Turkey: Health Benefits and How-To

Written By: Owennie Lee, RD

Title: Registered Dietitian

Alumni: University of British Columbia

Last Updated on:

In the past, turkey was mostly forgotten for 11 months of the year. That changed about 20 years ago, when turkey products other than the whole bird started to become available. More and more Americans are realizing that turkey is a nutritious everyday choice that is not just for the holidays.

Nutrition Tidbits for Turkey

  • 3 oz. of cooked turkey (white meat) contains:
    • Calories:161 kcal
    • Fat:6.28 g
    • Carbohydrates:0 g
    • Protein: 24.3 g
    • Iron: 1.2 mg
    • Fiber: 0 g
    • Glycemic Index (GI): low

By now, most people are aware that turkey makes a good source of low-cost, lean protein. Among common meat and poultry choices, turkey has the lowest calories and fat, making it a very healthy protein source. For example, 3 oz. of chicken breast has 140 calories and 3.4 grams of fat, whereas 3 oz. of turkey breast has only 110 calories and merely 0.64 grams of fat. From turkey breasts to turkey sausages or turkey bacon, there are many turkey cuts and products now available on the market. The nutrient content might differ from product to product. For example, the fattiest type of turkey is ground turkey, which can contain up to 13% fat, unless you select ground turkey that is specifically made from white meats. In general, darker cuts of turkey (e.g., thigh) are higher in fat, but are also higher in iron. In addition to iron, turkey is also a good source of B vitamins such as niacin, riboflavin, B6, and B12, as well as zinc and selenium.

Turkey products can be found fresh (or chilled) or frozen. There is no real quality difference between fresh and frozen turkey, because once defrosted, the meat is practically as fresh as the day it was processed. If you purchase a whole frozen turkey, make sure it is thawed in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. A whole turkey usually takes about 24 hours per 4–5 pounds to defrost in the refrigerator. Never defrost turkey on the counter. Once thawed, keep turkey refrigerated at 40ºF or below. Be sure to cook the turkey to an internal temperature of 165ºF to prevent food-borne illnesses.

Ways to Include More Turkey in Your Diet

Turkey’s mild flavor makes it a very versatile poultry. It is suitable for just about any cooking method, and it complements the flavor profiles of many cuisines. Try using turkey in place of other meats:

  • Use ground turkey to make meatballs and burgers instead of using beef
  • Buy deli turkey breasts to keep in the fridge to whip up a quick sandwich or wrap
  • Use turkey bacon and sausage instead of the traditional pork products

Cooking, Health

grocery aisle, healthy every month, turkey


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