It’s that time of year when family and friends gather together, listen to holiday music, socialize, laugh, eat and give thanks for the blessings received over the year. Imagine the dinner table full of delicious, mouthwatering food and, after hours of waiting, the turkey finally gets carved and the feast begins.
The turkey was first domesticated by the Aztecs who used it for its meat and ornaments. They also staged turkey festivals every 200 days and during these festivals, hundreds of turkeys were traded in the markets. By the time Columbus and his fellow conquistadors arrived, the Mayans and Incans had already begun to use the turkey as one of their food staples. This new specimen of food then traveled back to Spain and worked its way to France and Italy. It eventually became a very popular food in Europe.
Surprisingly, there are only six types of turkey and most of them have settled in North America. The Eastern Wild Turkey is found in the eastern half of the US, as well as some of the provinces of Canada and was named as the first forest turkey in 1817. The Osceola Turkey is only found in the Florida peninsula of Osceola. Gould’s Wild Turkey is native to Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico where they are heavily protected and regulated. Merriam’s Wild Turkey occupies the Rocky Mountain range as well as Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota. The Rio Grande Wild Turkey travels through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon and California, and is native to the central plain states. Lastly, the Ocellated Wild Turkey is the only type that has not settled in North America, but is found in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.
The nutritional profile of turkey depends on the cut. The dark meat from the legs and thighs has more fat and calories compared to the white meat. If including the skin in the cut, fat and calorie content will increase as well. Two thick slices of turkey contain 117 calories, 24 grams of protein and 2 grams of fat and it’s a great source of the B vitamins, specifically B3, B6 and B12, niacin, selenium and phosphorus.
Several benefits of turkey include its high levels of protein, niacin, vitamin B6, selenium and the amino acid tryptophan. Niacin and B6 are essential for energy production in the body. Niacin is also very important for converting protein, fats and carbohydrates into usable energy. Tryptophan plays a role in strengthening the immune system and is effective in treating chronic insomnia by promoting better sleep quality. It has also been shown to have mood-enhancing properties as it’s used by the human body to produce serotonin. The high selenium level in turkey is a real plus as it is a mineral that is essential for thyroid hormone metabolism, the antioxidant defense system and immune function, three areas that can help decrease the risk of cancer.
Many of us only feast on turkey during the holiday season, but it doesn’t have to be that way! There are way too many benefits of turkey to include it on your menu for only one or two months out of the year. If you need some additional ideas to help fit turkey into your diet more regularly, check out the recipes below!