Eating Turkey This Thanksgiving? You May Want to Rethink It

Turkey has often been considered one of the healthier options for meat-eaters. But is turkey actually bad for you? We break down the risks.

Jacqueline Gualtieri - Author

Apr. 20 2020, Updated 2:58 p.m. ET

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Thanksgiving is just around the corner and Americans all over will be taking part in the traditional turkey feast. In fact, it's estimated that over 46 million turkeys are eaten on Thanksgiving alone. But if you're one of the families taking part in the holiday by chowing down on the bird, you may want to rethink what you're eating. We set out to find out if turkey is actually bad for you. What we discovered may change your mind about what you're planning to cook. 

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Is turkey bad for you? There are some benefits but also risks to your Thanksgiving meal.

Turkey has often been regarded as one of the healthier meat options. We're often told to replace ham or bologna with turkey in our sandwiches and we're told that putting a turkey burger on the table is a lot healthier for us than a beef burger is. The reality is that turkey substitutes in our food, like making turkey bacon instead of regular bacon, can actually raise the fat percentage and the sodium level

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Often a beef burger is pretty much the same in calories, fat, and sodium as a turkey burger. And both have about the same protein level.  The big reason for the potentially higher fat and sodium is because of the fact that these products say that they contain "other turkey parts" which usually means skin. 

If you're planning on eating the skin of the turkey on Thanksgiving, you may want to go ahead and scrape it off instead. Turkey is actually relatively high in fat, but most of that fat is coming completely from the skin. By removing it, you're making your feast a healthier meal. 

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Oh and by the way, if your cousin starts telling you that you should only be eating white meat, remind them that, although it's higher in fat and calories, there are more vitamins and minerals in the dark meat than the white meat. 

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The biggest way that your turkey is hurting you actually has nothing to do with the turkey itself. Instead, it has to do with how the turkey was raised. Factory-farmed turkeys are often injected with salt, water, and other preservatives, which extend their shelf life and help the farm cut costs. They may also be injected with antibiotics. 

The government doesn't make farms report on their antibiotic use in turkeys and factory farmers typically try to avoid talking about it, but public health advocates have been encouraging the conversation. There are two reasons why antibiotics may be in your turkey. The first is because the farm uses antibiotics to promote growth in their turkeys, as bigger turkeys fetch a higher price. The second reason is to prevent diseases from spreading through the farm. 

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The problem is that, regardless of why they are used, antibiotics in our food are raising our resistances to them. Meaning that some hospitals are already seeing that some antibiotics no longer work on humans because of previous exposure from ingesting them in our food.

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So what can you do about it? 

When buying your turkey dinner, avoid the factory farms. Look for heritage turkeys which are raised in smaller flocks, given access to the outdoors, and allowed extra time for growth instead of being pumped full of antibiotics to grow. They are also not injected with salt or preservatives, like factory-farmed turkeys are. 

You don't have to get rid of your Thanksgiving turkey altogether. But you may want to be more mindful of where it's coming from.

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