Both turkey and beef make an equally impressive roast, burger, meatball or meatloaf. While turkey is usually the centerpiece of holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, beef can be a favorite for special or everyday occasions. Comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges -- although they are both good sources of protein, they are otherwise so different that there's really no comparison. That said, they each have unique nutritional profiles that may help you decide which one to have for dinner.
Turkey, being a poultry, is often thought to be lower in calories than beef. Beef can also be low-calorie if you choose the right cut. A skinless piece of turkey may have between 110 and 140 calories per 3-ounce serving, and the same size serving of beef can have between 130 and 280 calories. The beef calories are much larger due to the fat content of the different cuts. While fatty rib roast may not be a wise choice at 280 calories, a lean shoulder steak can come in at only 140.
Fat content is the real difference between beef and turkey. Eating lean protein is essential to meeting your protein needs without excess calories, and beef can be quite fatty. Although a top round cutlet can have as little as 4 grams of fat, a tenderloin can have as many as 16 grams per 3-ounce serving. Leaner cuts include the top round, flank, shoulder and lean ground beef. Turkey is generally low-fat, with most pieces containing only 1 to 4 grams, but it is important to remove the skin. Eating the skin brings a turkey breast from 1 gram of fat to 7 grams, and a wing from 3 grams of fat to 11.
Both beef and turkey are complete proteins, meaning they contain all the essential amino acids your body needs according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Each one has a special amino acid though, and each has a special benefit. Beef is a good source of creatine, which works as a backup energy source for the muscles. There is some evidence that creatine supplements may improve performance and muscle growth during resistance exercise. Turkey is famous for tryptophan, the amino acid that everyone blames for the post-dinner nap. Although tryptophan is a precursor for serotonin, which helps regulate sleep, researchers discovered that the amounts in turkey are not high enough to cause drowsiness. Overeating is usually the culprit, and tryptophan must be specially supplemented to affect sleep.
Both types of protein can be good for you, just like both can be less-than-great if you're not careful to eat lean. Meat has more iron -- 10 to 15 percent of your daily value compared to turkey's 2 to 8 percent -- but turkey has less cholesterol -- 40 milligrams in a breast cutlet compared to beef's 65 to 90 milligrams. Both turkey and beef can give you the protein you need to feed your muscles, but both can contribute to obesity if you eat too much. If you enjoy both, eat both -- but keep portion size and fat content in mind.