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Is Turkey Bad For You?



Short answer

There are different types of turkey. The best bird would be a USDA certified organic turkey. Your next bet would be a “conventional” turkey. And your last bet would be processed deli turkey meats.



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Long answer

Turkey is always a holiday favorite but many people enjoy turkey throughout the year.  Turkey is a nice source of protein and the skinless white meat is low in fat and calories and has a low glycemic index.  Turkey also contains iron, zinc, potassium, B6, niacin, phosphorous and selenium. Selenium is a wonderful antioxidant and not only helps our thyroid and metabolism but may prevent certain types of GI and lung cancers. 

Although many of us feel sleepy after eating turkey it should be noted that it is not just because of the amino acid L-Tryptophan. Tryptophan helps to produce niacin as well as serotonin. Serotonin is a brain chemical that does help us sleep better and have a better mood, but the amount of tryptophan in turkey is about the same amount as in chicken and other high protein meats and seafood. When you ingest tryptophan it needs to get into the brain to make the serotonin.  There is something called the Blood Brain Barrier that blocks the tryptophan because it is big and unable to cross.  When you eat carbohydrates they link with tryptophan and drag it across with them.  So when you are pigging out at a holiday dinner it is the combo of all those carbohydrates along with the tryptophan from the turkey that has the effect on the brain. 

As you look for the finest turkey, the best option by far is the bird that carries the USDA organic seal.  These birds graze on lands that are not poisoned with pesticides, insecticides and herbicides. And these birds are not injected with hormones and/or antibiotics.  What is alarming to many is that approximately 80% of the antibiotics sold in the United States are for factory farming where animals are injected to prevent or treat infections because they are crammed in tight areas and often times fed contaminated food and water and walk through contaminated fecal material.  The massive usage of antibiotics has led to antibiotic resistance.  This means that the bacteria become immune to these antibiotics and become almost impossible to treat.  This can then be passed on to us and now we see more antibiotic resistance in our population than ever before. 

If you choose a conventional turkey (No USDA organic label) then you are dealing most likely with a factory raised bird that has been injected with antibiotics and possibly hormones to make them larger.  It is important to read labels to check for any addition of toxins that could adversely affect your health and the health of your family. The Centers for Disease Control have growing concerns about the undisciplined use of antibiotics in our livestock. The other concern when it comes to factory farming is that the turkey will have its beak chopped off at an early age.  Turkeys are naturally omnivores in nature (eating plants and animals) but in a factory farm they lose that ability and are fed corn containing grains that are usually genetically modified. 

Processed turkey in the form of deli meats can be a scary proposition. The prepackaged meats often times have a high amount of sodium in general and especially in the form of sodium nitrate.  It is unclear how much sodium nitrate is safe because it is a naturally occurring salt, but research is demonstrating its adverse effects on blood pressure as well as glucose levels. Sodium nitrates are used to help prevent the spoilage and bacteria infestation of the meat.  Listeria is a dangerous bacterium that can impact processed meats.  Sodium nitrate is used to prevent listeria but because this infection can have deadly consequences to a fetus, pregnant women should not eat processed meats.  There are also studies out of Linus Pauling Institute that suggest that sodium nitrates are responsible for a higher incidence of certain cancers including: brain, leukemia, nose and throat, colon and stomach. Some individuals are quite sensitive to sodium nitrates in meat and may experience headache, dizziness, seizures, gastroenteritis and a rapid heartbeat.  It is best to read all labels and to ask your deli employee about ingredients in their sliceable meats.  

There have also been reports that in babies the nitrates can bind red blood cells and decrease oxygen circulation-causing “Blue Baby Syndrome”.

Processed meats often have additional water added to the meat so that you “see more on the scale-but there is less meat”.

Possible long-term side effects

  • possible increase in blood pressure and blood glucose with sodium nitrates
  • possible increase risk of cancer with sodium nitrates
  • gi side effects with deli turkey
  • blue baby syndrome with processed deli turkey

Ingredients to be aware of

  • sodium nitrates
  • antibiotic
  • hormones
  • insecticides
  • pesticides


  • good source of protein, vitamin b6 and niacin
  • good source of selenium, zinc, potassium and phosphorous
  • can help with cholesterol levels
  • white meat low in fat and calories and low glycemic index
  • good source of tryptophan that along with carbs helps with the production of serotonin

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Simply Organic Turkey Brine

  • Certified organic
  • Gluten-free
  • Enhances flavor
  • Perfect for poultry
  • Non-Toxic ingredients
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Dr. Becky Maes
Published on: 12-21-2017
Last updated: 12-15-2023

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Dr. Becky Maes
Published on: 12-21-2017
Last updated: 12-15-2023

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