgiving Turkey
Anne Burell’s Killer Turkey Burgers
Joy Bauer’s Greek Burgers with Feta and Roasted Red Peppers
Salsa Turkey Tacos
Valerie Bertinelli’s turkey meatloaf