Turkey has long been associated with holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas - something reserved for only select times of the year. Now, turkey can be enjoyed in different forms any day of the year thanks to research that has conclusively proven that lean turkey meat can be part of a healthy diet. Turkey can be found in a variety of cuts, including individual breasts, drumsticks, tenderloins, cutlets and ground turkey. These alternatives to a whole turkey make it more economical and easy for families to have a turkey dinner without having to spend a lot of money.


Turkeys are native to the United States and Mexico and have always been a part of the traditional culture of Native Americans. Christopher Columbus brought turkeys back to Europe when he returned from the New World and by the 16th century, turkeys were being raised in Italy, France and England. Initially, only royalty were allowed to consume turkey but eventually turkey became a part of everyday diets.

Turkey has been a long time symbol of American history. Most think of the Pilgrims and of Thanksgiving dinner when the word 'turkey' is uttered. Benjamin Franklin proposed that the turkey be the national symbol of the United States and was reportedly upset when the eagle was chosen instead.[1]

The astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong consumed roasted turkey as part of their first meal on the moon.

Today, the countries that consume the most turkey per person include Israel, the United States, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada and the Netherlands.

Selecting Turkey

For maximum health benefits, selecting fresh turkey is preferable over selecting previously frozen turkey. Additives such as MSG (monosodium glutamate), sodium erythorbate and salt are not allowed on fresh turkey and that is a major health advantage. The USDA also bans the use of steroids and antibiotics in poultry production, unlike beef and pork production.

If possible, try to buy turkey that has been labeled as organic. This means that the turkeys were fed organic feed, meaning the turkeys will be far less likely to have contaminants. Also try to look for turkey that came from a farm where there was genuine access to pasture. Terms such as "free range" or "free roaming" do not guarantee a bird's quality since poultry are only required to have access to the outside in order for these terms to show up on packaging labels. So, look for organic turkey described as "pasture fed" or contact the producer about how the birds were raised. if there is such a scheme in your country try to please buy turkey or other meat that was compassionately reared.

If you come across turkey breasts in the store, don't look for ones that are already skinned. If you need to cut out the fat and calories, purchase the skin-on breasts, roast them in the oven and then peel off the skin. The skin will provide moisture and give the breasts additional flavor. Skinned breasts are more likely to dry out and be bland.

Choosing ground turkey can be a bit more confusing. You probably will encounter several different types with varying fat content or misleading labeling. The kind of ground turkey you may see the most is what many butchers will label as 'lean'. Be aware that just because the sign says 'lean,' it doesn't mean that the meat will be lower in saturated fat. 'Lean' ground turkey is typically a 85/15 blend (85% lean meat, 15% fat). Try to skip buying this type, because that ratio of lean to fat is the same as a package of fatty ground chuck. Look for brands that say 'extra lean' or specify the lean/fat ratio. These typically will be a 93/7 blend and are much more suitable for everyday cooking; you can safely make a juicy burger using this blend. You can even find ground turkey breast, which is 99% lean and usually is considerably more expensive than the fattier kinds. However, this blend does not make very good burgers and has a tendency to cook up a bit dry. If you must buy the 'lean' ground turkey, do make sure to cook off as much of the fat as possible and drain the meat well so you do not ingest the fat.


Turkey can be substituted for ground beef, pork and chicken. It makes wonderful burgers and works well in tacos, chilis and meat loaf. You can shred cooked turkey breast and use it in salads and sandwiches. Its versatility makes it an excellent candidate for just about any dish involving meat.

Health Benefits

Turkey, like other meat products, is an excellent source of protein. In a mere 4 ounce serving, turkey provides 68% of the daily value of protein. Turkey is also an excellent source of selenium, which is an immune-supportive element. It also provides a fair amount of heart-healthy niacin and vitamin B6. It is also a good source of phosphorus and zinc.

It is also an important source of other nutrients, depending on what the turkey was fed. For example, it is possible for turkey to have a good level of omega-3 fatty acids if omega-3 containing fats were included in the turkey's diet and if while alive, the animal was in good health. Turkey is also a natural source of tryptophan, with a 4 ounce serving providing around 120% of the daily value.

Health Concerns

All animal protein provides saturated fat and cholesterol. These two compounds have been clinically proven to cause several chronic diseases such as heart disease and some forms of cancer.

However, turkey is low in saturated fat and cholesterol as long as the skin is removed. Most of the fat tends to reside in the dark meat, so eat the white meat (breasts) when possible. Keep portion sizes to around 3 to 4 ounces, or roughly the size of a pack of playing cards. Treat the meat as a side dish that compliments a meal of vegetables, legumes or grains.

If you buy turkey cold cuts from the grocery store, check the labels carefully. Often, manufacturers will use dark meat combined with organ meats like the heart and gizzards to create a product higher in fat. Cold cuts also tend to be high in sodium, as well.

Turkey and Purines

Turkey contains naturally occurring substances known as purines. Purines can be found in both plants and animals, including humans. Some people are susceptible to purine-related problems and excessive intake of purines can cause chronic health issues. Purines can be broken down into uric acid, which in high enough levels, causes a condition known as gout and can also cause kidney stones. For this reason, individuals with gout or chronic kidney health issues should limit their intake of turkey or avoid it altogether. If you have either condition ask your doctor or other medical adviser what to do.


  1. In those days, of course factory farming had not started yet and good people could eat turkey without worrying what types of lives the birds endured.
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