The Truth About Tofurky: Is It Really A Healthy Turkey Alternative For Vegetarian Thanksgiving?

Tofurky is one of the most popular vegetarian turkey alternatives for a meat-free or vegan Thanksgiving, but is it necessarily the healthiest option? Does anyone actually know what’s in tofurkey? To find out, we talked with nutritionist, Kaayla Daniel, PhD, CCN and otherwise known as the Naughty Nutritionist because of her ability to debunk traditional nutritional myths.

What exactly is in Tofurky, the “vegetarian turkey”?

It’s vegan, made primarily from tofu and wheat gluten, and smells strange, looks like a beige football, and is said to taste like turkey, at least by vegans who’ve either never eaten real turkey or have very distant and feeble memories of having eaten turkey.

According to Turtle Island Foods, Tofurky is a gourmet vegan “roast and gravy” product made from “a revolutionary tofu-wheat protein blend.”

Here are the ingredients as provided on the Turtle Island website:

ROAST: Water, vital wheat gluten, organic tofu (water, organic soybeans, magnesium chloride, calcium chloride) , shoyu soy sauce (water, non-genetically engineered soybeans, wheat, salt, culture), expeller pressed non-genetically engineered canola oil, natural vegetarian flavors, non-genetically engineered corn starch, garbanzo bean flour, white bean flour, lemon juice from concentrate, onion, carrot, celery, sugar, calcium lactate from beets, sea salt.

There seems to be a lot of soy in Tofurky. Isn’t soy considered bad for you, or at least not exactly healthy for some women?

More than 70 years of studies link soy to malnutrition, thyroid disorders, immune system breakdown, ADD/ADHD, infertility, reproductive problems, loss of libido, and even heart disease and cancer, esp breast cancer. Although soy is heavily marketed to mid life women as the ticket to an easy menopause, the evidence is inconsistent and contradictory at best. Worse, the soy that might possibly help ease menopausal symptoms has been proven to put the woman at increased risk for thyroid disease and breast cancer. The European Food Safety Authority has denied health claims for soy lowering cholesterol, soy easing menopause and soy preventing osteoporosis based on inconsistent evidence provided by shoddy research studies. The Israeli Health Ministry, French Food Agency and German Institute of Risk Assessment have all warned that soy infant formula should not be given to babies except as a last resort, and women should “exercise caution” re their soy consumption if they have been diagnosed with breast cancer or have a family history of breast cancer or other risk factors for breast cancer.

Doesn’t Tofurky also contain a lot of additives and chemicals?

My biggest concern about Tofurky is the “vital wheat gluten” as it is a poor ingredient for anyone and contraindicated for those suffering from gluten sensitivities or celiac disease. The organic tofu would not be a problem for most people, if consumed only occasionally, but should certainly be avoided by the increasing numbers of people with soy allergies.

So basically, people may think they’re eating healthy with tofurky, but they may not be?

Right. I would say it’s a stretch to call tofu a health food, but it should not pose health risks if eaten only occasionally, such as at a vegetarian potluck or vegan Thanksgiving. The soy protein ingredients commonly used in “health food” store products are almost always manufactured using high temperature, high pressure, acid and alkaline baths, and solvents such as hexane. In the case of Tofurky, the least healthy ingredient is not the soy or the additives but the wheat gluten, a fractionated protein from wheat.

What is healthier then: Tofurky or turkey?

Any form of poultry or meat would be healthier than Tofurky if it is free range, grass fed, and sourced from an animal or bird that spends its days out in the sun and gets to hunt and peck. Factory-farmed meats put personal and planetary health at risk. Factory farming is devastating to the environment, but so is the monocropping of corn, wheat and soybeans.

How about comparing the two in terms of calories, fat and protein?

Far as I’m concerned, calories don’t matter. And, in any case, that would depend on how much people ate, with gravy and stuffing or not, and with the real turkey, the choice of white or dark meat. My concern with Thanksgiving dinners would not be the calories from meat but lots of potatoes, pies, rolls and starchy carbs.

With fat, the issue is the quality not the quantity of the fat. The fat in Tofurkey comes not only from the soy oil in the soybeans but from added canola oil. With so much soy and canola oil in the product itself and then the recommended olive oil baste to keep the “roast” moist, Tofurky is hardly a low-fat product. Contrary to popular belief, it also contains some saturated fat (the stearic acid component), which is a natural part of all vegetable oils and is actually a good thing because it helps keep them from going rancid.

How about the fat content in turkey then?

The fatty acid profile of turkey meat depends on the source, and it varies greatly depending upon the diet fed the turkey. People are always surprised that poultry contains so much monounsaturated fat. True organic and free range turkeys would have a much more favorable fatty acid profile. Best of all would be a free-range “heritage” turkey, which even has a much-needed advanced form of omega 3 fatty acid known as EPA.

Non GMO-feeds used for so-called “organic turkeys” represent a huge improvement, but it is important to know that grains like soy and corn are unnatural foods for turkeys. Many of the supposedly free-range, organic turkeys sold in the big chain health food stores are “pseudo-organic” turkeys raised in factory farms with little or no opportunity to go outdoors. Better to get free range turkeys that hunt and peck and attain much improved fatty acid profile by eating bugs and worms in the wild.

In addition, many supermarket turkeys are injected with water and/or soy or other inferior quality, refined and rancid vegetable oils so the turkey will cook up moist and not dry out.

And how does the protein content differ between tofurky and real turkey?

