Health Benefits of Turkey, pasture-raised


Nutrients in
4.00 oz-wt (113.40 grams)
Nutrient%Daily Value




 vitamin B342.5%

 vitamin B632%




Calories (153)8%

This chart graphically details the %DV that a serving of Turkey, pasture-raised provides for each of the nutrients of which it is a good, very good, or excellent source according to our Food Rating System. Additional information about the amount of these nutrients provided by Turkey, pasture-raised can be found in the Food Rating System Chart. A link that takes you to the In-Depth Nutritional Profile for Turkey, pasture-raised, featuring information over 80 nutrients, can be found under the Food Rating System Chart.

  • Health Benefits
  • Description
  • History
  • How to Select and Store
  • Tips for Preparing and Cooking
  • How to Enjoy
  • Individual Concerns
  • Nutritional Profile
  • References

Health Benefits

Broad Nutrient Support

Because most cuts of turkey provide valuable amounts of protein, turkey is often regarded as a high-protein food. Skinned turkey breast will provide the most protein per serving, at 34 grams in 4 ounces. But you will still get 31 grams from 4 ounces of turkey leg and 21 grams from 4 ounces of turkey thigh.

In addition to protein, however, turkey is also rich in other nutrients. All B vitamins are present in turkey meat, including B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, folate, biotin, and choline. (Because the biotin content of turkey meat is sensitive to the turkey’s dietary intake, the amount of this vitamin can vary greatly, with an approximate average of 0.8 micrograms in 4 ounces of turkey breast.) Turkey is a very good source for vitamin B3 and provides about 8.5 milligram in 4 ounces, or over 40% of the Daily Value (DV). It’s also a very good source of vitamin B6, at 0.64 milligrams in 4 ounces (32% DV). By providing 22%DV for choline in 4 ounces, turkey also ranks as a good source of this B vitamin.

In terms of minerals, turkey is richest in selenium and provides over 50% of the DV in a single 4-ounce serving. Zinc, copper, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, and iron are also provided by this food in amounts varying from 5-15% DV.

All cuts of turkey contain omega-3 fats. However, the content of omega-3s in turkey can vary widely, depending on the turkey’s diet. One of the reasons we recommend pasture-raised turkey is the ability of turkeys to enjoy omega-3 containing plants and insects in natural pasture settings. As a general rule, the most favorable ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is found in skinned turkey breast, where the ratio in non-pasture-raised turkey is approximately 10:1. This same ratio is about 13:1 in non-pasture-raised turkey leg or turkey thigh with skin. While there are only a few studies documenting the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in pasture-raised turkey, those studies suggest that pasture feeding can lower the ratio to approximately 7:1. (There are some studies on pasture-raised chickens that show similar results.) Within the omega-3 family of fats, it is possible to get 10-60 milligrams of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) from a 4-ounce serving of turkey, depending on the cut and diet consumed by the turkey. DHA is a unique omega-3 fat in terms of its ability to support healthy nerve function.

Protein Richness

When we rank all of our 100+ WHFoods based on their protein richness (how much protein they provide in comparison with their calorie content), turkey ranks first among all of our foods. A 4-ounce serving of skinned baked turkey breast provides about 34 grams of protein and over two-thirds of the Daily Value (DV). With 4 ounces of turkey leg, this number drops just slightly to 31-32 grams of protein. With 4 ounces of turkey thigh, it drops to about 21 grams. In these examples, the protein values are changing from cut-to-cut partly because of the way the turkey moves and uses its muscles, and partly because of the fat content of the various cuts. If the health benefit you are seeking from turkey is focused on protein richness, you’ll probably want to stick with skinned turkey breast as your preferred cut.

Other Health Benefits

Unfortunately, there is not as much research on turkey as there is on chicken, its fellow bird in the poultry category. Several preliminary studies show the protein richness of turkey to be of potential benefit in regulating blood sugar levels as well as insulin metabolism. These findings make sense to us since adequate protein intake in a balanced way throughout the day can be very helpful in managing blood sugar. In the area of cancer prevention, the studies that we have seen on turkey mostly differentiate it from red meat (mostly beef) and show that intake of turkey is not associated with increased cancer risk in the same way as red meats. However, these studies do not usually go on to show that turkey intake lowers risk of cancer—they simply show that turkey intake does not raise this risk. An additional problem in this area is the lack of studies on pasture-raised turkey. We have not found any studies on pasture-raised turkeys and cancer risk. We very much look forward to future research in which this important topic is addressed.


