Turkey Nutrition Facts: Macronutrients, Vitamins, and Health Benefits

Published September 21, 2022
Grilled turkey breast with addition of herbs, spices and vegetables

Turkey isn't just for Thanksgiving. Turkey is a healthy source of lean protein that can be enjoyed year round. It makes a tasty burger, can be the base of a hearty casserole, and who doesn't love a savory turkey sandwich at lunchtime?

If you're used to grabbing the same pack of ground beef or chicken at the market, take a chance on turkey next time. It can be swapped into your favorite recipes and can shake up your regular routine. It's not only nutritious, it's delicious.

Turkey Nutrition Facts

Turkey is naturally low in carbohydrate (most forms are carb-free) and high in protein. With so many of us looking for new ways to get protein, it's good to know that just 3 ounces of turkey, about the size of a deck of cards, contains nearly 50% of your body's need for high-quality protein. This type of protein is easy for the body to use and supplies all the amino acids you need. Protein is used by your body to build and repair muscle tissue and bones and also helps in the production of hormones and enzymes.

Some types of turkey are low in fat. But turkey is available in many different forms and the nutrition facts vary based on the kind that you buy and how you prepare it.

Macronutrients in Different Types of Turkey

If you are including turkey in your diet to meet certain dietary needs, you'll want to be careful about the type that you choose. The amount of protein can vary slightly, but fat and sodium content can vary more substantially. Here are the nutrition facts for some popular types:

Type Portion Calories Protein Carbohydrate Fat Saturated Fat Sodium
Turkey breast, no skin 3 ounces cooked 125 26 grams 0 grams 1.8 grams 0.5 grams 84 milligrams
Turkey breast, with skin 3 ounces cooked 139 25 grams 0 grams 4.5 grams 1.4 grams 97 milligrams
Turkey leg, with skin 3 ounces cooked 177 24 grams 0 grams 8.4 grams 2.6 grams 65 milligrams
Ground turkey breast, 99% lean 3 ounces cooked 138 29 grams 0 grams 2.5 grams 0.7 grams 59 milligrams
Ground turkey, 93% lean 3 ounces cooked 176 22 grams 0 grams 9.7 grams 2.5 grams 77 milligrams
Deli turkey breast 3 slices, about 1.7 ounces 51 7.1 grams 1 gram 1.8 grams 0.4 grams 432 milligrams
Turkey sandwich 6-inch sub sandwich on white bread, lettuce and tomato 270 17 grams 41 grams 4.3 grams 0.9 grams 583 milligrams

You can see here that when you eat the skin, this adds some saturated fat. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans (Dietary Guidelines) recommend getting less than 10% of your total daily calories from saturated fat, since too much saturated fat can raise your risk for heart disease.

Vitamins and Minerals in Turkey

Turkey is a great source of vitamins and minerals. A 3-ounce serving is packed with nutritional power. Here are some highlights:

  • Contains more than half of your daily need for niacin, which helps the body use energy and is linked to benefits for helping your cells handle your body's ever-changing needs.
  • Has nearly half of your daily value for the superstar mineral selenium, an antioxidant that protects you from oxidative stress which can lead to damage to cells and tissues. It also protects you from infection, helps with reproduction, DNA synthesis and thyroid hormone metabolism.
  • Packs 30% of your need for phosphorus which is a part of bones, teeth, DNA, RNA and cell membranes, and is important for maintaining of normal pH in body fluids.
  • Contains 15% of your daily need for zinc, which helps with immunity and wound healing, vitamin B12 which is important for formation of red blood cells, DNA synthesis and keeping your central nervous system functioning smoothly, and choline which is needed for metabolism and maintenance of cell membranes.
  • Has 8% of your need for iron, well known for helping with cell functions and early brain development.

Chicken vs. Turkey Nutrition

People eat about six times as much chicken as turkey every year, yet from a nutrition standpoint, they are similar, and both are healthy white meats. When comparing chicken breast to turkey breast, both contain high-quality protein, chicken contains slightly more protein and selenium, and turkey has more zinc.

If you're on a budget, however, chicken might be a smarter choice. You're likely to find more options at your local market. Not only are you likely to find different brands, but different parts of the chicken are usually widely available, so you can compare costs and choose the poultry that fits your budget.

Health Benefits of Turkey

It's hard to argue with the health benefits of turkey. Hands down, it's a healthy white meat. Turkey can be a way to add some much-needed variety to your meals while keeping them super nutritious. These are some of the health benefits associated with turkey consumption.

