It’s that time of year again. Whether your turkey is already defrosting or is still waiting for you at the store, it’s important to know about the bird that will be occupying most of your dinner plate this holiday season!
First off: Turkeys are pretty darn healthy! We were hard-pressed to find any red flags about this delicious meat. Just how healthy, you ask? Keep reading!
- Turkey is a lean source of protein. In three ounces of white meat you get 25 grams of protein, 3 grams of fat, and less than 1 gram of saturated fat. Tough to beat
- The Thanksgiving bird contains the trace minerals zinc and selenium, which helps with cell and tissue repair and growth.
- Turkey is a good source of arginine, which some research suggests may help open arteries.
- What about the skin, you ask? Lilian Cheung, editorial director of “The Nutrition Source” from Harvard’s School of Public Health, says: “The skin adds calories, but there is more healthful fat in it than unhealthful fat.”
For reference, here’s a nutritional breakdown of the different parts of the turkey:
Free Range vs. Organic vs. Traditional
The important decision might not be which part of the turkey to eat, but what kind of turkey to purchase. There are four main types: organic, free range, heritage, and your average supermarket brand (the traditional turkey).
- Traditional Turkey: It’s really hard to tell what you’re getting with these. Americans like white meat, so these turkeys are usually genetically modified or pumped full of hormones to make for oversized breasts. Many traditional turkeys are raised in crowded conditions and under heat lamps. Some become so overweight they suffer from broken bones and even heart attacks. Yikes!
- Free range: Just like it sounds, these turkeys mainly spend their lives outside and feast on grubs and grass. However, free range doesn’t always mean all natural so studying labels is important!
- Organic: These birds eat a diet free of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics. While these are certainly healthier than traditional turkeys, the lack of the requirement for natural feeding patterns (as seen in free range) is something to consider.
- Heritage: There are no legal or set guidelines for these turkeys, but the idea is a return to the historical traits of bird. Seen especially in traditional turkeys, most of the birds we consume today have been bred to grow faster, have bigger breasts, and little resemble the first turkeys humans feasted on. Heritage turkeys grow slower, have a loner lifespan, and typically have diets closer to that of wild turkeys.
As you can see, the definitions around some of these can be a little iffy, and they can overlap (for example, you can have a heritage turkey that’s organic and free range). Also, regulations can be tricky. For example, in some places raising turkeys packed indoors can be considered free range, as long as the birds have ‘access’ to outside. So be careful, and read those labels!
A little more about free-range….
We’ve talked about the health benefits of grass-fed beef and it seems turkeys are no different. When picking your bird, consider the following unique characteristics of free-range turkeys, specifically those who grub on pasture and bugs. Thanks to the blog of Al Sears, MD for compiling this useful information:
- A free-range turkey has nutrients like: selenium, zinc, niacin, beta-carotene, and vitamins B6 and B12.
- The B vitamins found in free-range turkey helps the body reduce homocysteine. Homocysteine causes inflammation in the lining of blood vessels and increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
- The Vitamin E levels in free-range turkeys put store-bought turkeys to shame! This vitamin works towards the prevention of heart disease, cancer and cataracts.
- The levels of heart-healthy omega-3s are much higher in free-range birds (meaning you don’t have to worry about avoiding the fattier parts of the turkey–if you like the leg with the skin, grab the leg with the skin!)
- Overall, free-range turkeys have: 21% less total fat; 30% less saturated fat; 28% fewer calories; 50% more vitamin A; and 100% more omega-3 fats.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone! Gobble, gobble.