Like chicken, turkey belongs to the bird (Aves) class of animals, and to the family of birds called Phasianidae. While there are many different breeds of turkeys, most of them belong to the same genus and species of bird, namely Meleagris gallopavo. Turkeys are truly native to North and South America – they were not brought to the “New World” by European settlers but were instead discovered to be already present and intimately involved with Native American cultures. Turkeys are relatively large birds that can reach about 30-35 pounds in weight. They can fly short distances at speeds of about 50-55 miles per hour and run at approximately 20-25 miles per hour.

When provided with natural pasture, turkeys will spend extensive time foraging. They are very diverse in their food selection! Pasture-raised turkey enjoy eating acorns, beechnuts, pine seeds, grasses, grass seeds, sedges, farbs, tubers, bulbs, crabgrass, wild berries, alfalfa, clovers, beetles, grasshoppers, and leafhoppers. This very broad natural diet is one of the reasons that we recommend pasture-raised turkey.

“Poults” is the name often used for young turkeys (and other young fowl). Female turkeys are called hens, and male turkeys are called toms or gobblers. In their first weeks of life, poults are typically kept in a brooder area that is temperature controlled (often 90-100°F) and may have limited pasture depending on the exact circumstances with the flock and habitat safety.

Many different breeds of turkey are pasture-raised for food. These breeds include Broad-breasted Whites, Standard Bronze, White Holland, Bourbon Reds, Narragansetts, and Royal Palm.


As mentioned in the Description section, turkeys are truly native to North and South America and were an important part of Native American cultures long before the arrival of the European colonists. While Native American cultures did domesticate numerous breeds of turkeys, other breeds remained wild and were hunted in woodlands instead of domesticated. However, from fossil evidence and DNA analysis, we do know that turkeys were indeed domesticated in Mesoamerica (Mexico and Central America) prior to the arrival of the European colonists. They were domesticated once again by the Spanish and British who eventually brought them back to Europe and introduced them into the food supplies of their homelands.

At 2.5 million tons of turkey meat per year, the U.S. is by far the world’s largest producer of turkey. (All countries in the European Union combined produce 1.75 million tons.) Smaller amounts of turkey are produced in Africa, Asia, and the Mediterranean. At about 450,000 tons, Brazil is the largest turkey producer in South America.

In the U.S., we consume an average of 16.5 pounds of turkey per person per year. That about is about one-quarter of our chicken consumption. According to the National Turkey Federation, about 20% of all turkey (just over three pounds per person) is consumed on Thanksgiving Day.

How to Select and Store

It’s worth taking special care in the selection of turkey! Several aspects of turkey selection will help you maximize your health benefits from this World’s Healthiest Food. First, we recommend the purchase of fresh turkey. Technically, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines allow use of the word “fresh” only when turkey has never been stored a temperature below 26°F (-3°C). (Otherwise, the term “frozen” or “previously frozen” would be required.) Additives like sodium erythorbate, MSG, and salt are not allowed on fresh turkey, and that’s a major health advantage for you.

Second, we encourage the purchase of certified organic turkey. Federal organic standards require organic turkey to be raised on organic feed, providing you with a food that is far less likely to contain unwanted contaminants.

However, we also encourage you to go even further in your selection process and choose certified organic turkey that has also been pasture-raised. The terms “free ranging,” “free roaming,” and “cage free” as allowed on labeling by the USDA do not guarantee that the turkeys actually spent any routine time outdoors in a natural pasture setting. Unfortunately, neither does organic certification. While certified organic turkeys are required to have had “access” to the “outdoors,” the actually amount of time spent outside is not specific in the organic regulations and neither is the quality of the space described as “outdoors.” So we recommend that you select turkey that is not only certified organic but also pasture-raised. You will usually need to talk to your grocer or the turkey producer to obtain this information. l

One additional important note about organic turkey: don’t assume that it won’t be available in your local grocery. In a fascinating recent study on poultry purchasing, researchers found that 41% of consumers who had never bought organic turkey assumed that it would not be available in their local store and didn’t even consider selecting it because of this assumption. In addition to the fact that many stores already carry organic turkey, you’ll find that the members of the meat department staff in your local grocery are often willing to help make organic meats—including organic turkey—available to their customers.

