Turkey Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

Turkey, annotated

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman 

The nutritional value of turkey varies greatly depending on the cut of meat and how it's prepared. Minimally processed turkey is a great source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. However, processed turkey can be high in sugar, preservatives, unhealthy fats, and sodium.

If you've been advised to limit your meat intake, you may wonder whether turkey fits into your meal plan. With a little attention to label reading, you can gain a lot of benefits from this Thanksgiving favorite.

Turkey Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for 3 ounces (85g) of roasted turkey leg with the skin.

  • Calories: 177
  • Fat: 8.4
  • Sodium: 65.4mg
  • Carbohydrates: 0g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Protein: 23.7g

Carbs

Turkey doesn't contain any carbohydrates unless it is breaded, marinated, or coated in a sauce that contains sugar, or sugar is added during processing (as with some lunch meats). Choosing fresh turkey rather than processed food products (like turkey bacon or sausage) can make a big difference in sugar content.

Fats

Most of the fat in turkey comes from the skin. A turkey leg with skin has about 8 grams of fat per 3-ounce serving. Of this, 2.6 grams come from saturated fat. There are generally equal parts of saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, and polyunsaturated fat in turkey. Removing the skin and cooking without added fat drastically reduces the total fat content.

Protein

Turkey is an excellent source of complete protein, with almost 24 grams in a 3-ounce serving. Leaner cuts (like skinless turkey breast) have a larger proportion of protein by weight.

Vitamins and Minerals

Turkey provides vitamin B12, folate, selenium, potassium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, and calcium. Dark meat is higher in iron than white meat.

Health Benefits

Turkey offers several health benefits, particularly when used as a replacement for red meat. Here are some conditions where turkey can be especially helpful.

Promotes Muscle Retention

Sarcopenia, or muscle wasting, commonly leads to frailty in seniors. That's why getting enough protein is essential for older adults to maintain muscle mass and physical independence. As a complete source of protein, turkey can help meet current guidelines which suggest the consumption of lean meat 4–5 times per week to maintain muscle health with aging.

May Reduce Risk of Colon Cancer

Meat intake has long been associated with higher rates of colon cancer. However, recent studies suggest that the type of meat you choose can make all the difference.

It appears that red meat is more likely to increase colon cancer risk. Beef especially, followed by pork, seems to be the biggest contributor. Processed red meat also increases risk. Replacing processed beef and pork with fresh poultry products, like chicken or turkey, could lower the chance of developing colon cancer.

Reduces Diverticulitis Flare-Ups

Diverticulitis is a painful inflammation of the colon. Dietary factors that influence the risk of diverticulitis include fiber intake (lowers risk) and meat intake (raises risk). Researchers have determined that red meat is especially detrimental for diverticular disease. Replacing one serving of red meat with a serving of poultry or fish reduces the risk of diverticulitis by 20%. Turkey is a helpful substitution for anyone trying to avoid diverticulitis triggers.

Prevents Anemia

Turkey offers fundamental nutrients required by blood cells. It provides heme iron, which is easily absorbed during digestion to prevent iron-deficiency anemia. Turkey also contains folate and vitamin B12, which are needed for the proper formation and functioning of red blood cells. Regular consumption of turkey can help maintain strong and healthy blood cells.

Supports Heart Health

High-fat meats have been basically blacklisted when it comes to heart-healthy eating guidelines. Although all foods can fit into a nutritious meal plan, many cuts of meat provide high amounts of saturated fat and raise cholesterol levels.

Luckily, turkey is a lean alternative to other meats that's low in sodium, especially if you remove the skin and cook it fresh. Turkey is also high in the amino acid arginine. As a precursor to nitric oxide, arginine may help keep arteries open and relaxed.

Allergies

An allergy to turkey is possible and may be associated with allergies to other types of poultry and red meat. Meat allergies can appear at any age. Symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhea, wheezing, shortness of breath, repetitive cough, swelling, or anaphylaxis. If you suspect an allergy to turkey, see an allergist to review your concerns.

Varieties

There are two species of turkey: the common turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) and the ocellated turkey (Meleagris ocellata). The common turkey is a domesticated turkey native to North America. The ocellated turkey is smaller and found in the wild of the Yucatan Peninsula of Central America. The different species have been bred to favor certain characteristics.

Some standard breeds include the Bronze, Narragansett Turkey, Black Spanish or Norfolk Black, White Holland, Royal Palm, Blue Slate, Bourbon Red, Beltsville Small White, and more. As with other meats, you can find a turkey that's certified organic, free-range, or conventionally grown.

Turkey meat comes in several forms. You can buy it refrigerated or frozen, cooked or fresh. Along with buying a whole bird, you can find turkey parts (such as turkey breast and turkey thighs), ground turkey, turkey bacon, turkey cold cuts, turkey sausage, and even canned turkey.

When It's Best

Turkey is best when it's fresh. Find turkey at your local supermarket, or better yet, get to know the turkey farmers in your area. Choosing fresh turkey meat instead of processed lunch meat or turkey bacon is a surefire way to get more nutrition from your food. Turkey is best served as part of a hot meal or in a cold sandwich or salad.

Storage and Food Safety

Keep fresh turkey meat in the refrigerator until you're ready to cook. Avoid buying fresh pre-stuffed turkeys, as these can be prone to the spreading of bacteria. Frozen pre-stuffed turkeys that are labeled with the USDA or state mark of inspection, on the other hand, have been prepared under safe, controlled conditions. Cook frozen pre-stuffed turkeys directly from the frozen state rather than thawing first.

Frozen turkeys can be stored in the freezer for up to a year. There are three safe ways to thaw a frozen turkey: in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in a microwave oven. Turkeys should be thawed for a specified amount of time using guidelines based on weight. Cook turkey to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cooked turkey should be refrigerated within 1–2 hours after cooking and used within 3–4 days. Turkey leftovers stored in the freezer should be eaten in 2–6 months.

How to Prepare

When choosing a whole turkey for a big family meal, be sure to get a bird big enough to feed all of your guests (with some extra for leftovers). The USDA recommends 1 pound of turkey for each person. That means a family of five needs a 5-pound turkey, while a group of 12 warrants a 12-pounder.

Turkey leftovers are great for sandwiches or making soup. If you buy ground turkey, experiment with turkey burger and meatball recipes. You can also use turkey cold cuts to make roll-ups with cheese for a high-protein snack or chop it up to add to a chef's salad.

Recipes

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Article Sources
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