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Is Ground Turkey Healthy for Weight Loss? Or Better Than Beef?

Weight Loss & Diets | Written by Nathan | Updated on 2 February 2022

From burgers to chili, ground turkey has gained a reputation as a healthy alternative to ground beef. Health fanatics rave about the numerous benefits of making the switch from beef to turkey, but is ground turkey healthy for weight loss?

Or is it just another weight loss myth?

Can I Eat Ground Turkey if I Want To Lose Weight?

Incorporating lean poultry such as ground turkey into a well-balanced diet has been associated with lower risks of becoming overweight or obese [1]. Turkey is packed with protein to help build lean muscle, and research has shown that the more lean muscle mass an individual possesses, the more calories they burn throughout the day [2]. Our bodies constantly burn calories even when they are at rest. This is known as the “resting metabolic rate” and science has demonstrated that it takes more calories to feed and maintain muscle mass than it does fat mass. 

Before giving up on weight loss, do your best to start incorporating strength training exercises into your weekly routine. Pair this along with consuming protein-rich foods like ground turkey to increase muscle mass and raise your resting metabolic rate.

What Makes Ground Turkey Good for Weight Loss?

Doctors, dietitians, and overbearing coworkers will all tell you to switch from beef to poultry if you want to lose weight, but why is ground turkey healthy for weight loss? To answer this question, it’s important to look at what it’s made of.

Below we have listed the nutrition facts for one serving (4 oz uncooked) of ground turkey according to the United States Department of Agriculture [3].

  • Calories – 170
  • Protein – 21 grams
  • Total Fat – 9 grams
  • Saturated Fat – 2 grams
  • Unsaturated Fat – 6 grams
  • Trans Fat – 1 gram
  • Carbohydrates – 0 grams
  • Vitamin B1 – 0.076 mg
  • Vitamin B3 – 6.12 mg
  • Vitamin B6 – 0.395 mg
  • Vitamin B9 – 7.91 µg
  • Vitamin B 12 – 1.36 µg
  • Vitamin A – 82.5 IU
  • Vitamin D – 15.8 IU
  • Sodium – 78 mg

The ground turkey used in this example has a 93% lean meat to 7% fat ratio, which is common for what can be found at most grocery stores.

Not only is turkey high in protein, but it’s also a complete protein source which means it contains all 9 essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein needed to sustain life). It’s well known that protein is needed to build muscle, but proteins are also found in hair, skin, bones, and nearly all of our body’s tissues. Proteins make up enzymes in our bodies which allow for important chemical reactions to occur such as digestion [4].

By eating complete protein sources, the body has all the essential amino acids needed to function optimally. 

How Does Protein Aid in Weight Loss?

After eating a meal, the body’s metabolism will temporarily increase to digest and absorb food and this is known as the “thermic effect of food.” Research shows that protein has the highest thermic effect, requiring 15-30% of its calories to be used up for digestion and absorption. For comparison, carbohydrates only require 5-10% of their calories to be expended, and fat 0-3% [5]. In essence, this research claims that when consuming 100 calories of meat, only 70-85 calories are stored as usable energy.

Research also suggests that protein can help control appetite. Protein-rich meals have been shown to regulate certain “hunger hormones” which allows individuals to feel more satisfied after meals [6].

Is Ground Turkey Good For You?

Not only is ground turkey healthy for weight loss, but it is also a good source of B vitamins which have many benefits including improving energy levels, increasing brain function, and regulating metabolism. Ground turkey also contains a fair amount of vitamin D which is essential for bone health, mood stabilization, and immune function [7].

While these micronutrients won’t teach the body how to lose weight fast in 2 weeks, they perform hundreds of important functions to keep the body and mind optimized.

Is Turkey Red Meat? And is Red Meat Unhealthy?

The concept of ground meat may lead you to believe that ground turkey is red meat, turkey is actually white meat in all of its forms. Red meat has earned the reputation of being unhealthy largely due to the fact it can be high in saturated fat. While conflicting research continues to accumulate on this topic, many studies link red meat to an increased risk of certain cancers and cardiovascular disease [8].

The 2015-2020 dietary guidelines recommend getting less than 10% of calories from saturated fat, which would be a limit of about 22 grams for a standard 2000 calorie diet [9]. The typical serving of ground turkey only has about 2 grams of saturated fat, making it an ideal low-fat meat choice.

Is Turkey Healthier Than Ground Beef? (Turkey Burger vs Beef Burger)

Ground meat getting ready to be made into turkey burgers.

