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Is Ground Turkey Healthier Than Beef?

Emma Simpkins, MS, RDN

Published in Nutrition

8 min read

January 23, 2024
a pan full of tomato meatballs
a pan full of tomato meatballs

Ground turkey has long been considered a healthy alternative to other meats higher in calories and fat content, making it a staple in many healthy diets. Whether you're making hamburgers, chili, meatloaf, or even tacos, you've probably heard that replacing your red meat with turkey is the healthier choice.

Although both ground turkey and ground beef can be a nutritious part of almost any diet, ground turkey is generally leaner and contains fewer calories. But for those who aren't a huge fan of turkey or aren't ready to make the switch, you may be wondering how the health benefits of these two meats truly compare.

Let's talk about the nutritional benefits of ground turkey and ground beef, how they compare to each other, and how they may affect different areas of your health. Plus, read until the end for our top nutritionist-recommended ground turkey recipes to try!

Nutritional Benefits of Turkey

Ground turkey is often touted as a healthier alternative to other ground meats, offering several health benefits. As a lean meat, ground turkey can make an excellent source of lean protein at 18.9 grams of protein per 100 grams.

Protein is essential for enhancing muscle development, immune function, and overall body repair. On top of this, choosing lean ground turkey may reduce saturated fat intake compared to other high-fat ground meats.

Here is the USDA’s nutritional breakdown for one serving of ground turkey (with seven percent fat content):

nutritional info ground turkey

When it comes to the different preparations of ground turkey, lean ground turkey is made from the leanest parts of the meat (usually the breast), and it contains fewer calories and fat, making it a lighter option. Ground turkey made from dark meat tends to have a slightly higher fat percentage, but it may offer a richer flavor in return. 

Most ground turkey varieties are made from a combination of both light and dark meat, often containing around seven percent total fat, with highly lean ground turkey coming in at as little as one percent fat. Some pre-packaged ground turkey varieties come pre-seasoned which may be convenient for a quick, flavorful meal, but note that the nutritional content may vary for this reason.

Nutritional Benefits of Beef

Ground beef is a popular and versatile protein source that may offer its own range of health benefits. Beef is a notable source of high-quality protein (25.8 grams of protein per 100 grams) needed for improving muscle growth and repair as well as overall body function. 

It’s also a significant source of heme iron, which is more easily absorbed by the body compared to non-heme iron found in plant-based sources. Here is the USDA’s nutritional breakdown for 100 grams of ground beef (with 20 percent fat content):

nutritional info ground beef

Ground beef is typically found in two varieties: lean ground beef and regular ground beef. Regular ground beef has a higher fat content, while lean ground beef contains less fat and fewer calories.

It's also important to consider the various cuts of ground beef in order to make informed nutritional choices. Here are three cuts commonly found in ground beef:

  • Ground chuck: Generally known for its rich flavor due to its slightly higher fat content
  • Ground round: Leaner than chuck, offering a balance between flavor profile and a lower amount of fat 
  • Ground sirloin: Typically the leanest ground beef cut, and more suitable for those seeking low-fat ground beef options

Ground Turkey vs. Ground Beef: Which is Better?

When choosing between ground turkey and ground beef, you may be wondering which of the two is better for your health. Although neither of the two are inherently “better” than the other, there are some key differences in their nutritional content that you should be aware of – particularly when it comes to heart health, weight management, and blood sugar impact.

Heart Health

a woman holding her heart
Source: Unsplash

Red meat has been associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes due to its high content of heme iron, which can contribute to oxidative stress and inflammation. Ground beef contains slightly higher iron content coming in at 2.11 milligrams per serving, while ground turkey has slightly less at just under one milligram per serving. 

While iron is an essential nutrient for the body, excessive intake of certain forms of iron, especially from animal products, may lead to a greater risk of type 2 diabetes, which can negatively impact cardiovascular health.

This same study also linked higher risk of cardiovascular events with more processed meat consumption compared to unprocessed red meat. However, it’s important to note various factors were tested, and while heme iron was one component, salt, preservatives, high-heat cooking, and cholesterol were also contributing factors to these findings.

Including a variety of protein sources, including lean meats and plant-based proteins, can be a part of a heart-healthy diet when consumed as part of a balanced overall eating pattern.

