Dear Living Well Daily Reader,
Like millions of Americans, you’ll probably be hitting the grocery store in the coming week.
And when you’re picking out your ingredients for your Thanksgiving feast, you’ll be facing some hard questions about the bird you select.
You’ll see lots of labels like “organic” or “cage free” or “no antibiotics.”
But are these turkeys any healthier? And are they worth the extra money?
Today I’m going to help you answer some of those questions — and avoid common mistakes lots of folks make this time of year.
Let’s get started…
First, let’s get one thing out of the way: If you see “cage free” “hormone free/raised without hormones” or “natural” on any poultry, understand these labels mean just about nothing.
All poultry raised for meat must be cage free, and hormones aren’t allowed. And “natural” means only that nothing synthetic has been added to the meat and it has only been minimally processed.
With that said, conventional mass-marketed turkeys are probably your worst choice for a Thanksgiving bird. They’re raised in very close quarters, and they do everything on top of each other (including pooping).
Because of their filthy living conditions, these dirty bird are often fed antibiotics to prevent infections. According to the Poultry Science Association, many turkey producers also add antibiotics to the feed to make the turkeys grow faster and larger.
That makes these turkeys a “fowl” choice (I couldn’t help myself) since antibiotics can cause mess with your gut health and further antibiotic resistance.
In addition, conventional factory farm birds are fed pesticide-laden corn and soy that is likely genetically modified, which can lead to high levels of pesticides (think Round-up) in your meat.
On the other hand, organic turkeys are raised without antibiotics and are fed only organic feed. These birds have access to the outdoors, but that could mean a bare patch of dirt or concrete slab. It doesn’t mean they were able to stretch their little turkey legs in a pasture or eat the insects that live there.
However, pastured poultry (sometimes called free range) are free to roam outside and eat a natural diet of bugs, which can increase their omega-3 content. And because these lucky fowl are given more space, they’re less likely to get infections or need antibiotics.
In most cases, their diets are supplemented with feed. Sometimes it’s organic and sometimes it’s not. Look for both labels to be sure when purchasing.
Other than the omega-3 content, organic and pastured poultry don’t seem to have any significant differences from conventional meat from a nutrient standpoint. However, ditching antibiotics and deadly pesticides meat is always a good idea, both for your health and the health of your family. This makes an organic, pastured turkey your healthiest choice.
That being said, they aren’t easy to get your hands on. Antibiotic-free organic turkeys are only about 2.3% of the total number of turkeys produced each year in the U.S. And pastured poultry is even harder to find. Localharvest.org can help you find a farmer near you so you can buy one directly from them. Some grocers like Wegmans and Whole Foods also sell organic turkeys.
If you do decide to go organic, prepare yourself for sticker shock. While a conventionally raised Butterball turkey typically sells for $0.99 per pound, organic turkey is much pricier.
But I think you’ll find it’s a good investment in your health and safety.
Managing editor, Living Well Daily
 Poultry News