Weight Control

Choosing unprocessed turkey as a part of a vegetable-rich diet is linked to a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity. And it can help you maintain a healthy weight too. Choose skinless turkey, as recommended by The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), to manage overweight and obesity.

Improved Heart Health

The AHA recommends having 3-ounces of turkey as part of a heart healthy diet. They also suggest avoiding fried turkey, turkey with skin and high sodium turkey such as sliced deli turkey meat. The NHLBI recommends turkey as a replacement for red meat to help people follow the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan to lower blood pressure.

May Help Prevent Stomach Cancer

White meat, such as chicken and turkey, may help reduce the risk of stomach cancer, according to a 2019 meta analysis published in the journal Nutrients. Study authors evaluated research that examined the impact of red meat consumption, processed meat consumption, and white meat (such as turkey) consumption to see how each type of meat affected overall risk for stomach cancer. They concluded that an increase in white meat consumption may reduce the risk of gastric cancer, while red or processed meat may increase the risk of this type of cancer.

However, other research has linked overall meat intake (including white meat) to an increased risk of stomach cancer, so it's important to keep an eye on portions.

Is Processed Turkey Healthy?

Processed meats are linked with increased risk of heart disease, cancer and dementia, while turkey and other white meat from the whole bird or ground turkey meat is not linked to development of these diseases and may be protective. A 2021 examination of 22 studies found that processed meat was linked to an increased risk of death from all causes, while white meat, such as turkey cut or carved from the whole bird or ground turkey meat, is a healthier alternative.

Processed meats include any type of preserved meat that is salted, cured or smoked or treated with chemical preservatives. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) recommends avoiding processed meats because even small amounts increases the risk of colon or rectal cancer.

Turkey is sometimes used in place of red meat in meat processing. For example, salami (a processed meat) is usually made from pork or beef. But you'll also find turkey salami on some store shelves. Turkey salami may be lower in calories than traditional salami, but it is still a processed meat. Other types of processed meats include corned beef, ham, hot dogs, pepperoni, and sausage.

To avoid the unhealthy effects of processed meat, you may want to skip them altogether. Although there are processed products made with no nitrates or nitrites, certain products use vegetable extracts such as celery powder for processing, and more research is needed to determine their safety.

Deli Turkey

When choosing deli turkey breast, you'll see a slew of options. If you're watching your sodium intake to meet the limit of 2,300 mg daily recommended by the Dietary Guidelines, keep an eye out for lower sodium options. Too much sodium can pull water into your blood vessels leading to high blood pressure, which is linked to heart disease and stroke.

Turkey Bacon

If you're choosing turkey bacon over traditional pork bacon for health reasons, you might want to compare the nutrition for each product. When the portions are compared side by side, both types of bacon offer similar amounts of protein. Pork bacon has slightly more selenium with 10.5 micrograms (about 20% of the amount needed daily) versus 4.6 micrograms (about 9% of the amount needed daily) for turkey bacon. Turkey bacon has more sodium depending on the brand you choose. They are both considered processed meats.

Turkey bacon Pork bacon
Slightly lower in calories Slightly higher in calories
Slightly lower in saturated fat Slightly higher in saturated fat
Slightly lower in protein Slightly higher in protein

How to Choose and Prepare a Turkey

The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests that you choose a turkey that has has not been injected with fats or broths. You can check product labels to find one that doesn't have these additives. Then they suggest that you bake, broil, stew or roast your turkey to keep it heart healthy.

Of course, sometimes, turkey gets a bad rap because it is dry, but it doesn't need to be. Basting a turkey with wine or broth or rubbing olive oil on foil and tenting it over the turkey will keep the meat moist and help bring out the natural flavors.

Your turkey also doesn't have to be bland. Make your turkey tastier by using flavorful ingredients such as onions and garlic, herbs such as thyme, rosemary and sage, and for bold flavor, try adding halved lemons or oranges to the pan.

No time to roast a turkey? If you have a convection oven you can cook your turkey in just a fraction of the time! Depending on the weight, it can take from under two hours to just a little over four hours.

After you enjoy your roast turkey, keep leftovers refrigerated and consume within 1-2 days. According to the USDA, turkey can also be frozen for up to 12 months.

Turkey Nutrition Facts: Macronutrients, Vitamins, and Health Benefits