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Choosing the Right Pie for Liver Health

Is Turkey a Good Food for Liver Health?


Thanksgiving meals tend to revolve around turkey. Discover if this lean meat has any liver health benefits.

The esteemed turkey is the highlight of most Thanksgiving meals. Even though Americans often regard their Thanksgiving feast as a time for waist-expanding food indulgences, turkey in and of itself lies on the nutritious side of the healthy food scale.

Those with chronic liver concerns have several justifiable reasons to enjoy consuming turkey during this food-centric holiday – and even to include it on their food shopping list throughout the year.

Eating for Liver Health

Living with a liver ailment typically requires analysis of everything you eat. There are several reasons that food is so important for liver health:

  • The liver must ultimately process any chemicals or toxins that make their way in to the body.
  • The liver needs certain nutrients from the food we eat in order to function properly.
  • The liver is susceptible to fat accumulation, a phenomena that can build up and lead to progressive liver damage.
  • Foods high in saturated fat contribute to the condition known as a fatty liver.
  • Foods rich in antioxidants help protect liver cells from damage by free radicals.

Although those with more severe liver conditions are especially urged by their healthcare providers to be aware of how their diet impacts their liver, everyone desiring health and longevity could benefit from this practice.

Turkey Myth

Due to the very common post-Thanksgiving meal coma, turkey has earned a less than stellar reputation.

However, assumptions that this tryptophan-rich meat induces sleepiness are false.

It's a myth that eating turkey makes you sleepy.

  • L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is found in turkey, other poultry, meat, cheese, yogurt, fish and eggs.
  • L-tryptophan is converted by the body to serotonin, a mood elevating chemical.
  • In turn, serotonin is used to make melatonin, a hormone that helps control sleep and wake cycles.
  • However, the amount of L-tryptophan in a turkey meal is not nearly sufficient to create enough serotonin to manufacture an adequate quantity of melatonin to cause sleepiness.
  • Instead, fatigue after the Thanksgiving meal is usually due to overeating and/or consuming large quantities of carbohydrates and sugar – the likes of which undoubtedly leads to an energy crash.

4 Liver Health Benefits of Eating Turkey

Turkey, especially turkey breast without the skin, fits the bill for a liver-friendly food.

Listed below are four benefits to eating turkey:

  1. Low-Fat: A 3-ounce serving of turkey breast contains about 1/5 of the total fat contained in an equivalent portion of chicken breast. Turkey also contains less saturated fat which makes it a good choice for those concerned with a fatty liver.
  2. High Protein: Unless someone has advanced liver disease and is under strict protein intake inhibition, high protein foods are ideal to help with recovery from liver cell injury. Proteins normally help the body repair tissue. They also prevent fatty buildup and damage to the liver cells.
  3. B Vitamins: Turkey is rich in all eight of the B vitamins – B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, folate, biotin, and choline. While liver disease is known to cause Vitamin B deficiencies, increasing Vitamin B intake helps improve liver health by easing liver congestion. The Bs make it easier for the liver to do its job effectively, because they assist the liver by breaking down fats.
  4. Selenium: Turkey contains quite a bit of the mineral selenium, providing over 50 percent of the Daily Value in a 4-ounce serving. Selenium is especially valuable to those with liver disease because it is an antioxidant that helps protect against damage to liver cells, mobilizes cancer-fighting cells, strengthens immunity and contributes to tissue elasticity – an essential for healthful liver tissue.

When to Skip Turkey

Turkey contains naturally occurring substances called purines, which are commonly found in several different types of food. Purines are broken down in the body to form uric acid. Because high uric acid levels can lead to kidney stones or aggravate gout in susceptible individuals, these people should limit their consumption of turkey and other purine-rich foods.

Similar Benefits

Nutritionists agree that eating whole foods as part of a varied diet is the ideal route for getting what your body needs; however, this isn’t always feasible.

When it comes to the liver benefits of turkey, some may not be able to feast on this lean meat. Some other options for getting the same nutrients that turkey has are:

  • Black Beans: These legumes are high in protein and B Vitamins, and low in saturated fat, just like turkey.
  • Clinical Multi-Vitamin: Similar to turkey, this nutritional supplement has a broad range of Vitamin B and is strengthened with several types of antioxidants. Although this doesn’t contain selenium, it does have plenty of other antioxidants that protect liver cells from oxidative stress.
  • Selenium: This essential antioxidant aids in glutathione synthesis and helps expel toxins in the liver.


Unless you are a vegetarian, are susceptible to high uric acid levels, or are adhering to an extremely low-protein diet, don’t hesitate to help yourself to turkey this Thanksgiving.

For the best nutritional outcome, choose white meat without skin, and limit any accompanying carbohydrate dishes.

Turkey is one of the most nutritious lean meats you can eat. As such, have a special appreciation this Thanksgiving that your feast revolves around an exceptionally liver-friendly fowl., What Vitamins Help the Liver?, Sarah DeWitt Ince, Retrieved September 15, 2013, Demand Media, Inc., 2013., Turkey Breast vs. Chicken Breast, Retrieved September 15, 2013, Internet Brands, Inc., 2013., Four Nuts that Support Your Liver, Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., Retrieved September 15, 2013, Natural Wellness, 2013., Black Bean Nutritional Facts, Molly McAdams, Retrieved September 15, 2013, Demand Media, Inc., 2013., Friday Fun Fact – Turkey: Health & Nutrition Facts, Retrieved September 15, 2013, North Jersey Federal Credit Union, 2013., Diet – Liver Disease, Retrieved September 15, 2013, US National Library of Medicine, 2013., The Truth About Tryptophan, Lisa Zamosky, Retrieved September 15, 2013, WebMD, LLC, 2013., Turkey, Pasture Raised, Retrieved September 15, 2013, The George Mateljan Foundation, 2013.

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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