It’s Turkey time again—time when you sit down with family, watch a football game if you’re so inclined, and pass the food with all the fixings but what are the health benefits of turkey? Front and center in the biggest food celebration of the year is turkey, the nearly ubiquitous Thanksgiving meat. Around 7 billion pounds of turkey (that’s 10 Empire State Buildings!) are produced yearly in the US, so if you’re a fan of the bird, you’re in luck. You can thank Sarah Josepha Hale, writer of the nursery rhyme Mary Had a Little Lamb, for convincing Abraham Lincoln that America should have an official turkey day.
Contrary to popular belief, though, it’s not the tryptophan in turkey that makes you sleepy. This is a widely believed myth. In reality, you get sleepy after a Thanksgiving meal because you simply ate too much. The overindulgence in carbs and sometimes alcohol contribute to blood sugar spikes that tire your body out. But that doesn’t mean that a big serving of it is bad for you! In fact, in moderate portions, it is a great source of many nutrients.
Why is Turkey Good for You?
- Vitamins. Itcontains lots of vitamin B6, which improves immune function and supplements the body’s key systems. Vitamin B6 deficiency is relatively common.
- Selenium. The selenium found in it carries a whole host of health benefits—too many to discuss—but among them are noted improvements in Alzheimer’s patients, better management of diabetes, and less incidence of benign tumors. Many people are deficient in selenium, and if fish (another great source) is not one of your favorite foods, turkey is a great alternative.
- Tryptophan. This chemical isn’t responsible for making you sleepy—in fact, it helps to balance blood sugar (which is the actual source of the sleepiness problem; you just don’t get enough turkey compared to everything else you eat on Thanksgiving). Tryptophan is an amino acid that produces serotonin, a mood stabilizer. It improves mental health and immune function.
Those are just a few of the great things about turkey. But before you go out and buy packages and packages of turkey meat to snack on every day, there are a few things you should know. Buying packaged deli meat isn’t a good choice—it’s often loaded with sodium and is extremely processed, so there are many things besides actual turkey meat hiding in there. Slow-cooking or baking a fresh turkey is the way to go. But how do you know that your turkey is fresh?
How Do You Choose Good Turkeys?
- Don’t believe your grocery store’s “fresh” label without asking the butcher when it was actually prepared. Many stores label their turkeys as “fresh” even though they were packaged 9 months or more ago!
- Turkeys that are raised and then sold the same day or the day after they are harvested have a more intense flavor and better texture than frozen turkeys, so if you have a local butcher or meat shop, that will likely be your best bet. Local turkeys are also much less likely to have been given antibiotics and a grain-based diet.
- Choose meat that is supple. Grainy or excessively firm meat should be avoided.
Turkeys are a great, nutritious meal anytime, but they really shine during the fall season. Remember that on average, you can plan for about a pound per person. This season, make sure turkey is on the menu and share it around!