Healthy… or Not? Ground Turkey and Veggie Chips

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This week, we continue to look at so-called healthy foods that may not be as healthy as they seem! And believe me, these foods are everywhere.

Ground Turkey
By now, most people are aware that poultry is generally considered to be a better choice than red meat in terms of calories, fat, and saturated fat. People who are trying to lose weight or lower their cholesterol learn early on that chicken and turkey are leaner protein choices. And that’s true if you’re comparing a 4-ounce skinless baked chicken breast with a 4-ounce sirloin steak. But things become a little murkier when it comes to ground meat and ground poultry.

Like many people, perhaps you’ve switched to using ground turkey in your meatloaf or meatballs, or maybe you even grill up turkey burgers in place of regular hamburgers. Ground turkey can definitely be a good choice, but here is where you need to check out the label. Why? Let’s take first take a look at ground beef:

95% Extra Lean Ground Beef, Broiled, 4 ounces:
193 calories
7.5 grams of fat
3.4 grams of saturated fat

The “95% Extra Lean” refers to the percent of lean meat by weight. But what’s more helpful to know is that extra lean meat, by definition, contains less than 5 grams of fat and less than 2 grams of saturated fat per 100 grams (about 3 ounces).

But, let’s say you’re a health-conscious shopper and you’ve read that ground turkey is much better for you than ground beef. So, standing at the meat and poultry case in the store, you grab a package of ground turkey and throw it in your cart. Is what you put in your cart really a better choice than the extra lean ground beef, above? Let’s look:

85% Lean Ground Turkey, Broiled, 4 ounces:
266 calories
14.9 grams of fat
3.8 grams of saturated fat

Why is this supposedly lean ground turkey higher in fat than the ground beef? While your good intentions were there, what you might not have realized is that this particular ground turkey likely contains dark meat turkey, along with the white meat, as well as the turkey skin. And we all know that the skin is where most of the fat is. But don’t give up on ground turkey just yet. Look for ground turkey breast, instead.

99% Fat-Free Ground Turkey Breast, Broiled, 4 ounces:
120 calories
1 gram fat
0 grams of saturated fat

That’s more like it! The calorie and fat savings are pretty impressive. Even if you choose 93% or 94% Lean Ground Turkey, you’re still making a healthy choice. All it takes is a little detective work, but it’s easy: just check what it says on the front of the package.

Veggie Chips
If you’re going to be enjoying a turkey burger on the grill, why not throw in a handful of vegetable (veggie) chips on the side? Heck, they must be better than potato chips, right? And maybe they “count” as one of your vegetable servings so that you don’t have to steam up that broccoli lurking in your refrigerator crisper drawer.

You’ve likely seen veggie chips in your local supermarket or health food store. Veggie chips may be made from a variety of vegetables, such as carrots, beets, parsnips, yams, green beans, sweet potatoes, and yucca. Brands include Terra, Danielle, and Robert’s American Gourmet. Even Nabisco Wheat Thins has Toasted Veggie Chips. Are these chips really that much better than potato chips? And can they truly count as a vegetable?

Some veggie chips may be made with just vegetables. Terra Chips contain assorted vegetables, canola, sunflower, or safflower oil, beet juice concentrate, and salt. But some brands, such as Robert’s contain added potato flour and potato starch, so they’re not 100% vegetables. Nutrition-wise, here’s how veggie chips and potato chips break down (on average):

Veggie chips, 1 ounce:
120–150 calories
4–9 grams of fat
0.5–1 gram of saturated fat
15–19 grams of carbohydrate
1–3 grams of fiber
110–260 milligrams of sodium

Potato chips, 1 ounce:
155 calories
10 grams of fat
1 gram of saturated fat
15 grams of carbohydrate
1 gram of fiber
160 milligrams of sodium

You can see, then, that veggie chips, at least calorie and fat-wise, really aren’t that much “better” than potato chips. And, they tend to be higher in sodium than regular potato chips.

Where they can offer some benefit is in the vitamin arena: Veggie chips do provide vitamins A and C, as well as iron. But you can get these nutrients easily from other sources. So, if you like veggie chips, fine. Just realize that they actually don’t replace “real” vegetables and the fact that the word “veggie” is on the bag isn’t license to go overboard with the portion.

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