Instead of purchasing skinned turkey breasts at the store to get the lowest fat form of turkey, purchase turkey breasts with the skin still intact. Wait to remove the skin from the turkey breasts after cooking. (In this way you’ll improve the moisture, flavor, and aroma of your turkey while not significantly increasing the total fat content.)

However, not all individuals seek the lowest fat version of turkey. Provided that the turkey you select is both organic and pasture-raised, it is likely to contain high-quality fat, including a valuable amount of omega-3s. We realize that most people for personal health reasons will probably be seeking to avoid cuts of turkey that are higher in fat, higher in saturated fat, or higher in calories. However, if you are an individual who has room in your personal meal plan for higher amounts of calories and fats from turkey, you may not necessarily want to choose the lowest-fat version of organic, pasture-raised turkey. The chart below will give you a better idea about cuts of turkey and their fat-related content.

Cuts of Non-Pasture-Raised Turkey and Their Fat-Related Content*

Form of Chicken Amount Calories Total Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio Cholesterol (mg)
Breast without skin 4 ounces 153 0.84 0.27 10:1 94
Breast with skin 4 ounces 214 8.4 2.38 11.4:1 84
Leg with skin 4 ounces 236 11.14 3.47 13:1 96
Thigh with skin 4 ounces 178 9.68 3.01 13:1 70

* At present, there is simply insufficient research data to provide an accurate chart for this cut-by-cut, fat-related nutrient content in turkeys who were pasture-raised.

We’d also like to mention a few tips related to the purchase of ground turkey. Just like whole turkey, we encourage the purchase of certified organic and pasture-raised ground turkey since organic standards require organic turkey to be raised on organic feed and since pasture-raising will provide you with greater nutrient benefits. Due to the prohibition of synthetic pesticides and other unwanted contaminants in organic regulations, organic ground turkey (just like organic whole turkey) will also provide you with a food that is far less likely to contain unwanted contaminants.

However, even with organic ground turkey, be careful when reading those prominent labeling claims like “95% fat-free.” Those claims are based on the weight of the food, not on the nutrient content. When possible, look on the back of the packaging for a Nutrition Facts Panel, and check serving size and actual grams of total fat and saturated fat per serving. We’ve seen organic ground turkey that contains 9 grams of fat and 180 calories in 4 ounces, making it 45% fat in terms of calories. This same ground turkey also contained 2.5 grams of saturated fat, or about 13% of the daily limit. For many people (although not everyone), that amount of total fat and saturated fat in a small serving of turkey could be difficult to blend in with an overall balanced diet. Yet we’ve also seen organic ground turkey that only contained 2 grams of fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat, and 130 calories in 4 ounces. That second product was only 14% fat in terms of calories—an easier amount to incorporate into an overall diet that is balanced in terms of calories and fat.

Safe handling of turkey is very important! We encourage you to take special care with this food. When you purchase raw turkey, try to make the grocery store your last stop before heading home. When you arrive back home, promptly get your turkey into the refrigerator. In addition, it’s worth checking your refrigerator’s temperature if you have never done so. A temperature of 40°F/4°C or below is needed for raw turkey safety. Turkey should also be stored in the coldest section of your refrigerator (usually at the bottom, in the back). If the store packaging is intact and secure, store it this way since this will reduce the amount of handling. (The only exception being that if you buy a whole turkey with giblets, it’s important to remove the giblets and store them in another container and then rewrap the turkey). Yet, if the packaging is not secure, and it seems as if the turkey liquids will leak, rewrap it securely before storing. This is very important to make sure that the turkey does not contaminate other foods in the refrigerator.

Refrigerated raw turkey can keep for one or two days while cooked turkey will keep for about three-to-four days. Remember to always store the turkey meat separately from any stuffing or gravy you have prepared.

Be very careful when handling raw turkey that it does not come in contact with other foods, especially those that will be served uncooked. Wash the cutting board, utensils, and your hands very well with hot soapy water after handling the turkey.

If your recipe requires marinating, you should always do so in the refrigerator as turkey is very sensitive to heat, which can increase the chances of spoilage. When defrosting a frozen turkey, do so in the refrigerator and not at room temperature. Put the turkey on a plate to collect any liquid drippings.

