Nutrition and Wellness

Turkey 101: All You Need to Know About Nutrition & Benefits

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For individuals watching their food intake during the Thanksgiving holiday, can knowing the nutritional value of turkey help maintain diet health?

Nutrition and Benefits

Minimally processed turkey can be a beneficial source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. However, processed turkey can be high in sugar, unhealthy fats, and sodium.

Nutrition

Nutrition information for a roasted turkey leg with the skin – 3 ounces – 85g. (U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2018)

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

Carbohydrates

  • Turkey does not contain any carbohydrates.
  • Certain deli lunch meats contain carbs as the turkey is breaded, marinated, or coated in a sauce containing sugar or added during processing.
  • Choosing fresh can make a big difference in sugar content.

Fats

  • Most of the fat comes from the skin.
  • Turkey generally has equal parts of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fat.
  • Removing the skin and cooking without added fat significantly reduces total fat content.

Protein

  • Turkey is an excellent source of complete protein, with around 24 grams in a 3-ounce serving.
  • Leaner cuts, like skinless turkey breast, have more protein.

Vitamins and Minerals

  • Provides vitamin B12, calcium, folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and selenium.
  • Dark meat is higher in iron than the white meat.

Health Benefits

Supports Muscle Retention

  • Sarcopenia, or muscle wasting, commonly leads to frailty in elderly individuals.
  • Getting enough protein at every meal is essential for older adults to maintain muscle mass and physical mobility.
  • Turkey can help meet guidelines suggesting lean meat consumption 4-5 times a week to maintain muscle health with aging. (Anna Maria Martone, et al., 2017)

Reduces Diverticulitis Flare-Ups

Diverticulitis is inflammation of the colon. Dietary factors that influence the risk of diverticulitis include:

  • Fiber intake – lowers risk.
  • Processed red meat intake – raises risk.
  • Intake of red meat with higher total fat – raises risk.
  1. Researchers studied 253 men with diverticulitis and determined that replacing one serving of red meat with a serving of poultry or fish reduces the risk of diverticulitis by 20%. (Yin Cao et al., 2018)
  2. The study’s limitations are that the meat intake was recorded in men only, the intake was self-reported, and the amount consumed at each eating episode was not recorded.
  3. It may be a helpful substitution for anyone at risk for diverticulitis.

Prevents Anemia

  • Turkey offers nutrients required by blood cells.
  • It provides heme iron, easily absorbed during digestion, to prevent iron deficiency anemia. (National Institutes of Health. 2023)
  • Turkey also contains folate and vitamin B12, which are needed in the formation and proper function of red blood cells.
  • Regular turkey consumption can help maintain healthy blood cells.

Supports Heart Health

  • Turkey is a lean alternative to other low-sodium meats, especially if the skin is removed and cooked fresh.
  • Turkey is also high in the amino acid arginine.
  • Arginine can help keep arteries open and relaxed as a precursor to nitric oxide. (Patrick J. Skerrett, 2012)

Allergies

Meat allergies can happen at any age. A turkey allergy is possible and may be associated with allergies to other types of poultry and red meat.  Symptoms can include: (American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. 2019)

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Repetitive cough
  • Swelling
  • Anaphylaxis

Storage and Safety

Preparation

  • The USDA recommends 1 pound for each person.
  • That means a family of five needs a 5-pound turkey, a group of 12 a 12-pound. (U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015)
  • Keep fresh meat in the refrigerator until ready to cook.
  • Frozen pre-stuffed turkeys labeled with the USDA or state mark of inspection have been prepared under safe, controlled conditions.
  • Cook frozen pre-stuffed turkeys directly from the frozen state rather than thawing first. (U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015)
  1. Safe ways to thaw a frozen turkey: in the refrigerator, cold water, or microwave oven.
  2. They should be thawed for a specified amount of time using guidelines based on weight.
  3. It needs to be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Cooked turkey needs to be refrigerated within 1–2 hours after cooking and used within 3–4 days.
  5. Turkey leftovers stored in the freezer should be eaten within 2–6 months.

Eating Right to Feel Better


References

U.S. Department of Agriculture. FoodData central. (2018). Turkey, all classes, leg, meat and skin, cooked, roasted.

Martone, A. M., Marzetti, E., Calvani, R., Picca, A., Tosato, M., Santoro, L., Di Giorgio, A., Nesci, A., Sisto, A., Santoliquido, A., & Landi, F. (2017). Exercise and Protein Intake: A Synergistic Approach against Sarcopenia. BioMed research international, 2017, 2672435. doi.org/10.1155/2017/2672435

Cao, Y., Strate, L. L., Keeley, B. R., Tam, I., Wu, K., Giovannucci, E. L., & Chan, A. T. (2018). Meat intake and risk of diverticulitis among men. Gut, 67(3), 466–472. doi.org/10.1136/gutjnl-2016-313082

National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. (2023). Iron: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.

Skerrett PJ. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. (2012). Turkey: A Healthy Base of Holiday Meals.

American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. (2019). Meat Allergy.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2015). Let’s Talk Turkey — A Consumer Guide to Safely Roasting a Turkey.

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The information herein on "Turkey 101: All You Need to Know About Nutrition & Benefits" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or licensed physician and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.

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