Is Ground Turkey Better For You Than Ground Beef?

Whether you're cooking a hearty bowl of chili, layering a casserole, making tacos, or burgers — ground turkey and ground beef have become interchangeable in many recipes today. The main belief behind ground turkey's rise in popularity is that it is healthier compared to meat, as per Healthline.

Both ground beef and ground turkey each have their respective nutritional benefits, and they are surprisingly similar when comparing their fat percentages. Ground beef and ground turkey are both high in protein. However, while ground beef generally has lower total fat, ground turkey has a lower saturated fat content — an important part of a heart-healthy diet.

Aside from similar fat percentages, Livestrong points out they're also similar in sodium content and calories. In fact, 80% of lean ground beef has 70.6 milligrams of sodium compared to the 56.3 milligrams in ground turkey. While turkey wins the first round of the least amount of sodium, it also offers a fat-free option that you won't find with beef. Fat-free ground turkey contains only 50.2 milligrams of sodium. Still with different health goals and cooking preferences — which one is really best for your health? The answer may actually surprise you since both meat choices are extremely versatile.

What's the beef with ground beef?

Let's face it, red meat might not be everybody's first choice of protein. In fact, Prevention even labels it as one of the top 40 worst foods for your heart health. Thus, red meat is often passed up for healthier alternatives, like turkey or chicken. But what's the deal with avoiding this meat?

According to the European Heart Journal, regular consumption of red meat causes levels of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), a gut bacteria, to rise during digestion. When an upsurge of TMAO happens it can have adverse effects on the body. One 2016 review points out that high levels of TMAO can decrease kidney function, alter cholesterol, increase the chances of major heart-related events, and lead to death.

But, don't write ground beef off just yet, as there may be some perks to chowing down on ground beef. Beef is extremely rich in protein, which may be beneficial for weight loss (via Healthline). When it comes to weight loss, increasing your protein intake, while simultaneously cutting calories seems to be the tried and true method. Rich protein sources come into play by making you feel full longer and potentially lowering the number of calories consumed. Keep in mind ground turkey is also high in protein and fat-free ground turkey is lower in saturated fats. So, if weight loss is your goal, turkey may be the better option.

Both are great sources of protein

When it comes to picking a solid source of protein, you can't go wrong with beef or turkey. Each in their respective ground forms can help improve muscle mass, control appetite, and enhance metabolism (via the Greatist). But how much protein do beef or turkey burgers have?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture shares, if you're biting into an 80% lean beef burger, it contains 24 grams of protein per 100-gram serving. However, a 93% lean beef patty yields about 26.2 grams of protein per 100-gram serving (per USDA). Not only does beef support muscle function because of its high protein content, but it's also a great source of iron and zinc, according to WebMD. Zinc helps support immunity, whereas iron helps improve blood health.

Believe it or not, the amount of protein found in turkey is quite comparable to beef. Take an 85% lean turkey patty for instance. One 100-gram serving yields 25.1 grams of protein (via USDA), while a 100-gram fat-free turkey burger amps up the protein content to 29 grams per serving (per USDA). This protein also aids in muscle function as it contains all the essential amino acids our bodies need, according to the Greatist. Yet, in spite of being a rich source of protein, it tends to dry out rather quickly when cooked.

Fat-free ground turkey wins when it comes to calories

While ground turkey and beef are extremely similar in calories, they do tend to fluctuate based on the meat's leanness. For instance, a juicy 100-gram ground beef burger clocks in at 246 calories (via USDA). It's also high in certain nutrients such as iron, magnesium, potassium, selenium, calcium, phosphorus, and various vitamins compared to turkey. On the other hand, consuming a 100-grams of ground turkey is 258 calories (via USDA). Just like beef, it contains many nutrients and vitamins. However, turkey does show higher amounts of calcium, phosphorus, and selenium per serving compared to beef.

Keep in mind, when each of these ground proteins are compared to their lower fat counterparts, both of the caloric values significantly drop. For example, if you swap out your burger with a 100-gram of lean beef, you're looking at 193 calories (per USDA). Alternatively, a fat-free 100-gram of turkey burger drops down to 138 calories, shares the USDA.

It's clear that ground turkey is the all-around victor for the least amount of calories, that is if you're looking for a fat-free option.

Ground turkey has less saturated fat than ground beef

On top of turkey being the reigning champ for fewer calories, it also has less saturated fat than its counterpart, ground beef (via Healthline). Keep in mind, similar to counting calories, the saturated fat content can also change based on the leanness of the meat. For example, you'll find 3.9 grams of saturated fat when you guzzle up an 85% lean ground turkey burger, while a fat-free turkey patty only has 0.57 grams.

In addition, turkey can support heart health by increasing the good cholesterol in your body and lowering the bad cholesterol (via WebMD). This is because it's low-glycemic index food. So, whether you're monitoring your fat intake or managing diabetes, turkey can be a great option.

It's important to note that eating a diet high in saturated fats can negatively affect heart health. In fact, one 2018 review found that it may increase the chances of heart disease. This includes consuming beef, pork, cheese, and more, according to the American Heart Association. Therefore, they recommend eating no more than 13 grams of saturated fat daily in a 2000-calorie diet.

The verdict

Although both types of meat are extremely nutritious, and chock full of minerals and vitamins, ground turkey wins the title as the healthiest choice. If you already have pre-existing health conditions or are at risk of heart disease, the leanest form of ground turkey could be your best bet. It's lower in saturated fat and higher in some B vitamins, which are responsible for energy metabolism (via Healthline). For those trying to shed a few pounds, fat-free ground turkey is also lower in calories, but still high in protein.

However, when it comes to flavor profile and tastiness, beef seems to be the better choice. Beef tends to offer a richer, juicier, and bolder taste as per the Greatist. Plus, it's less likely to dry out, unlike turkey. So, if you're whipping up an aromatic dish, beef may be the better choice.

Ultimately you should choose whatever works best for your lifestyle, fitness goals, diet, personal preference, and the meals you make. Whatever you choose, be mindful of the seasoning and the toppings you use. Those delicious additions can hide some added sodium or fats that may outweigh the nutritional benefits in your ground meat of choice (via Verywell Fit).