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Let’s Talk Turkey: Fresh Vs. Processed

Let’s Talk Turkey: Fresh Vs. Processed

Not all turkey is created equally. Here’s what you need to know so you can make the right selection.

The 2013 animated movie Free Birds tells the story of two turkeys who time-travel back to 1621, just before the first-ever Thanksgiving. Their mission: prevent the most fowl of crimes and remove turkey from the holiday menu.

Unfortunately for them, it didn’t work. Americans eat around 51,600,000 turkeys on Thanksgiving Day. The rest of the year, we’re chowing down on turkey burgers and highly processed turkey bacon, jerky, sausage and cold cuts to the tune of about 16.3 pounds of turkey per person.

While fresh-roasted, skinless turkey is lower in saturated fat, calories and cholesterol than red meats—and rich in zinc, B vitamins and selenium—when it becomes a processed meat, you are gobbling up a lot of unhealthy ingredients.

  • Turkey bacon usually contains saturated-fat-rich dark meat and skin, preservatives, potentially cell-damaging artificial liquid smoke flavor, bad-for-you nitrates and vegetable oil; and it delivers 60-70 calories a slice (just 15-20 fewer than pork bacon).  
  • Turkey sausage may have half the fat and calories of pork sausage, but often contains added sugars, nitrates, preservatives and colorings.
  • Turkey jerky is loaded with salt, MSG and added sugars such as molasses powder (refinery syrup, cane molasses), brown sugar and maltodextrin.

So, year-round, stick with fresh-roasted turkey—white meat and skinless. Use it to make dinner, sandwiches (on 100 percent whole grain bread), turkey burgers or turkey soup. At the deli, ask for house-roasted turkey breast—that should dodge the nasty nitrates, sugars and super-sodium that is added to lunchmeats. Then you can gobble it up without worries.

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