Tips for Preparing and Cooking

The Healthiest Way of Cooking Turkey

We recommend roasting turkey to bring out its best flavor although you will have to allot several hours for cooking.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Rub 3 TBS lemon juice and some salt and pepper on the outside of the turkey. Then lift up the skin where you can and rub these seasonings directly on the flesh.

Place the turkey breast side down in a shallow roasting pan. Roast unstuffed turkey for 15 minutes for each pound.

At 30 to 60 minutes before it is done, measure the internal temperature with a thermometer. (The range reflects the differing size of the turkey; do so at 30 minutes for smaller turkeys and 60 minutes for larger ones.) When it reaches 125°F/74°C, you should turn the turkey and then increase the oven temperature to 400°F/200°C for the remaining roasting time.

To judge it as done, its internal temperature must read 165°-170°F/74°-77°C when the thermometer is inserted into the mid-thigh. When it is done, remove it to a platter, and let it sit for 15-20 minutes before carving to allow the juices to be redistributed and the meat to become moist throughout.

If you want optimal safety, it is better to cook turkey stuffing outside of the turkey, for the simple reason that contamination of the stuffing with microorganisms from the raw turkey is not possible if the stuffing is cooked separately. However, many people look forward to the special flavor of stuffing cooked inside the turkey, and if you decide to use that procedure, please make sure that the center of your stuffing is tested with a cooking thermometer and reaches a minimum of 165°F/74°C.

For details, see Holiday Turkey with Rice Stuffing & Gravy with Fresh Herbs.

How to Enjoy

A Few Quick Serving Ideas

  • Use ground turkey instead of ground beef in chili con carne recipes. (See our special tips on ground turkey selection provided in the How to Select and Store section.)
  • On a bed of romaine lettuce, serve diced turkey, cooked cubed sweet potatoes, cranberries and walnuts. Toss with a light vinaigrette for a salad that emanates the flavors of Thanksgiving.
  • Use ground turkey to make turkey burgers or turkey meat loaf. (Once again, see our special tips on ground turkey selection provided earlier.)
  • Say olé to turkey burritos. Place cooked turkey pieces on a corn tortilla, sprinkle with shredded cheese and diced tomatoes and onions. Broil for a few minutes until hot.
  • Turkey salad can be prepared numerous ways and can be served for lunch or dinner. One of our favorite recipes is to combine the turkey with celery, leeks, dried apricots and almonds.

WHFoods Recipes That Feature Turkey

  • Healthy Breakfast Frittata
  • 15-Minute Turkey Chef’s Salad
  • Crispy Turkey Salad
  • Turkey and Vegetable Chili Verde
  • Holiday Turkey with Rice Stuffing & Gravy with Fresh Herbs
  • Roast Turkey Breast with Chipotle Chili Sauce

Individual Concerns

Bacterial Contamination of Turkey

Several consumer watchdog organizations in the U.S. have reported frequent contamination of raw turkey – especially raw ground turkey—with unwanted bacteria, including E. coli, Enterococcus, and Staphylococcus. (Similar problems have been identified with raw chicken.) For example, one recent study showed over half of all raw turkey samples to contain the bacterium Enterococcus durans. Furthermore, due to the routine use of antibiotics in conventional raising of turkeys, bacteria found on raw turkey have also shown greater antibiotic resistance than expected. One recent study compared organic turkey to conventional turkey, analyzing not only the bacterial content but also the degree of antibiotic resistance. The researchers found that even though the bacterial counts were often similar in conventional versus organic turkey, the degree of antibiotic resistance was significantly higher in bacteria found on the conventional turkey.

If you decide to include turkey in your meal plan, the best way to address these contamination concerns is to use the utmost care in handling and storing turkey and fully cook turkey before you consume it. For more details on proper handling and storing, please see our How to Select and Store and Tips for Preparing and Cooking.

