The World's Healthiest Foods
Turkey, roast

There is probably no other food that evokes images of celebration, family, friends and giving thanks than turkey. November is the month noted as the season for enjoying turkey but its wonderful taste and nutritional value should not be reserved just for the holidays as it is available to enjoy year-round.

The rise in popularity of this lean meat has been spurred by the increased availability of individual turkey pieces such as breasts, tenderloins, cutlets and ground turkey. These alternatives to cooking a whole turkey have made it more convenient for people to easily incorporate turkey into their diets.


Health Benefits

Turkey is a very good source of protein. A four ounce serving provides 65.1% of the daily value for protein, along with 11.9% of the daily value for saturated fat, about half the amount of saturated fat found in red meat. The structure of the human body is built on protein. We use animal and plant sources of protein for our amino acids and rearrange the nitrogen to make the pattern of amino acids we require.

Cancer-protective Selenium

Turkey is a very good source of the trace mineral, selenium. Selenium is of fundamental importance to human health. It is an essential component of several major metabolic pathways, including thyroid hormone metabolism, antioxidant defense systems, and immune function. Accumulated evidence from prospective studies, intervention trials and studies on animal models of cancer have suggested a strong inverse correlation between selenium intake and cancer incidence.

Several mechanisms have been suggested to explain the cancer-preventive activities of selenium. Selenium has been shown to induce DNA repair and synthesis in damaged cells, to inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells, and to induce their apoptosis, the self-destruct sequence the body uses to eliminate worn out or abnormal cells. In addition, selenium is incorporated at the active site of many proteins, including glutathione peroxidase, which may be the most important for cancer protection. One of the body's most powerful antioxidant enzymes, glutathione peroxidase is used in the liver to detoxify a wide range of potentially harmful molecules. When levels of glutathione peroxidase are too low, these toxic molecules are not disarmed and wreak havoc on any cells with which they come in contact, damaging their cellular DNA and promoting the development of cancer cells. Just four ounces of turkey provide 47.1% of the daily value for selenium.

Turkey is also a good source of another cancer-protective nutrient, the B vitamin, niacin. Components of DNA require niacin, and a deficiency of niacin (as well as other B-complex vitamins) has been directly linked to genetic (DNA) damage.

B vitamins for Energy and Cardiovascular Protection

Turkey is a good source not only of niacin, but also vitamin B6. These two B vitamins are important for energy production. In addition to its DNA actions, niacin is essential for the conversion of the body's proteins, fats, and carbohydrates into usable energy. Niacin helps optimize blood sugar regulation via its actions as a component of a molecule called glucose tolerance factor, which optimizes insulin activity.

Vitamin B6 is essential for the body's processing of carbohydrate (sugar and starch), especially the breakdown of glycogen, the form in which sugar is stored in muscle cells and to a lesser extent in our liver. Along with vitamin B12, vitamin B6 plays a pivotal role as a methyl donor in the basic cellular process of methylation, through which methyl groups are transferred from one molecule to another, resulting in the formation of a wide variety of very important active molecules. When levels of B6 or B12 are inadequate, the availability of methyl groups is also lessened. One result of the lack of methyl groups is that molecules that would normally be quickly changed into other types of molecules not only do not change, but accumulate. One such molecule, homocysteine, is so damaging to blood vessel walls that high levels are considered a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Four-ounces of turkey supplies 27.0% of your daily needs for vitamin B6.


For most people, the thought of turkey evokes images of family, friends, celebration and giving thanks since it has long been associated with holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. Yet, recently turkey has added something more to its repetoire than being a holiday food. It is now thought of as a delicious and nutritious meat that can be enjoyed on any day of the year. The rise in popularity of this lean meat has also been spurred by the increased availability of individual turkey pieces such as breasts, tenderloins, cutlets and ground turkey. These alternatives to cooking a whole turkey have made it more convenient for people to easily incorporate turkey into their diets.


Turkeys are native to the United States and Mexico and are a food that was part of the traditional culture of the native Americans. Christopher Columbus brought turkeys back with him to Europe upon his return from the New World and by the 16th century, turkeys were being domestically raised in Italy, France and England. At first, they were reserved for the banquet tables of royalty, but they soon became more widespread throughout societies.

Turkey has long been associated with American history. Think turkey and images of Pilgrims and Thanksgiving dinners are evoked. Benjamin Franklin must have felt that the turkey was all-American because he wanted it to be our national bird and was upset when the eagle was chosen instead. But the turkey as an icon of America and freedom doesn’t stop there – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin ate roasted turkey (well, space food roasted turkey) as part of their first meal on the moon.

Today, the countries that consume the most turkey per person include Israel, the United States, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada and the Netherlands.

How to Select and Store

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Tips for Preparing Turkey:

Be very careful when handling raw turkey that it does not come in contact with other foods, especially those that will be served uncooked. Wash the cutting board, utensils and your hands very well with hot soapy water after handling the turkey.

If your recipe requires marinating, you should always do so in the refrigerator as turkey is very sensitive to heat, which can increase the chances of spoilage. When defrosting a frozen turkey, do so in the refrigerator and not at room temperature. Put the turkey on a plate to collect any liquid drippings.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Use turkey instead of ground beef in chili con carne recipes.

On a bed of romaine lettuce, serve diced turkey, cooked cubed sweet potatoes, cranberries and walnuts tossed with a light vinagrette for a salad that emanates the flavors of Thanksgiving.

Use ground turkey to make turkey burgers or turkey meat loaf.

Say olé to turkey burritos. Place cooked turkey pieces on a corn tortilla, sprinkle with shredded cheese and diced tomatoes and onions. Broil for a few minutes until hot.

Turkey salad can be prepared numerous ways and can be served for lunch or dinner. One of our favorite recipes is to combine the turkey with celery, leeks, dried apricots and almonds.


Animal protein is a signficant source of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat. These two compounds have been associated with development of various chronic diseases, including heart disease and some forms of cancer.

When using meat in cooking, treat meat as a side dish that compliments a meal of vegetables, grains or legumes. Portion sizes of meat should not be more than 3 to 4 ounces. Almost all of the fat in turkey is found in the skin, and dark meat is higher in fat than the light meat. Check labels carefully if you use turkey cold cuts. Food processors may combine dark meat of the animal along with organ meats like heart and gizzards, which makes the product higher in fat.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please click here.


Turkey Breast, Roasted
4.00 oz-wt
214.33 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
tryptophan 0.35 g 109.4 9.2 excellent
protein 32.56 g 65.1 5.5 very good
selenium 33.00 mcg 47.1 4.0 very good
vitamin B3 (niacin) 7.22 mg 36.1 3.0 good
vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) 0.54 mg 27.0 2.3 good
phosphorus 238.14 mg 23.8 2.0 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%


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This page was updated on: 2004-11-21 00:01:13
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation