When it comes to Thanksgiving traditions, opinions differ on how the turkey should be cooked. While this main dish is delicious prepared any number of ways, the different methods of cooking turkey come with different nutrition benefits and risks.
First, let’s look at the nutrition breakdown of turkey. A 3-ounce serving of skinless, boneless turkey breast contains about 25 grams of protein, 1 gram of fat with zero grams of saturated fat and 125 calories. This means that turkey, without the skin, is a healthy choice. It’s low in fat and high in protein.
However, this healthy food can quickly become a high-calorie, high-fat food depending on how you cook it. Here are some pros and cons of the most common turkey cooking methods to help you make the best decision this Thanksgiving.
There’s no argument that deep frying is delicious. Submerging a turkey into oil (usually peanut oil) creates an irresistibly crispy skin. Unfortunately, that skin is where the saturated fat in a turkey lives. The meat will absorb some of the frying oil as well; however, it’s hard to say how much. Deep fried turkeys are high in calories and high in fat, so you might want to try another preparation if you’re trying to have a healthier Thanksgiving dinner.
Grilling & smoking
Grilling and smoking are similar in that they’re both healthier methods than deep frying. You get good flavor and crispy skin without the excess fat and calories. However, the char on the skin can form compounds known as acrylamides that may increase cancer risk. But note that this is typically only an issue if you consistently eat smoked and grilled foods with a lot of char.
Brining is a healthy way to prepare turkey, but it does have one drawback – it raises sodium content. As with grilling or smoking and acrylamide exposure, this is typically only an issue if you regularly eat a high-sodium diet or if you have heart disease or kidney disease. Excess sodium intake can lead to high blood pressure and fluid retention, leading to increased risk for stroke, heart failure and kidney disease. If you regularly eat a low-sodium diet and don’t have heart of kidney disease, consider brining your turkey this year for something different and tasty!
Cooking a stuffed turkey
Think turducken. For those who don’t know, a turducken is a chicken stuffed in a duck, which is then stuffed in a turkey. The benefits of this method of preparation are that it yields and ton of protein and is super impressive to dinner guests. The cons are that it is very high in calories and people tend to eat larger servings because they want to get each item in every bite. If you aren’t looking to expand your waistline, skip the stuffed turkey this year.
Braising is a good nutritional choice if the turkey is seared, rather than fried, prior to braising. It keeps the meat juicy and flavorful, as well as giving it a nice crispy crust. What it doesn’t add is fat and calories.
Roasting a turkey in its own juices is the healthiest method of cooking a turkey, if you don’t add butter under the skin. You’re even better off if you don’t eat the skin because that’s where the saturated fat is hidden, as mentioned before. Remember to focus on fresh herbs for seasoning to keep salt to a minimum, and you’ve got a winner, winner…turkey dinner!