Ground Turkey vs Ground Beef: Which One Is Healthier?

Wondering which is healthier: ground turkey vs. ground beef? We break down the nutrition details in this article.

ground-beef-in-bowl
by
Caitlin Beale, MS, RDN
— Signos
Health & Nutrition Writer
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
May 17, 2024
October 11, 2023
— Updated:
October 12, 2023

Table of Contents

Ground turkey and ground beef, staples in many kitchens, are very similar in many ways. They can both be used to make some of our favorite dishes, from tacos and burgers to casseroles and sauces, but each has its unique flavor. 

Ground beef has a rich, robust taste, while ground turkey offers a lighter, more delicate flavor profile. But beyond these taste differences, you might wonder: which is the healthier option?

In this article, you'll learn the primary nutritional differences between these two types of ground meat to help you decide which is your best pick.

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Ground Turkey vs. Ground Beef: Comparison

Ground turkey and ground beef differ slightly in their fat content, caloric values, and flavor profiles. Ground beef is a red meat that generally has a higher saturated fat content, which adds to its rich flavor, but may also mean it’s become a less popular choice for those keeping tabs on saturated fat (and usually recommended to avoid for people at risk of heart disease).

Ground turkey, on the other hand, typically has a lower fat content and, therefore, fewer calories. However, it's important to note that the specific nutritional profile can vary based on the cut and preparation of the meat (which we will discuss below). The flavor of ground turkey is lighter, which can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on personal preference. Both types of meat are high in protein and offer various nutrients, making them a beneficial part of a diet balanced with other nutrients.

Key Insights

The production of meat and poultry begins with the rearing of animals and culminates in the packaging of the products we see on our grocery store shelves. In the case of ground turkey and ground beef, the production process involves mincing or grinding specific meat cuts.

Ground beef is typically made from a mixture of beef cuts, often the less desirable parts, while ground turkey is generally made from both white and dark meat.

Approximately 54% of US adults consume beef, which includes ground beef. The USDA also estimated that 5.09 billion pounds of turkey was consumed in the US in 2021.  These statistics don't distinguish between the consumption of ground beef versus other cuts of beef or ground turkey versus whole turkey, but they give a general understanding of the meat consumption pattern in the US. 

Ground Beef vs. Ground Turkey Taste

The flavor profile of beef and turkey can depend on the fat percentage of the product, but there are some differences. Ground beef, especially fattier options, is described as flavorful and moist. Its high-fat content contributes to its juicy, savory taste, which intensifies when grilled or browned in a pan.

On the other hand, ground turkey is usually considered a lean meat and has a milder, slightly gamey flavor compared to beef. It absorbs the flavors of the ingredients and seasonings it's cooked with, making it a versatile choice for dishes requiring a lighter, leaner protein. It's also less greasy, offering a lighter mouthfeel than ground beef, but it can dry out easily if overcooked.

Ground Turkey vs. Ground Beef: Weight Loss

Ground turkey may have a slightly lower amount of fat and calorie content, making it a popular choice for those paying attention to nutritional intake. That said, the nutrition content depends on the type of ground turkey or ground beef. Some cuts of ground beef, such as 95% lean and sirloin, have comparable nutritional values to ground turkey, but fat-free ground turkey is the lowest calorie, leanest cut.

Both are excellent protein sources, an essential nutrient for blood sugar management and weight loss. Protein helps by keeping you feeling full and satisfied and minimizes how quickly blood sugar rises and falls, which can lead to cravings. It's also important for maintaining lean body mass during weight loss (so you lose fat mass instead of muscle mass). Some research has found that when people increase protein intake, they lose weight even if they make no other dietary changes.

ground-turkey-in-bowl-with-vegetables

How to Cook Ground Turkey vs. Ground Beef

You can cook ground turkey and ground beef in a pan with minimal oil to reduce the overall fat content if you're monitoring caloric intake. Both types can be sautéed with colorful vegetables for a nutritious, high-protein meal.

If you're trying to limit saturated fat intake, ground turkey can be used as a leaner substitute in recipes that traditionally call for ground beef. For example, consider making stuffed peppers, turkey burgers, turkey spaghetti sauce, or turkey meatballs (just avoid overcooking the turkey as it can dry out easily).

You can also drain cooked ground beef before adding it to dishes to reduce fat content further. Use it in a stir-fry with lots of vegetables or beef and vegetable soup to increase the nutrient value.

Seasoning is key regardless of your choice between ground turkey and ground beef. Spices and herbs add flavor without extra calories or sodium and can even offer their own health benefits. Consider heart-healthy options like garlic, turmeric, cumin, and rosemary.

Bottom Line

Whether ground beef or ground turkey is best depends on your overall diet. Both can be healthy parts of a nutrient-dense eating pattern when your food intake is high in many other nourishing foods like fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber whole grains.

Most ground turkey generally contains less saturated fat, so if your goal is to reduce intake, this may be a better choice. Ultimately, the key is to choose lean cuts of either and cook them with minimal added fats for a healthy, well-rounded meal.

