Welcome to Should I Eat This?—our weekly poll of five experts who answer nutrition questions that gnaw at you.
4/5 experts say yes.
As if you needed our blessing—but for the most part, experts say you can feel good about your Thanksgiving main dish. All of the bird lovers applauded turkey’s lean, filling protein. It packs the entire spectrum of B vitamins, in addition to selenium and potassium.
Two experts recommended skipping the skin, if you’re watching calories. Skin adds 35 calories to a typical 3.5-ounce serving, says Harriette R. Mogul, MD, MPH, associate professor of clinical medicine at New York Medical College. And sans skin, turkey’s low in saturated fat, says Kylene Bogden, registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic.
Don’t fall for the tryptophan myth, either. Tryptophan, an amino acid that promotes sleepy-time serotonin, is no more abundant in turkey than in many other meats. “In truth, it’s those carbohydrate-laden trimmings, not the turkey, that promote that all too familiar post-prandial sleepiness on Thanksgiving Day,” Mogul says. Because it’s so rich in protein, turkey stabilizes insulin levels after a meal and actually diminishes sleepiness, she says.
But serving a turkey isn’t all wishbones and three-cornered hats. “Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful and to enjoy the company of loved ones, and we can do that without killing an animal,” says Gene Baur, president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, an animal rescue organization (and past subject of TIME’s 10 Questions). “In addition to all of the delicious traditional Thanksgiving dishes that are naturally plant-based, there are countless plant-based turkey alternatives widely available on the market today that make it easy to skip the dead bird.” Instead, Farm Sanctuary urges you to Adopt a Turkey for $30—color photo and “fun details about your new friend” included. Sponsor a whole flock for $210—the perfect holiday gift.
If you’re committed to eating the bird, however, choose wisely, says Stacia Clinton, RD, regional director of Health Care Without Harm. “Turkeys raised conventionally are routinely given antibiotics,” she says, in order to prevent the spread of turkey illness in crowded conditions. “This is causing the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria that threaten our health by reaching us through air, water, and contaminating the meat we purchase,” she says. This year, Health Care Without Harm asked clinicians to pledge to buy drug-free turkeys from local farms that don’t use antibiotics in feed or water.
Cage-free, vegetarian-fed and antibiotic-free turkeys are a must, agrees Theo Weening, global meat buyer for Whole Foods Market. But please, for the sake of flavor, make sure yours is truly fresh, too, he says—it cooks faster and tastes better. “It’s a little known fact that when you buy a ‘fresh’ turkey from many conventional grocers, it can actually be from birds that have been harvested 9 months or more before Thanksgiving,” he says. “Before taking home your turkey, ask your butcher when it was harvested and where it came from.”’
Now that’s talking turkey.
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