Since before Americans officially celebrated Thanksgiving, turkey has had a place at the holiday table. Lately, it also has developed a reputation as a relatively healthy part of the big meal.
Does it deserve that reputation?
“Yes, it does,” Catherine M. Champagne, a professor of nutritional epidemiology and dietary assessment and nutrition counseling at Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge says. But that blessing comes with a side of caveats.
Historians say turkey has been part of American harvest feasts since the early 19th century, but a couple of writers get credit for serving up the idea of turkey as a holiday staple. Sara Josepha Hale, “the mother of Thanksgiving,” described it as central to a traditional New England Thanksgiving in an 1827 novel, decades before Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national holiday in 1863. In between, in 1843, Charles Dickens gave turkey a starring role in “A Christmas Carol.”
It was a healthy choice.
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How healthy is turkey?
“Turkey is a great source of protein, rich in many vitamins and minerals, and is low-fat – if you don’t eat the skin,” Champagne shares. It’s rich in B-complex vitamins niacin, B6 and B12 and the essential nutrient choline.
It’s a good source of the minerals magnesium and phosphorus, and it provides iron, potassium and zinc. It’s also high in selenium, which may help support your immune system, Champagne adds.
Dark meat has slightly more fat and calories than white, but Champagne says the question of “white or dark?” is not as significant as “skin or no skin?”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a 3-ounce serving of roasted turkey breast with skin comes with about 4.5 grams of fat and 139 calories. That size serving without the skin contains only about 1.8 grams of fat and 125 calories.
Similarly, 3 ounces of dark meat with skin contains about 8.5 grams of fat and 175 calories. Without skin, that falls to