Weight Loss

Both ground turkey and ground beef can be beneficial parts of any healthy diet, but if your primary goal is weight loss, ground turkey does have a lower caloric content. In a single serving (100 grams), ground beef contains around 270 calories, while ground turkey has around 150 calories. 

However, when it comes to eating these foods as part of a calorie deficit, it’s essential to keep other factors in mind such as portion control, preparation methods, and the rest of your diet.

Blood Sugar Impact

a man scanning his food with a cgm on

Ground turkey and ground beef are considered to be low-carbohydrate foods. Since both turkey and beef are rich in protein and low in carbohydrates, their glycemic index is effectively zero.

The glycemic index (GI) is a scale that measures how quickly and significantly a food raises blood glucose levels, and foods with a GI of 0 are often considered to have minimal to no impact on blood sugar levels.

However, for individuals managing blood sugar levels, it's important to not only look at the glycemic index of foods, but also at the other components of the meal that may contribute to carbohydrate intake such as sauces or side dishes.

Is Ground Turkey the Healthiest Meat?

Ground turkey is often considered a healthy meat option, but whether it's the healthiest depends on various factors, including the specific type or cut of ground turkey and individual nutrient needs. When comparing ground turkey to another lean protein like chicken, the calorie content of both can vary based on the cut of meat. 

For instance, lean ground turkey is generally the lowest in calories, while skinless, boneless chicken is another lean option for those watching their calorie intake. Both ground turkey and other leaner cuts of meat like chicken breast are also excellent sources of protein, but the amount can vary widely depending on the specific type, brand, and cut of meat. 

For those aiming for lower calorie and fat content, either lean ground turkey or skinless, boneless chicken are suitable options. However, ground turkey is not inherently the healthiest meat in and of itself, and individualized nutrient needs vary from person to person.

Is it Okay To Eat Ground Turkey Every Day?

ground turkey
Source: Shutterstock

The bottom line is yes—it is okay to include ground turkey in your diet regularly, though as with any food, it's crucial to eat it in moderation and variety in your food choices. Eating a diverse range of nutrient sources helps ensure you obtain all of the essential nutrients needed for enhancing overall health. 

When incorporating turkey into your everyday meals, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Balanced Diet: Aim for a balanced diet that includes a combination of lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats to provide all necessary nutrients.
  • Variety: Including a variety of foods in your diet is crucial for obtaining a broad spectrum of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and other essential nutrients that help meet your body's daily needs.
  • Nutrient-Dense Choices: Choose nutrient-dense options within each food group (e.g., lean ground turkey can be part of a nutrient-dense meal when paired with colorful vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats).

3 Nutritionist-Recommended Ground Turkey Recipes to Try

If you're looking for ways to incorporate more ground turkey into your diet but don't know where to start, you've come to the right place. Here are some of the Nutrisense nutrition team’s favorite ground turkey recipes to try!

Quick Turkey Meat Sauce

turkey meat sauce
Source: Eating Well

Packed with protein, veggies, and delicious flavor, this quick turkey meat sauce is great to have on hand when you need a healthy and hearty warm meal. 

Here are the ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 pound lean ground turkey
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley or basil

Keto Turkey Burgers

With tons of protein and minimal carbohydrates, these grilled turkey burgers make an excellent choice for those on the keto diet or who are seeking more low-carb, high-protein meal options

Here's what you need to make these turkey patties yourself:

  • 1 pound 93% lean ground turkey
  • 1 small yellow onion, or white onion
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 - 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper

Greek Turkey Meatballs

greek turkey meatbals
Source: Rachel Cooks

If you're looking for more variety in your meals, these Greek turkey meatballs are great for meal prep when trying to increase your lean protein intake. Plus, they're completely gluten-free! Here are the ingredients you’ll need:

  • 1 pound extra lean ground turkey breast
  • ¼ cup grated red onion
  • ½ cup crumbled feta cheese 
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper (more to taste)
  • ¼ teaspoon dried dill weed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
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Amanda Donahue, MS, RD, CD

Reviewed by: Amanda Donahue, MS, RD, CD

Amanda is a Nutrition Manager and Registered Dietitian at Nutrisense, with a Masters in Dietetics from Stephen F. Austin State University. Originally from south GA, she got her undergrad degree from Texas Tech University. Before joining Nutrisense, she worked at a hospital in Fort Worth, TX, for 4 years as a dietitian, counseling those living with HIV.

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