Turkey is a major symbol of an American celebration and our giving for the bounties we are fortunate to enjoy. Dr. Judith Rodriguez, registered dietitian & chair of the Department of Nutrition & Dietetics at the University of North Florida, discusses myths and facts about this traditional holiday bird.
Myth: Turkey is indigenous to the country, Turkey.
Fact: Of the two wild species of turkey, one is indigenous to the areas from Canada to Mexico and the other is indigenous to the areas from the Yucatan to Guatemala. The Aztecs ate domesticated turkeys. They were found in the New World and taken back to Spain, from where it quickly spread throughout Europe and other regions. It was introduced to England in the 1500’s, then the Pilgrims brought it back to North America in the 1620’s on the Mayflower, not realizing that was indeed, the birds point of origin.
Myth: Eating turkey makes you sleepy.
Fact: Turkey contains tryptophan, an amino acid supplement that promotes sleep when taken alone (on an empty stomach). However, it contains many other amino acids that probably blunt the impact of tryptophan. If you ingested a large meal, your sleepiness is more likely the result of blood being diverted from throughout the body, including the muscles and brain, to the stomach for digestion.
Myth: The skin is all made up of the bad saturated fat.
Fact: Turkey skin contains both saturated fat and cholesterol (the bad) fats and also mono and polyunsaturated (the good) fats. So, if you are tempted to have some turkey skin, it’s important that you limit it to a small piece, indulge in a small amount, along with some lean turkey.
Myth: Turkey should be thawed by covering it with a hot towel.
Fact: Covering a frozen turkey with a hot towel or leaving it on the counter to thaw is dangerous because it creates a temperature favorable for growing germs over the warm part of the turkey. Instead, thaw it in the refrigerator or use the cold water method. However, the cold water method is labor intensive and wastes a valuable resource, water. A 10 pound turkey will take about two days and 12 hours to thaw in a refrigerator; a 20 pound turkey about five days. Plan in advance, so you can enjoy a safe and delicious meal.
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Myth: The USDA inspection sticker indicates that the bird is fresh and top grade.
Fact: The USDA inspection checks for wholesomeness and proper handling. However, USDA also provides voluntary grading services. About 70 percent of inspected turkeys are also graded. The grades are U.S. Grade A, B and C.
Myth: Check a whole turkey for doneness by pricking the leg to check for bleeding.
Fact: Cook the whole turkey in an oven at 325 degrees. Turn the wings back, behind the neck to hold it in place to minimize burning of the legs. Insert an oven safe thermometer in the lower part of the thigh and be sure to avoid touching the bone. Or place a thermometer in the center of the stuffing. A temperature of 180 degrees in the thigh and 165 degrees in the breast or stuffing indicates doneness.
Dr. Judith Rodriguez, registered dietitian & chair of the Department of Nutrition & Dietetics at the University of North Florida