5 Surprising Myths about Turkey
It’s time to talk turkey. Here, we debunk some popular notions surrounding the centerpiece of many a Thanksgiving meal
By: Emily G. W. Chau
Photo Credit: Alexandra Rowley
While it’s still up for debate whether turkey was served at the Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving meal in 1621, there are some notions that are flat-out wrong about the bird. Yes, turkeys can indeed fly and, shockingly, eating a slice or two will not make you sleepy. In the spirit of the season, we asked Lyssie Lakatos, RD, and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RD, the Nutrition Twins and authors of The Secret to Skinny: Drop a Size & Get Healthier, to help clear up some common misconceptions about Thanksgiving’s official bird. From the claim that turkey is healthier than red meat to the skin being off limits, we take a look at these common claims and then gobble up the truth about your turkey.
Tasty Low-Cal Thanksgiving Side Dishes
The Skin Is Unhealthy
There’s no getting around the fact that nibbling on turkey skin is going to saddle you with extra calories and fat. After all, the amount of skin on a 3.5-ounce piece of turkey will set you back 30 to 40 calories and about 4 g of fat. Still, you don’t have to avoid the crispy skin entirely. As it turns out, turkey skin contains more belly-flattening monounsaturated fat than it does the heart-clogging saturated kind. While this doesn’t give you license to eat the skin off the whole bird, indulging in a little isn’t nearly as bad as you’d think.
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Turkey Makes You SleepyFalling into a food coma post-Thanksgiving dinner is almost as inevitable as the Indianapolis Colts losing its next game, but don’t be so quick to fault the fowl. It has become popular trivia that turkey contains tryptophan, an amino acid precursor to the mellowing chemicals serotonin and melatonin. But truth is, turkey, pork, chicken, and beef all have about the same amount of tryptophan per gram.
This is not to say that this myth is entirely unfounded. Tryptophan supplements are used as a sleep aid, but you’re supposed to take them on an empty stomach. That way the tryptophan can reach your brain without “competition” from other amino acids. When you tuck in turkey, you’re getting tryptophan as well as a host of other amino acids that all are fighting to be absorbed, blunting any sleep-inducing powers.
Your after-dinner sleepiness is more likely from your body trying to digest the sheer quantity of food you just ingested than from the turkey, explain the Nutrition Twins. Blood is diverted from your brain and muscles to your stomach to help break down your meal, and fat takes 6 to 8 hours to digest, accounting for why you’re drowsy long after you’ve eaten.
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Turkey Is the Healthiest MeatNot always. True, turkey is generally considered a good low-fat protein. A 3.5-ounce serving of turkey breast, no skin, clocks in at 161 calories, 3.7 g of fat, and 29.9 g of protein. Compare that with the same portion of a sirloin, which has 197 calories, 8.6 g of fat, and 27.3 g of protein, and you’re better off with the bird. However, you can shave off a few more calories by roasting pork tenderloin for the holidays. A serving contains 147 calories, 4 g of fat, and 26 g of protein.
Post-Holiday Tip: Turkey isn’t always better than beef. A 4-ounce turkey burger contains 166 calories and 8.5 g of fat, and a 4-ounce lean sirloin burger contains only 140 calories and 4.5 g of fat. Unless specified as turkey breast, ground turkey includes the fattier dark meat and skin, so you’re not always doing your body a favor by picking a turkey burger over a beef patty.
The Best Way to Cook Turkey Is Long and LowTurkey meat has a reputation for being dry—especially if you stick to the healthier white meat parts—but slow roasting a bird at a low temperature to keep it tender and moist isn’t the best course of action. The USDA recommends that you set your oven no lower than 325°F when cooking a turkey, because cooking your bird at a low temperature increases the risk for bacteria growth. Instead, to keep your turkey moist, keep the skin on and cook it wrapped in cheesecloth, recommend the Nutrition Twins. Even if you don’t eat the skin, the meat will be juicier than if you cooked it without.
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Turkey Gravy Is the Most Caloric Holiday AccoutrementAlthough you’re sure to cut calories by skipping the gravy, you won’t necessarily save your diet if you substitute it for cranberry sauce. A 1/4-cup serving of turkey gravy can have as few as 40 calories and 2.5 g of fat, whereas the same amount of jellied cranberry sauce has 110 calories and 0 g of fat. It’s a trade-off though: While the cranberry sauce is full of sugars and calories, the gravy packs more fat and sodium. As always, it’s important to read labels for the most accurate comparison.
Next up: 10 Ways to Have a Healthy-ish Thanksgiving
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