Turkey is considered lean meat as it is low in fat, while beef can vary depending on the type. There are ground beef selections that have similar nutritional content to ground turkey. To find these, it’s important to look at labels on the packaging.

When looking at lean ground beef burgers with a 93% lean to 7% fat ratio, the macronutrient breakdown will be nearly identical to ground turkey burgers with the same ratio. Here’s a breakdown of each:

  • According to the USDA, 4 oz of uncooked lean ground beef contains 172 calories, 21 grams of protein, and 9 grams of fat (3 grams of saturated fat) [10].
  • And the per the USDA 4 oz of uncooked ground turkey contains 150 calories, 19 grams of protein, and 8 grams of fat (2 grams of saturated fat) [11]. 

Ground turkey and ground beef are nearly equivalent nutrition wise, but there is ground beef choices with a much higher fat content than ground turkey. That being said, if flavor is a priority then it’s generally better to choose a more fattening ground beef if calorie goals aren’t an issue.

Best Meats for Healthy Weight Loss

Whether or not ground turkey is good for weight loss came down to its macronutrient profile, and the same can be considered for other meats too. All meat will be close to zero carbs, meaning the amount of fat in the meat will determine how well it supports weight loss.

The USDA classifies meat with less than 10 grams of fat and less than 4.5 grams of saturated as a lean meat [12].

So lean meats that can be used for healthy weight loss include: 

  • Turkey (all kinds)
  • Pork Loin/Tenderloin
  • Deli Ham
  • Deli Roast Beef
  • Skinless boneless chicken breast
  • Lean ground beef (At least “90% lean” on the label)

Prohibiting high-fat meats entirely is not one of the strict weight-loss rules, but they should be consumed in moderation. Since some ground turkey is a “lean meat”, evidence confirms that not only is ground turkey healthy for weight loss, but it’s also a heart-healthy choice low in saturated fat and sodium.

Replacing high-fat meats with this healthy low-fat alternative is one of many weight loss solutions the whole family can try. Be careful though because as with anything else, eating too much meat can hinder weight loss goals.

So be sure to aim for an overall well-balanced diet of mostly lean meats, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. 

References

[1] Marangoni, F., Corsello, G., Cricelli, C., Ferrara, N., Ghiselli, A., Lucchin, L., & Poli, A. (2015, June 9). Role of poultry meat in a balanced diet aimed at maintaining health and wellbeing: An  italian consensus document. Food & nutrition research. Retrieved January 28, 2022, from  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4462824/

[2] Metabolism. Metabolism – Better Health Channel. (n.d.). Retrieved February 1, 2022, from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/metabolism 

[3] Fooddata Central Search Results. FoodData Central. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2022, from  https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/172850/nutrients

[4] U.S. National Library of Medicine. (n.d.). Amino acids: Medline Plus medical encyclopedia. Medline Plus. Retrieved February 1, 2022, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002222.htm

[5] Pesta, D. H., & Samuel, V. T. (2014). A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: Mechanisms and possible caveats. Nutrition & Metabolism11(1), 53. https://doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-11-53

[6] Morell, P., & Fiszman, S. (2017). Revisiting the role of protein-induced satiation and satiety. Food  Hydrocolloids68, 199–210. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodhyd.2016.08.003

[7] Vranić, L., Mikolašević, I., & Milić, S. (2019). Vitamin D Deficiency: Consequence or Cause of Obesity?. Medicina (Kaunas, Lithuania)55(9), 541. 22 November 2021. https://doi.org/10.3390/medicina55090541 

[8] Aykan, N. F. (2015). Red Meat and colorectal cancer. Oncology Reviews.  https://doi.org/10.4081/oncol.2015.288

[9] Cut down on saturated fats – health.gov. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2022, from  https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-10/DGA_Cut-Down-On-Saturated-Fats.pdf

[10] Fooddata Central Search Results. FoodData Central. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2022, from  https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/173110/nutrients

[11] [10] Fooddata Central Search Results. FoodData Central. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2022, from https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/172850/nutrients 

[12] Ask USDA. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2022, from https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/How-do-I-choose-lean-meat-and-poultry 

About the Author

Nathan

Nathan has been a fitness enthusiast for the past 12 years and jumps between several types of training such as bodybuilding, powerlifting, cycling, gymnastics, and backcountry hiking. Due to the varying caloric needs of numerous sports, he has cycled between all types of diets and currently eats a whole food diet. In addition, Nathan lives with several injuries such as hip impingement, spondylolisthesis, and scoliosis, so he underwent self-rehabilitation and no longer lives with debilitating pain.