Ground Turkey vs. Ground Beef: Which Is Healthier? Here's What a Dietitian Says
Hailed as the better-for-you pick for decades, ground turkey has become the default healthy stand-in for ground beef. Want healthier burgers? Swap in ground turkey. A leaner meatloaf? Ground turkey. Lower-calorie taco meat? Turkey.
Generally speaking, ground turkey is leaner than standard ground beef, a nutritional advantage, especially when it comes to heart health. Still, this protein choice can leave one to wonder how to improve the flavor and texture of this poultry meat. If you've ever chewed your way through a dry and flavorless turkey burger, you know what we're talking about. You might question if this protein swap worth is it. So, is ground turkey healthier compared to beef, and if so, how can we make ground turkey recipes more delicious? Let's break it all down and find out.
Is Ground Turkey Healthier than Ground Beef?
How healthy is ground turkey? Getting to the answer is not as straightforward as you might think. We need to level the playing field and compare ground turkey and ground beef with similar lean meat-to-fat ratios.
You've seen a variety of ground beef and ground turkey options in your grocer's meat department. Depending on the cut of beef used, ground beef contains between 25 and 30 percent fat, or as little as 7 percent fat, when made from leaner cuts, like sirloin. Most ground turkey is made from a combination of light and dark meat, coming in around 7 percent fat. Very lean ground turkey is made from turkey breast and can contain as little as 1 percent fat.
First, let's compare one of the more common varieties of ground beef available (70% lean, 30% fat) with ground turkey (93% lean, 7% fat).
Here's the nutritional profile of 3 ounces of 70/30 ground beef:
- Calories: 235
- Protein: 22 grams
- Total Fat: 16 grams
- Saturated Fat: 6.2 grams
- Carbohydrates: 0 grams
- Cholesterol: 75 milligrams
- Sodium: 69 milligrams
- Iron: 2 milligrams
Here's the nutritional profile of 3 ounces of 93/7 ground turkey:
- Calories: 181
- Protein: 23 grams
- Total Fat: 10 grams
- Saturated Fat: 2.5 grams
- Carbohydrates: 0 grams
- Cholesterol: 88 milligrams
- Sodium: 77 milligrams
- Iron: 1.3 milligrams
Choosing ground turkey saves about 50 calories and cuts saturated fat by more than half. From a nutrition perspective, ground turkey is the winner. But what happens when we trade the 70/30 ground beef for a 93/7 variety?
Here's the nutritional profile of 3 ounces of 93/7 ground beef:
- Calories: 178
- Protein: 25 grams
- Fat: 8 grams
- Saturated Fat: 3.3 grams
- Carbohydrates: 0 grams
- Cholesterol: 76 milligrams
- Sodium: 73 milligrams
- Iron: 2.7 milligrams
When the lean meat-to-fat ratio of ground beef and ground turkey is the same, their nutrition profiles are very similar. The lean ground beef contains about 25 percent more saturated fat (a difference of about 1 gram for a 3-ounce serving), is lower in total fat and cholesterol and is slightly higher in protein and iron, compared to the turkey.
Ground Turkey vs. Ground Beef—Who Wins?
The answer? It's sort of a toss-up. Whether you snag ground turkey or ground beef on your next grocery run should ultimately depend on a few things—health goals, budget and taste preferences.
Keeping tabs on saturated fat for heart health? Lean ground turkey is the better pick.
If you're watching your grocery spending, the leaner the ground beef variety, the higher the price tag (usually). Opt for ground turkey when you're on a budget or stock up and freeze lean ground beef when it's on sale.
Of course, consider your tastebuds. Lean ground turkey is milder in flavor and less likely to dry out when mixed with other ingredients. Ground beef has a more distinctive flavor, so if you're craving a beef burger or classic meatballs, go for beef, keeping the lean-to-fat ratio in mind. Or, use a combo of the two in your fave dishes.
And while you don't have to give up meat to eat more sustainably, the production of poultry products may have less of an impact on greenhouse gas emissions compared to beef.
What to Make with Ground Turkey
Lean ground turkey is a super versatile protein that works well in lots of recipes. It can be used interchangeably with ground beef and won't dry out with some simple tricks. Some of our top-rated healthy ground turkey recipes to keep on hand include Honey-Sesame Ground Turkey Meatloaf with Broccolini, Ground Turkey Stuffed Peppers, Lemon-Rosemary Ground Turkey Meatballs and Ground Turkey Meat Sauce.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, your personal health goals are what will determine whether ground turkey or ground beef is the better option for you. If you want to feel more satisfied after meals or are trying to lose weight, lean ground turkey or lean ground beef works well. If you're eating for a healthy heart, lean ground turkey—which is lower in saturated fat—is the better pick for you. Of course, you can still enjoy ground beef from time to time, but choosing lean ground turkey more often will help your heart in the long run. If it comes down to budget, ground turkey is often the cheaper option. And of course, taste preference comes into play, too. The bottom line is—both can be part of a healthy diet.