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Turkey Vs Chicken – Which Should You Opt For?

Published: 13th May 2018. Last updated: 21th July 2019.

Shaun Ward MSc ANutr

Staff Writer


Introduction

Chicken and turkey are some of the most popular options for meat-eaters looking to eat nutritious, protein-rich meals. At this point it is common knowledge that both these options are high-protein, low-fat foods that can easily incorporated into a range of meals.

Although often assumed to be nutritionally identical, this article further explores the nutritional profiles of chicken and turkey and highlights the key differences.

For the purpose and simplicity of this review, it will focus on the breast and thigh portions of these two meats to consider the variations in leaner and fattier portions.

Generally, the color of leaner cuts of chicken or turkey (breast) appear whiter as they contain a lower content of the myoglobin protein – responsible for transporting and storing oxygen within the muscles. In comparison, fatter cuts of meat such as the thigh have a darker color due to the increased myoglobin content.

What are the Differences in Nutrition Between Chicken And Turkey?

Below is everything we've found:

Protein Content

Per 100 grams of cooked meat:

  • Chicken breast contains 31 grams of protein
  • Turkey breast contains 29 grams of protein
  • Chicken thigh contains 25 grams of protein
  • Turkey thigh contains 26 grams of protein

Despite the very slight differences between the two different animal sources, from a nutritional standpoint these are negligible.

It is clear that all these meat options are great protein sources for any meal, and one’s exact choice should be based either upon personal preference, or from the consideration of nutritional value outside of the protein content.

The only key difference to note is between the leaner and fattier portions of either animal, with leaner cuts of meat such as the breast containing 3-6 grams more protein per 100 grams (cooked) compared to darker portions of meat such as the thigh.

Fat Content

Similar to the protein content of these animals, the fat composition of chicken and turkey are nearly identical.

Both types of breast meat contain <4 grams of fat per 100 grams of cooked meat, and under 1 gram of saturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. This is why breast meat is a very popular option for those looking to limit their intake of dietary fat and generally lower their calorie intake.

In comparison, thigh portions of these meats have a considerably higher fat content than the breast. Thigh meat from either of these animals has between 10-15 grams of fat per 100 grams of cooked meat, with ~5 grams of saturated fat.

To note any slight differences between these two animals, turkey thigh has ~10% more fat than chicken thigh, so this may be a consideration for those trying to follow either a low or high fat diet.

Micronutrients

Although it is easy to focus purely on the caloric value of different meats, it is important to analyse the vitamin and mineral contents to fully understand how they may impact your health.

While there is no significant difference in the vitamin and mineral content between chicken and turkey, there may be some variations of these nutrients between leaner and fattier portions.

The main differences are:

  • Chicken breast has ~35% more niacin than turkey breast
  • Chicken breast has ~25% more vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) than turkey breast
  • Chicken thigh has ~20% more niacin than turkey thigh
  • Turkey breast has ~20% more zinc than chicken breast
  • Turkey thigh has ~15% more zinc than chicken thigh
  • Turkey thigh has ~15% more selenium than chicken thigh

Despite these minor variances, when looking at the bigger picture, the differences in the micronutrient composition of these animals is rather insignificant. It is therefore hard to claim one as the superior option for health.

To repeat, the only real thing to be aware of is the differences between the breast and thigh portions of either meat, as opposed to the inherent differences between either animal.

In general, darker cuts of meat (such as the thigh) contain higher amounts of vitamins and minerals. However, this obviously comes hand-in-hand with a higher fat and calorie content.

So What Meat Should You Buy?

Which of these meats you decide to buy should be completely dependent on personal preference and the diet you choose to follow.

For most people aiming to reduce fat and calorie intake, whilst keeping protein intake relatively high, breast portions of these meats will reign the supreme option.

However, for people on a high-fat or carbohydrate-restricted diet, more fatty cuts of meat such as the thigh will become the superior choice.

In addition, if you are purely focused on obtaining the greatest amount of micronutrients from meat, darker cuts of meat will also a better option – mainly because there are greater amounts of vitamins and minerals found in fatty tissue.

Regarding the nutritional value of chicken meat versus turkey meat, the minor differences are nothing to concern yourself over (no need to throw out the Christmas turkey!).

Conclusion

Both chicken and turkey are great sources of high-quality protein.

When analyzing the differences between the two meats, they are very minimal and are negligible from a broader nutritional perspective.

The real difference lies in the cut of meat, independent of whether it is from a chicken or turkey, as this leads to far greater variances in nutritional content. Fattier cuts of meat such as the thigh contain much higher amounts of dietary fat and calories than leaner cuts of meat such as the breast, however fattier cuts also contain more vitamins and minerals.

It is advised to focus on eating a variety of different meats within the context of a balanced diet, without placing too much emphasis on minor differences between similar sources of meat.

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