Humane Treatment of Turkeys

An increasing number of consumers have raised questions about the quality of life for turkeys, and a variety of different third-party animal welfare organizations have started to offer certification for turkey producers who would like to display some label on their packaging that address animal welfare issues. In general animal welfare and humane treatment issues include:

  • quality of the indoor environment
  • access to the outdoors
  • quality of the outdoor environment
  • quality of the food supply
  • naturalness of the food supply
  • role of forced molting
  • role of beak trimming and debeaking
  • flock size
  • exposure to natural day/night cycles
  • transport standards
  • quality of slaughter methods

Unfortunately, current labeling and certification standards do not provide any easy way to assure humane treatment of turkeys when purchasing this food. Like assurance of pasture-raising, assurance of humane treatment is an issue that will require you to follow-up with your grocer or directly with the turkey producer.

Turkey and Purines

Turkey contains naturally occurring substances called purines. Purines are commonly found in plants, animals, and humans. In some individuals who are susceptible to purine-related problems, excessive intake of these substances can cause health problems. Since purines can be broken down to form uric acid, excess accumulation of purines in the body can lead to excess accumulation of uric acid. The health condition called “gout” and the formation of kidney stones from uric acid are two examples of uric acid-related problems that can be related to excessive intake of purine-containing foods. For this reason, individuals with kidney problems or gout may want to limit or avoid intake of purine-containing foods such as turkey.

Nutritional Profile

Turkey is perhaps best known for its protein richness. Skinned turkey breast provides about 34 grams of protein in a 4-ounce serving. This food ranks as an excellent source of protein in our food rating system. All B vitamins are present in turkey meat, including B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, folate, biotin, and choline. (However, because the biotin content of turkey meat is sensitive to the turkey’s dietary intake, the amount of this vitamin can vary greatly.) In terms of our rating system, turkey is a very good source of vitamins B3 and B6 as well as a good source of choline.

With respect to minerals, turkey is richest in selenium and ranks as a very good source. It also ranks as a good source of phosphorus and zinc. Copper, magnesium, potassium, and iron are also provided by this food in amounts varying from 5-15% DV.

All cuts of turkey contain omega-3 fats. However, the content of omega-3s in turkey can very widely, depending on the turkey’s diet. As a general rule, the most favorable ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is found in organic, pasture-raised, skinned turkey breast, where the ratio is approximately 7:1. Within the omega-3 family of fats, it is possible to get 10-60 milligrams of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) from a 4-ounce serving of turkey, depending on the cut and diet consumed by the turkey.

For an in-depth nutritional profile click here: Turkey.

In-Depth Nutritional Profile

In addition to the nutrients highlighted in our ratings chart, an in-depth nutritional profile for Turkey, pasture-raised is also available. This profile includes information on a full array of nutrients, including carbohydrates, sugar, soluble and insoluble fiber, sodium, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and more.

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

In order to better help you identify foods that feature a high concentration of nutrients for the calories they contain, we created a Food Rating System. This system allows us to highlight the foods that are especially rich in particular nutrients. The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good, or good source (below the chart you will find a table that explains these qualifications). If a nutrient is not listed in the chart, it does not necessarily mean that the food doesn’t contain it. It simply means that the nutrient is not provided in a sufficient amount or concentration to meet our rating criteria. (To view this food’s in-depth nutritional profile that includes values for dozens of nutrients – not just the ones rated as excellent, very good, or good – please use the link below the chart.) To read this chart accurately, you’ll need to glance up in the top left corner where you will find the name of the food and the serving size we used to calculate the food’s nutrient composition. This serving size will tell you how much of the food you need to eat to obtain the amount of nutrients found in the chart. Now, returning to the chart itself, you can look next to the nutrient name in order to find the nutrient amount it offers, the percent Daily Value (DV%) that this amount represents, the nutrient density that we calculated for this food and nutrient, and the rating we established in our rating system. For most of our nutrient ratings, we adopted the government standards for food labeling that are found in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “Reference Values for Nutrition Labeling.” Read more background information and details of our rating system.

4.00 oz-wt
113.40 grams
153.09 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
World’s Healthiest
Foods Rating
tryptophan 0.38 g 118.8 14.0 excellent
protein 34.09 g 68.2 8.0 excellent
selenium 36.40 mcg 52.0 6.1 very good
vitamin B3 8.50 mg 42.5 5.0 very good
vitamin B6 0.64 mg 32.0 3.8 very good
phosphorus 254.01 mg 25.4 3.0 good
choline 95.71 mg 22.5 2.6 good
zinc 1.97 mg 13.1 1.5 good
World’s Healthiest
Foods Rating
excellent DV>=75% OR
Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR
Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR
Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%
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