How To Pick A Healthy Thanksgiving Turkey

What I usually tell people is buy the highest quality you can afford. While there can be significant taste differences between standard turkeys and their heritage-bred cousins (and, for the adventurous, wild turkeys), perhaps more vital is how the birds are raised and prepared.

I hope this brief guide will help you wade through the confusing labels and names as you go shopping for your Thanksgiving

Types of Turkeys

Organic: The term “organic” is a moving target, and the labeling of food as such can be contentious. However, any birds labeled “certified organic” by the USDA have been fed approved organic grains (in accordance with a list of rules), have not been treated with antibiotics or given growth hormones and have been given freedom of movement. You can find other conditions that producers must meet to earn a “certified organic” label at the USDA’s site.

Free-Range: If you see “free-range” on the package or you are told the bird you are ordering is free-range, that means it has not spent its entire life confined to a cage and was given, again, freedom of movement and “access” to the outdoors, but it may have been kept in a barn. Unfortunately, this is a label that can lead to some dishonesty, since producers need only have an exit to the outdoors available to the turkeys, and they may never actually get outside and there are no limits to how many turkeys can be stuffed into a barn. Again, this is where it’s important to trust your producer and source.

Pastured: This goes one step beyond “free-range”: These birds have open and unfettered access to the outdoors and are left free to wander as they see fit. Sometimes though (often), they just want to sit around. These birds graze in the outdoors, and, because of a diet high in grasses, its meat will be higher in Omega 3 fats (a good fat), though it may be leaner than what you are used to.

Vegetarian-fed: All of the above turkeys would be raised on a vegetarian-fed diet, meaning their diets are free of all animal by-products (though they may not adhere to the strict standards set out for organic certification). Turkeys are naturally vegetarian (except for pecking at a few worms and bugs), but often large commercial farms put animal byproducts from their other operations in the turkeys’s feed.

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Cheryl Forberg, RD, is a James Beard award-winning chef, the nutritionist for NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” and a New York Times bestselling author. Her role is to help overweight contestants transform their bodies, health and ultimately, their lives. A culinary expert and registered dietitian, she has shared cooking and nutrition tips with the contestants and viewers for twelve seasons.

 

 

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Filed under: Thanksgiving Recipes