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Ask Dr. Gourmet

Is ground turkey better for you than ground beef?

For the last couple years I have been feeding my family ground turkey in all recipes that call for ground beef. After a friend made a comment that the ground turkey wasn't always better for you I checked the labels. The 85/15 turkey is not as healthy as the 90/10 ground beef from a calorie and fat comparison. In fact, the ground turkey had a lot more calories and fat.

So now I am wondering if we should be eating the lean ground beef (90/10 or higher) instead of the ground turkey. I have tried the ground turkey that is 90/10 and it does not have much flavor. Is there a benefit to eating ground turkey over ground beef? We only eat ground turkey once or twice a week.

Dr. Gourmet Says...

Turkey burger

We get a lot of great questions here and this is one of my favorites recently.

I use both ground turkey and ground beef in recipes. Most of the time I do this for flavor and not as much for health reasons. In some dishes I like the more mellow flavor of the turkey vs. beef.

Ground turkey can be leaner, but it depends on what you purchase and where it comes from. There's a wide variety of results when I look at different packages.

The Whole Foods near me grinds their own and sometimes this is listed as Turkey Breast and other times as Lean Ground Turkey. They tell me that both come in at about 85 calories for 4 ounces and less than a gram of fat. This is because they use only white meat or lean dark meat. This correlates with about what the USDA reports with breast meat being 83 calories and dark meat being 85 calories for 4 ounces.

That's where the comparison stops because the USDA reports 4 ounces of ground turkey as having 170 calories and a little over 9 grams of fat. This correlates with what the Butterball company report on their web site but there's even more fat (230 calories and 17 grams of fat). Wowser! That's 65% of the calories from fat! There's something else strange about this. Here's the screenshot from their web site:

Turkey Nutrition Information

Notice that it says 50% Less fat than Beef. In spite of their unusual use of capital letters this is pretty wide of the mark. This would be true for ground beef that is 70% lean and 30% fat but this is not as available on the market now. Most folks carry 80/20 (80% lean and 20% fat content). This is what McDonalds uses in their burgers. Now that's still a fair amount of fat coming in at 22 grams or right at 284 calories for a 4 ounce serving (200 of that as fat).

At a minimum I look for 90/10 and my Whole Foods even sells 95/5 ground beef. This is how 4 ounces of ground beef compares with Butterball ground turkey.

90/10 ground beef = 197 calories, 22.4 grams fat, 4.5 grams saturated fat
Butterball ground turkey = 230 calories, 17 grams fat, 5 grams saturated fat

So your friend is right that ground turkey can be about the same as ground beef (or worse if you use the leanest ground beef). By looking for good quality ground turkey breasts or dark meat you can save a lot of fat and calories. One good trick is to purchase boneless, skinless turkey breast and grind it yourself using a food processor. It takes only a few pulses and you have a great product. I will usually add back in a little fat when I use very lean ground turkey products or it will be a little dry. About a tablespoon of olive oil per pound will do it and that adds only around 4 grams of fat per serving (and great quality monounsaturated fat at that).

Here are some recipes on the Dr. Gourmet web site to get you started:
Asian Turkey Burgers | Low Sodium Version
Black Bean Chili
Turkey Burgers | Coumadin-Safe Version | GERD / Acid-Reflux-Friendly Version | Low Sodium Version

And here are recipes that use ground beef where you can substitute ground turkey:
Linguine with White Bolognese
Chili Con Carne
Sloppy Joes
Pasta with Sauce Bolognese
Quick Beef Stroganoff with Noodles
Tuscan White Bean Chili

Thanks for such a great question,

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS
Dr. Gourmet