That said, the type of ground beef makes a big difference. A higher percentage of fat (like 80/20) means more saturated fat and calories, and it’s worth noting that unless you are preparing your food at home, most restaurants use a much higher fat cut of ground beef. 

Let's look at ground beef vs. ground turkey nutrition in more detail.

Nutrition

Even though ground turkey and ground beef come from different sources, they have a lot in common nutritionally when you compare the same fat content. Ground beef can be up to 30% fat or as low as 7% fat. 

If you compare 3 ounces of lean ground beef to 3 ounces of lean ground turkey, ground beef contains slightly more grams of protein and saturated fat, but otherwise, you may be surprised to see they are very similar nutritionally. Let’s compare 3 ounces of 93/7 cuts of ground beef and ground turkey (93/7 means 93% lean and 7% fat):

Of course, if you choose a different cut of ground beef, the calories and fat jump up. For example, a 3-ounce 70/30 (30% fat) ground beef patty (as seen in a beef burger) has 205 calories, 13 grams of total fat, and 5.01 grams of saturated fat.

On the other hand, if you use a 3-ounce “fat-free” turkey patty (which means 99% fat-free), you’ll get 117 calories, 2.1 grams of total fat, and less than 1 gram of saturated fat.

The primary takeaway is that both ground turkey and ground beef can be incorporated into a well-rounded diet when compared with similar fat content. Those carefully monitoring saturated fat may consider ground turkey or choose leaner options. 

Glycemic Index

The glycemic index measures how quickly a food raises your blood sugar levels. Since ground turkey and ground beef don’t contain carbs, they have a zero glycemic index.

Vitamins and Minerals

As you can see in the above chart, both ground turkey and ground beef contain various essential vitamins and minerals that contribute to a healthy, balanced diet. Ground beef provides slightly more vitamin B12, while turkey provides more Riboflavin (vitamin B2). B vitamins are essential for cellular energy production, among many other functions.6

Both contain minerals, although ground beef provides slightly more iron and zinc (important for immune function and metabolism), while ground turkey contains more selenium (an antioxidant and essential for reproductive and thyroid health).7

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is Ground Turkey Healthier Than Ground Beef?

Whether ground turkey or ground beef is healthier depends on the type and cut of meat you choose. If you go out to dinner and order a hamburger or meatloaf, chances are the type of beef would be a fattier cut, like 80/20 or 85/15. Ground turkey would be considered the healthier option since it's lower in fat and calories. But if you choose a leaner cut of beef, like 93/7, there's very little difference between the two types of meat.

Which is Better for Weight Loss: Ground Turkey or Ground Beef?

Both ground beef and ground turkey can be incorporated into a healthy weight-loss diet. It ultimately depends on the type and cut of meat you choose and how you prepare it. If weight loss is your goal, opt for leaner cuts of either meat and try to limit the amount of added fats or oils used in cooking.

Which Has More Saturated Fat: Ground Turkey or Ground Beef?

Ground beef has more saturated fat, but how much more depends on the type and cut of meat you choose. Ground turkey is typically lower in saturated fat, especially compared to higher-fat cuts of beef, like 80/20 or 70/30. However, if you choose a leaner cut of beef (like 90/10), the saturated fat difference is minimal.

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References

  1. Papier, K., Knuppel, A., Syam, N., Jebb, S. A., & Key, T. J. (2023). Meat consumption and risk of ischemic heart disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 63(3), 426–437. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408398.2021.1949575
  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2016, February 29). Ground beef and food safety. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/meat/ground-beef-and-food-safety
  3. An, R., Nickols-Richardson, S., Alston, R., Shen, S., & Clarke, C. (2019). Total, Fresh, Lean, and Fresh Lean Beef Consumption in Relation to Nutrient Intakes and Diet Quality among U.S. Adults, 2005⁻2016. Nutrients, 11(3), 563. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11030563
  4. U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2023, September 11). Turkey sector: Background & statistics. https://www.ers.usda.gov/newsroom/trending-topics/turkey-sector-background-statistics/
  5. Moon, J., & Koh, G. (2020). Clinical Evidence and Mechanisms of High-Protein Diet-Induced Weight Loss. Journal of obesity & metabolic syndrome, 29(3), 166–173. https://doi.org/10.7570/jomes20028
  6. U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2019, April 1). Beef, ground, 93% lean meat / 7% fat crumbles, cooked, pan-browned. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/174755/nutrients
  7. U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2019, April 1). Turkey, ground, 93% lean, 7% fat, pan-broiled crumbles. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/172851/nutrients
  8. U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2019, April 1). Beef, ground, 70% lean meat / 30% fat loaf, cooked, baked. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169474/nutrients
  9. U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2019, April 1). Turkey, ground, fat free, patties, broiled. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/172849/nutrients

About the author

Caitlin Beale is a registered dietitian and nutrition writer with a master’s degree in nutrition. She has a background in acute care, integrative wellness, and clinical nutrition.

View Author Bio

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