Meat is a valuable source of protein and other nutrients. But when it comes to a healthy diet, it’s important to choose the right kind of meat and eat the correct portion size. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database, 3 ounces or 85 grams (g) of non-enhanced, roasted turkey breast contains:
- 135 calories
- 26 g of fat
- 0 g of carbohydrate
- 70 g of protein
In comparison, the same amount of dark roasted turkey meat contains:
- 173 calories
- 13 g of fat
- 0 g of carbohydrate
- 55 g of protein
Turkey also contains:
- vitamins B-6
- vitamin B-12
The dark meat of a turkey tends to contain more vitamins and minerals but also has more fat and calories.
Turkey contains the amino acid tryptophan. This is said to be the cause of people wanting to nap after a big Thanksgiving dinner.
While it is true that turkey contains tryptophan, it does not have a high enough amount to cause sleepiness. In fact, all meats contain tryptophan. Eating turkey at Thanksgiving should not make you any drowsier than eating a pork chop on an ordinary evening. Turkey meat is sold in various forms, including whole, prepackaged slices, breast, thighs, mince, cutlets and tenderloins.
Eating foods like turkey that are high in protein help to increase the feeling of satiety, meaning that they make a person feel fuller for longer.
Getting enough protein helps maintain lean muscle mass and keep insulin levels stable after meals. Protein is, however, the one nutrient that most meat-eaters are already getting in sufficient amounts.
Keep in mind that the amount of protein at each meal matters. You can only absorb so much at one time. Make sure to have a lean protein source at each meal and spread your intake throughout the day. Other good choices for protein include nuts, fish, eggs, dairy, soy, and legumes.
Because much of the fat content in turkey is in the skin, it is easy to remove the skin and eat a leaner, less fattening dish as a result.
The tryptophan content in turkey may help to support healthy levels of serotonin in the body, which promotes alertness and good mood. While quantities are low, this is a possible benefit of eating turkey.
The breast of the turkey has less fat and calories than most other cuts of meat. However, do not assume just because a product is made from turkey that it is better for you. For example, a burger made from ground turkey can contain just as much saturated fat as a beef burger, depending on how much dark meat is included in the ground turkey.
- Turkey is a rich source of protein.
- Skinless turkey is low in fat. White meat is lower in kilojoules and has less fat than the dark meat. A typical turkey consists of 70 per cent white meat and 30 per cent dark meat.
- Turkey meat is a source of iron, zinc, potassium and phosphorus.
- It is also a source of vitamin B6 and niacin, which are both essential for the body’s energy production.
- Regular turkey consumption can help lower cholesterol levels. The meat is low-GI and can help keep insulin levels stable.
- Turkey contains the amino acid tryptophan, which produces serotonin and plays an important role in strengthening the immune system.
- It is also a source of selenium, which is essential for thyroid hormone metabolism. It also boosts immunity and acts as an antioxidant.
- Turkey can be high in sodium.
- Some meat, particularly prepackaged slices, can be processed and contain other substances.
- Turkey skin is high in fat.
- Research suggests large amounts of tryptophan can make you sleepy.
Limit or avoid processed turkey in the form of deli meats, hot dogs, and turkey bacon, all of which are high in sodium. Even frozen, pre-packed turkey burgers can be full of added salt and preservatives.
Go for fresh, lean, organic, and pasture-raised turkey that has been raised in humane conditions without antibiotics. Factory-farmed and conventionally raised turkeys are often injected with salt, water, and other preservatives during processing to extend shelf life and cut costs. Pasture-raised turkeys with access to vegetation also have a higher omega-3 content than factory-farmed turkeys.
Heritage turkeys are raised in smaller flocks, given access to the outdoors, and allowed extra time for growth. They provide more flavorful meat and are not injected with salt or preservatives.
Processed turkey products can be high in sodium and harmful to health.
Many processed meats are smoked or made with sodium nitrites. These combine with amines that are naturally present in the meat and form N-nitroso compounds, which are known carcinogens.
Studies have shown that processed meats are linked to the development of cancer.
The risks of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, and infertility increase with the level of meat intake. Minimize your intake of all processed turkey products.
Turkey contains the mineral selenium. Some studies have suggested that higher intakes of selenium may decrease the risk of colorectal, prostate, lung, bladder, skin, esophageal, and gastric cancers.
It is the overall diet that is most important in achieving and protecting good health. It is better to eat a range of beneficial foods in moderate amounts than to concentrate on individual nutrients as the gateway to good health.
- If you can, buy organic. Turkeys raised organically will have been treated humanely and are less likely to contain pesticides and herbicides.
- Look for meat that is supple.
- A turkey roast is cooked properly when it is piping hot all the way through.
- Turkey dries out quickly, so don’t overcook it.
- If marinating turkey meat, put it in the fridge straight after you’ve finished, as it is highly sensitive to heat.
- Store turkey separate from any gravy, stuffing or raw food.
- Refrigerated turkey will keep for about one or two days. If it is already cooked, it will keep for about four days.