Turkey is a center for many holiday meals. The Turk, scientifically known as Meleagris gallopavo, is a large bird native to North America. However, its popularity extends worldwide, as its meat is very nutritious and contains many essential vitamins and minerals.
Turkey provides the amino acids needed for muscle growth and repair, and its micronutrients can support brain function, energy production, immune health, and more. It has a great nutritional profile, offering many health benefits during the holidays and beyond.
Protein, made up of amino acids, serves many roles in the body. It acts as structural support to cells and is essential for the function of many biological systems. Protein is necessary for the transport of various nutrients involved in immune function, energy production and fluid balance in the body.
However, the most notable role of protein in the body is related to the growth and repair of muscles. Amino acids are often called the building blocks of life, so protein sources are essential for building muscle.
Turkey is rich in protein. A 4-ounce (oz) serving of turkey breast provides about 27 grams (g) of protein and all nine essential amino acids needed for muscle growth. Adding turkey to a well-balanced diet can be especially beneficial for those trying to lose weight or increase their lean muscle mass.
Additionally, research indicates that poultry, such as turkey, may be a healthier source of protein than their red meat counterparts. Turkey is low in fat, unlike red meat, which has been linked to increased cardiovascular and cancer risks. Those who have a history of heart health problems or a risk of developing cancer may prefer to get their protein from turkey.
B vitamins are involved in many important systems in the body. Turkey contains vitamins B1 and B2, but is particularly rich in vitamins B3, B6 and B12.
- Vitamin B3: Vitamin B3, or niacin, is involved in cellular communication and energy production. A 4 oz serving of turkey provides 11.2 milligrams (mg) of vitamin B3 or 70% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA).
- Vitamin B6: Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, plays a supporting role in the formation of amino acids and the production of neurotransmitters. A 4 oz serving of turkey provides 0.919 mg of vitamin B6, which is 54% of the highest RDA.
- Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is essential for red blood cell formation and DNA synthesis. A 4 oz serving of turkey provides 0.712 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin B12 or 30% of the RDA.
Increasing B vitamin levels through turkey intake may benefit those with depression, migraine headaches, and skin lesions, as research has linked vitamins B3, B6, and B12 in consequence However, it should not replace regular medical care with your doctor.
In addition to its powerful vitamin profile, turkey contains minerals, such as selenium, zinc and phosphorus, which support many health pathways.
- Selenium: Selenium is involved in the production of thyroid hormones, which help regulate your metabolism and growth rate. A 4 oz serving of turkey provides 25.7 mcg of selenium or 47% of the RDA.
- zinc: Zinc is an influential mineral required for many biological processes. It is involved in gene expression, enzymatic reactions and protein synthesis. A 4 oz serving of turkey provides 1.45 mg of zinc, which is about 13% of the RDA.
- Phosphorus: Phosphorus is needed for a diverse collection of processes in the body, including bone mineralization and cell signaling. It is also a critical component in the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate, the body’s primary energy source. A 4 oz serving of turkey provides 227 mg of phosphorus, which is 32% of the mineral’s RDA.
Turkey can support healthy aging because of its mineral content, supporting many body processes involved in health. A single serving can help meet many of your estimated micronutrient needs. However, those with kidney problems should talk to their doctor or a registered dietitian to ensure their portion sizes and corresponding minerals do not conflict with their kidney function.
Turkey boasts an impressive nutritional profile. It is a nutrient-dense food, rich in protein and low in carbohydrates and fats. In addition, it contains various vitamins and minerals, which offer a wide range of health benefits.
A 4 oz serving of turkey breast provides:
- Calories: 129
- fat: 1.67 g
- Saturated fats: 0.327 g
- Sodium: 128 mg
- Carbohydrates: 0.158 g
- Fiber: 0 g
- Added sugars: 0 g
- Protein: 26.8 g
- Vitamin B3: 11.2 mg
- Vitamin B6: 0.919 mg
- Vitamin B12: 0.712 mcg
- Selenium: 25.7 mcg
- zinc: 1.45 mg
- Phosphorus: 227 mg
As mentioned above, turkey can contribute significantly to many daily nutrient needs. Also, since it’s a lean protein source, it can support weight management goals and overall health without overdoing it on calories.
Turkey is a healthy source of protein, but it’s important to consider alternatives for those with dietary restrictions or preferences. Diet plays a direct role in health, affecting many biological systems.
For example, those living with gout may need to moderate their intake of turkey, as research has shown that poultry can increase the accumulation of uric acid, a precursor to the painful condition. Also, those with compromised kidney function may need to be careful about their portion size, as the protein and mineral content must be processed through the kidneys.
It is also important to be aware of how the turkey is prepared. Many store-bought options are high in sodium, which can affect blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. A medical doctor or registered dietitian dietitian can help you design a nutrition care plan that includes turkey and best addresses your needs.
Turkey gets a lot of hype around the holidays, but it can be a nutritious addition to a healthy diet year-round. Consider these tips when incorporating turkey into your meals and snacks:
- Keep raw meat separate from produce and other foods by using different cutting boards when preparing ingredients.
- When cooking the turkey, the recommended internal temperature is 165 F. Try it in three places, including the thickest part of the chest, the inner thigh and the inner part of the wing.
- Try seasoning the turkey with herbs and spices instead of salt.
- Turkey pairs well with whole grains and vegetables for a hearty meal. However, small portions of leftovers can easily enhance the protein of snacks.
Turkey’s delicious taste and great nutritional benefits are often highlighted during the holidays. It is a vital part of many traditional festivals. However, turkey meat has a lot to offer throughout the year. It is a lean protein source that is low in calories and rich in vitamins and minerals. It contains a significant percentage of the RDA for several vitamins, including vitamins B3, B6 and B12.
The body can use the nutrients found in turkey meat to support energy production, red cell formation and metabolism regulation. In addition, its prominent protein content is an excellent driver of muscle protein synthesis. Including turkey in a well-balanced diet is an effective way to support muscle growth and repair, especially when exercising regularly.
Of course, nutritional needs are highly individualized based on many factors, including age, physical activity levels, medical history, and health goals. Pay attention to portion sizes and consider how they may affect daily totals. A registered dietitian can answer questions about turkey and its purported benefits on your health journey.
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