Growing up in a classic South East Asian home, most of us tend to view the turkey as an “exotic” meat that grace the dining table mostly once-a-year, during the grand festivities of Christmas. Unlike in America, it is not tradition that got the turkey its grandiose welcome to our kitchens, but the sense of having something rarely eaten and large enough to serve many stomachs waiting eagerly around the dining table.
As we become more health-conscious, however, the turkey receives its fair share of scrutiny. However, if anything is to be consumed less during Christmas, it should not be the turkey. Here’s why.
Here’s Where Many People Are Wrong about the Turkey
FALSE: “It’s Unhealthy!”
Turkey by itself is not unhealthy. Its bad rep comes as a result of the popularity of “deli turkey”: those cold cuts, hotdogs or turkey-bacons that are so convenient to have slapped in between our breads and dressings. Those are unhealthy because they are high in sodium and nitrites, and immoderate consumption can give rise to high blood pressure and even heart problems. But this is not a flaw unique to deli turkey – all deli meat, whether chicken, lamb or beef, fall under that unhealthy category.
On the other hand, if we go for unprocessed turkey meat, we are serving a protein-rich food that is also low in fat. “So, go for the ‘real stuff’ to maintain good health, as there are no hidden killers in there,” says Associate Professor Harriette R Mogul, of the Department of Clinical Medicine, New York Medical College.
FALSE: “It Makes People Sleepy!”
Allegedly, turkey meat is rich in tryptophan, the amino acid that increases the amount of sleepy time chemical in our body called serotonin. This is, however, a myth! The amount of tryptophan in 100g of turkey breast meat is similar to that in many other meats. Assoc Prof Mogul explains that the post-meal sleepiness is often a result of the carbohydrate-laden trimmings and sides that people tend to pour over the turkey. So, don’t blame the turkey – blame the people who overload the turkey with these extras!
In fact, turkey is so rich in protein that it can help stabilize the body’s insulin levels after a meal, so it is a good choice for diabetics and people looking for a low-glycaemic meat for their meals. Remember not to overload the turkey with dips and sauces!
FALSE: “It’s Full of Fat!”
Now wait a minute, just because something is large, it’s not necessarily loaded with bad fats! Turkey breast meat is exceptionally low in saturated fat, yes that’s the fat that raises your ‘bad cholesterol’. The fat content of a 100g grilled breast fillet is less than 5g. Dr Lilian Cheung, the Director of Health Promotion and Communication of Harvard’s School of Public Health, suggests that even the skin, when eaten sparingly, can be beneficial as it can help add some good fats into the diet, which can help remove ‘bad cholesterol’ and subsequently reduce the risk of heart disease.
FALSE: “It Lacks Other Nutrients!”
Turkey meat is actually rich in trace minerals such as zinc and selenium, which are useful for tissue repair and growth as well as boosting immunity. It is also rich in vitamin B6, which helps to keep red blood cells healthy, and phosphorus, which helps in bone growth and development. Fun fact: 100g of turkey will help meet one third of our daily recommended phosphorus intake.
FALSE: “The Turkey Is Too Big!”
A whole turkey can be a bit too much even for whole families to finish at one go, but leftovers can be easily used for sandwiches and salads. We can even freeze uncooked portions and have them thawed later to be made into kebabs, nuggets and meatballs. Alternatively, mince and ground leftover meat to prepare burger patties, or cut it up into chucks for a stew. How about turkey curry? Turkeys are not just for roasting, so get creative and make every portion of the meat count!
With all the benefits packed in this big bird, let us all say: “Keep calm and eat turkey”!