Ground turkey and ground beef both have their benefits but is one healthier than the other? Here a dietitian breaks down the nutrition profile of both to help you decide.

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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, but this protein pick can leave something to be desired in the flavor and texture department. If you've ever chewed your way through a dry and flavorless turkey burger, you know what we're talking about. We might be left wondering, is this protein swap worth it? Is ground turkey healthy compared to beef, and if so, how can we make ground turkey recipes more delicious? Let's break it all down and find out.

Gound beef next to ground turkey on a designed background
Credit: Adobe Stock / studybos

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 of 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 what's in 3 ounces of 70/30 ground beef:

  • 235 calories
  • 22g protein
  • 16g fat
  • 6.2g saturated fat
  • 75mg cholesterol
  • 0 g carbohydrates
  • 69mg sodium
  • 2mg iron

Here's what's in 3 ounces of 93/7 ground turkey:

  • 181 calories
  • 23g protein
  • 10g fat
  • 2.5g saturated fat
  • 88mg cholesterol
  • 0mg carbohydrates
  • 77mg sodium
  • 1.3mg iron

Choosing the 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 what's in 3 ounces of 93/7 ground beef:

  • 178 calories
  • 25g protein
  • 8g fat
  • 3.3g saturated fat
  • 76mg cholesterol
  • 0mg carbohydrates
  • 73mg sodium
  • 2.7mg iron

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.

If you're looking to curb calories for weight loss, take your pick between lean ground turkey or lean ground beef, aiming for a lower-fat variety, like 93/7.

Keeping tabs on saturated fat for heart health? Lean ground turkey is the better pick.

If you're watching your grocery spend, 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

sesame honey ground turkey meatloaves

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. Here are a few top-rated healthy ground turkey recipes to keep on hand.

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're looking to feel more satisfied after meals or are trying to lose weight, both lean ground turkey or lean ground beef work well. If you're eating for a healthy heart, lean ground turkey—which is lower is 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—both can be part of a healthy diet.