The Benefits of Eating Turkey

Monday, December 10, 2012

Canadians eat a lot of turkey, especially during the holiday season. In 2011, Canadian households consumed a total of 143.4 million kilograms – 9.5 million turkeys – and per capita consumption was 4.2 kilograms. The nation’s turkey consumption is second only to the United States, where annual per capita consumption is approximately 7.4 kilograms.

Turkey is especially popular at Thanksgiving and Christmas, when Canadians enjoy serving traditional holiday feasts that include roast turkey, often with stuffing. In fact, according to the Turkey Farmers of Canada, 46% of all whole turkeys sold in Canada in 2011 were sold at Christmastime and 32% at Thanksgiving. Nearly half (42.4%) of Canadian households bought turkey and turkey products for Christmas 2011, and 38% of households made this type of purchase for Thanksgiving.

It’s not just tradition that inspires Canadians to eat turkey; the nutritional benefits encourage consumption as well. A leader in the lean meat class, turkey is an excellent source of protein and vitamins B12 and B3 (niacin). Containing less fat and cholesterol, as well as fewer calories, than red meat, it is a good choice for individuals who are weight- and health-conscious (its modest fat content is mainly unsaturated). Turkey is also a good source of selenium, phosphorus and potassium.

Following are some of the outstanding health benefits turkey offers:

Muscle-building protein. A 100-gram serving of white turkey meat provides 32 grams of protein, which is more than half of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults. The protein in turkey is complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids, which are vital to the health and maintenance of the skin, muscles, organs and glands.

Energy-fueling B vitamins. Turkey supplies the body with niacin (vitamin B3), which helps convert food to energy and aids nerve function, and vitamin B12, which is critical to the formation of healthy red blood cells and the prevention of anemia. It also provides vitamin B6, which facilitates protein metabolism.

Cell-protecting selenium. Selenium is a mineral needed in small amounts to protect cells from damage. In addition to these antioxidant powers, selenium plays a key role in metabolism.

Heart-strengthening potassium. The mineral potassium, which is abundant in turkey meat, plays a critical role in heart and muscle function as well as blood pressure. Some evidence also links a potassium-rich diet with lower cholesterol.

Body-balancing phosphorus. A major component of bones and teeth, phosphorus is the second most abundant mineral in the body (after calcium). It helps the body maintain a normal pH and facilitates metabolic processes. Phosphorus is essential to the growth, maintenance and repair of tissues and cells, and production of DNA and RNA.

Immunity-building zinc. Dark turkey meat is a good source of zinc, which helps heal cuts and scrapes and fuel the immune system.

What about tryptophan? People often talk about the sedative effects of tryptophan, one of the essential amino acids found in turkey. Although tryptophan can indeed cause relaxation or drowsiness, it would need to be taken on an empty stomach and in the absence of other amino acids or protein to cause actual drowsiness, says the Turkey Farmers of Ontario. So why do we get sleepy after a Thanksgiving or Christmas feast? Carbohydrates and overeating are the likely culprits. Carbohydrates cause a calming effect, and overeating of any kind causes the body to focus its energy on digestion, leaving the nervous system under-fueled and a little groggy.


Sources: Health Canada, Manitoba Turkey Producers, National (U.S.) Turkey Federation, Turkey Farmers of Canada, Turkey Farmers of Ontario