Surprised By the Turkey Ratings? So Were We!

Turkeys – the food of American tradition and holiday memories – get a 3.8 (out of 10) on the GoodGuide health score?!?! .

Hard to believe.

And I have to admit, people around the GoodGuide office were surprised as well by the low ratings many top-selling turkeys received in our food rating system.

In case you haven’t perused our ratings methodology recently, let me explain how we rate food products. GoodGuide’s health rating begins with a nutrition assessment called the “Ratio of Recommended to Restricted nutrients” (RRR). Put simply, this method calculates the ratio of “good” to “bad” nutrients. Recommended nutrients include: protein, calcium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, and fiber. Nutrients to minimize include: calories, saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar, and sodium. The RRR score is then adjusted based on a set of thresholds and recommended values for each nutrient.

Meats don’t rate all that well in our nutritional assessment, or in the assessment of most nutritionists. For example, the NuVal nutrition scoring system out of Yale University gives turkey with skin a 31 out of 100. This is one of the lowest rated meats, only slightly above baby back ribs!

While turkey does provide an affordable source of protein—and many happy memories at Thanksgiving—it also contains saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Americans in general already get enough (or too much) protein. So turkey ends up with more restricted than recommended nutrients.

The Thanksgiving turkeys we studied had surprisingly high levels of sodium. In fact, average sodium levels were often four times higher in turkey products than in similar servings of fresh chicken, pork or beef. Basted, plumped, and cured turkeys have even more sodium. Our worst rated turkey maxed out at a whopping 1140 milligrams of sodium per serving—almost half your daily value of sodium in one 3 ounce serving.

Whole turkeys also have high levels of fat as they include the skin and the fattier parts of the turkey. Turkey skin contains a surprising 482 calories and 44 grams of fat per serving. On the other hand, breast meat without skin has only 161 calories and 4 grams of fat per serving. If you can hold back and avoid eating the skin this year, you can reduce your cholesterol intake by about 33% and your saturated fat intake by about 50%. Check out our tips on how to eat healthy this Thanksgiving.

Finally—and don’t take this the wrong way—most of us go over the “recommended serving size” on Thanksgiving. The GoodGuide ratings don’t account for serving size, but you should remember that one of the keys to healthy eating is moderation. We aren’t saying you shouldn’t eat turkey—in fact we have recommendations on the best turkeys to eat this year—but we hope you will eat a balanced diet, and avoid the skin!

Happy Thanksgiving!

About Dara O'Rourke

Associate Professor at UC Berkeley and Co-Founder of GoodGuide.
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3 Responses to Surprised By the Turkey Ratings? So Were We!

  1. Jensen says:

    Very interesting! Thanks for the illuminating discussion, looking forward to more.

  2. Pingback: Turkey ratings | Trueconviction

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