Top 5 health benefits of turkey
Not just a festive centrepiece, turkey provides a valuable source of protein, B vitamins and minerals. Registered nutritionist, Kerry Torrens, discusses the health benefits of this low-fat meat.
The classic centrepiece to your Christmas or Thanksgiving table, turkey is a poultry meat with useful health credentials making it a worthy inclusion, whatever the time of year.
What is turkey?
Native to North America, turkey is a large poultry bird; roasted whole or as a ‘crown’ it is traditionally served with stuffing and trimmings as the centrepiece to a Thanksgiving or Christmas table.
Discover our full range of health benefit guides or check out some of our best turkey recipes from traditional ways to serve it such as our cider roast turkey, to using up every last bit of the bird with our delicious turkey stock.
A 100g serving of turkey meat and skin (roasted) provides:
- 190 kcals/799KJ
- 30.9g protein
- 7.4g fat
- 2.3g saturated fat
- 2.7g mono-unsaturated fat
- 1.8g poly-unsaturated fat
- 2.4mg zinc
- 17mcg selenium
- 10.1g vitamin B3
Nutritional values vary depending on the cut of meat; if you don’t intend to roast the meat keep the breast meat, which is rich in muscle and low in fat, for stir fries while the darker meat, which contains more connective tissue, will be best suited for longer cooking methods, such as stewing.
When roasting turkey, it’s worth remembering that its lower fat content may cause the meat to dry out quickly – combining lean breast meat with fattier, moist foods or brining before cooking can help achieve a more succulent result.
Top 5 health benefits of turkey
1. Rich in protein
Low in fat and richer in protein than chicken, turkey is a lean meat and a good choice for those looking to reduce their fat intake. However, its high protein, low fat content means the meat can cook quickly and become dry. A number of methods including brining, adding fattier ingredients and jointing the bird for more even cooking, may be useful to retain moisture.
The protein in poultry meat is of ‘high quality’, supplying all of the nine essential amino acids we need for growth and repair, the protein is also of a type which is easy for our bodies to access and use.
2. Good source of B vitamins
Turkey meat is a useful contributor of the B group of vitamins including vitamin B3, B6 and B12. We need these vitamins for energy production, for brain function and for the formation of red blood cells.
3. Good source of minerals
Rich in selenium, zinc, phosphorus and iron, turkey meat makes a useful inclusion to support thyroid function, immunity, bone health and energy production. The darker cuts of meat like the leg and thigh are richer in certain minerals, such as iron.
4. Low in fat
Unsurprisingly, poultry meat is packed with “fast twitch’’ muscle for short bursts of energy like flapping the wings and scurrying away from predators. This is why poultry meat has very little fat, and most of what it does have, being found in and just below the skin.
Fat does play an important part in a healthy diet and it helps keep meat moist, succulent and full of flavour. The fat in turkey meat is largely of the favourable unsaturated variety, with only a third being saturated. The exact amount of fat will, however, depend on how the bird was fed, with some plant-based feeds promoting a higher poly-unsaturated (omega-3 fatty acid) contribution.
How we cook turkey meat will also impact how fat it is, strips of fattier meat, like bacon, are often added to the leanest parts of the turkey to help offset dryness during cooking. This will of course influence fat levels and potentially increase saturated fat levels.
5. May support heart health
Turkey’s low fat, high protein and broad micronutrient contribution are all reasons why including it in your diet may be beneficial for heart health. One large observational study of females reported higher intakes of poultry and fish were associated with a lower risk of coronary artery disease. Furthermore, it would seem that replacing a serving of red meat with a poultry one reduced cardiovascular risk by 19%.
Is turkey safe for everyone?
A popular Christmas and Thanksgiving roast, unless you have an allergy to turkey it is recognised as safe for most people. Allergy is rare but may affect both children and adults. Secondary poultry meat allergy may also occur and may relate to a sensitisation to serum albumins which are present in muscle tissue and egg yolk. Chicken and turkey are reported to be highly cross reactive.
Processed varieties or fresh turkey, which has been brined before roasting, may be high in salt and possibly additives and flavour enhancers. It’s worth checking labels or recipes if you follow a low salt diet.
This article was last updated on November 2021.
Kerry Torrens is a Registered Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food