As for protein, some of the protein in Tofurky comes from “vital wheat gluten.” I cannot recommend fractionated protein products like wheat gluten to anyone, and it is contraindicated for anyone with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease.

Most people who recommend Tofurky instead of a real turkey think it’s healthier because of low saturated fat and no cholesterol. Truth is Mother Nature gave us saturated fat and cholesterol for healthy bodies, brains and hormones. As Gary Taubes has shown in his stunning book Good Calories/Bad Calories, the evidence that saturated fat and cholesterol cause heart disease was never good and has been thoroughly discredited.

Kaayla T. Daniel, PhD, CCN, is the Naughty Nutritionist because of her ability to outrageously and humorously debunk nutritional myths. A popular guest on radio and television, she has been on The Dr Oz Show, ABC’s View from the Bay, NPR’s People’s Pharmacy and PBS Healing Quest. Dr Daniel is the author of The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food, a popular speaker at Wise Traditions and other conferences, Vice President of the Weston A. Price Foundation and recipient of its 2005 Integrity in Science Award. Her websites are www.naughtynutritionist.com and www.wholesoystory.com.

Photo: shutterstock.com

 

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    • BreadMan

      So basically you think that Tofurky is less healthy than turkey because it has wheat in it? And that applies whether you have allergies/Celiac or not? Other than that unintentional bit of humor, does this article actually offer anything to a person who doesn’t enjoy really lame attempts at snark? Also, you don’t seem to understand what “fractionated” means in the context you attempted it. Expertise fail.

    • AllVegan

      What a bunch of bunk, was this article written as satire?

    • kellyL

      This is literally the worst article I have ever read on Blisstree. WTF? I usually love this site because it’s so vegan friendly but why publish an interview with someone from an org that’s supported by meat and dairy producers criticizing Tofurky? I could see if you were going to recommend a less processed homemade vegan meal like lentil loaf or something, but come on.

    • Daisy

      “…smells strange, looks like a beige football, and is said to taste like turkey…” with a start like this, I hardly think I’m getting an unbiased assessment.

    • Plant Based Living

      Wow, what a joke this article is. I think it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to debunk this naughty nutritionist. I like how you start with a Tofurky and turkey comparison and then switch it up to free-range, grass fed, non-gmo birds. I wonder how much of the population will be consuming those lucky free birds this Thanksgiving. I also like how you refuse to make a direct comparison in portion size to avoid calories/fat and you don’t recommend wheat gluten for those with celiac disease? Well, let’s just file that one under “No $#!? Sherlock”. I find it naughty that you pretend to be a nutritionist.

    • http://www.facebook.com/naomi.williams.739 Naomi Williams

      Face it, vegans, no way can Tofurky be considered a “health food”; it’s as healthful as a Twinkie. How about just skipping the fake processed food and focus on the sides: Sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie.

      • Plant Based Living

        I don’t think anyone has referred to it as “health food” but as healthier plant based Thanksgiving alternative to the massive slaughter of factory farmed and inhumanely treated animals.

        How about skipping the antibiotic/steroid/chemical injected/force fed factory farmed frozen animal carcass and focus on the sides? How ’bout you stuff your Twinkie where the stuffing goes.

    • George Black

      Gluten/ Seitan is not unhealthy unless you have a disease such as celiac. Myself and many vegans I know eat home made protein rich gluten nearly daily and are fit as fiddles and vibrant. This article
      was not written by people knowledgeable of the healthy ingredients in a vegan diet.Most ‘experts’ and doctors have no education in animal flesh free diets., which is sad.

    • http://twitter.com/wildarschase Andy Shaw

      Wow this is a poorly put together article, and I generally like Blisstree. When you start out making jokes about vegans liking Tofurky, as if it’s a generally undesirable attribute and/or that all vegans can’t remember how meat tastes, and the point of your article is to educate vegans (the main eaters of Tofurky) the dangers of eating a meat alternative, you’re not off to a great start.
      And what’s with the leading questions? When you phrase it as “Doesn’t Tofurky also contain a lot of additives and chemicals?”, what do you expect the response to be? And c’mon, one of the main reasons supplied in not eating it is if you have soy allergies or Celiac’s disease. Well, duh! Why would anyone with that eat this kind of product? Soda gives me migraines, so I don’t drink it.
      “Free range” is a joke, by the way, and you don’t call them on that. And the entire article almost hilariously tries to convince vegans/vegetarians that eating turkey would be better than eating Tofurky, as if we’ll say, “Well, sure, when you put it that way!”
      Holy crap, Blisstree. I mean, this is horrible. It’s one thing to say, “Tofurky isn’t a perfect product, here are some alternatives.” It’s another to rip on it almost for the sake of saying, “TURKEY IS BETTER” when clearly, that’s not an option. And in no way is eating a turkey a healthier alternative, as I don’t think someone is going to raise and slaughter the turkey themselves.

      • Claimsman

        Also, show me these “studies” that show that soy isn’t healthy. Amazing how that’s been missed for all these years, and for that matter, about 5,000 years of dietary use. This article is obviously written by someone with an agenda, and a poorly constructed on at that. (Soy unhealthy? HAHAHAHA!)

      • http://twitter.com/wildarschase Andy Shaw

        On top of that, shortly after this Deborah, the same author, posts “Free range turkeys are not what you think” about the abuse of turkeys. Whahhhhhhh? http://www.blisstree.com/2012/11/20/eat/free-range-turkeys-are-not-what-you-think-see-if-this-video-changes-your-mind/

      • Plant Based Living

        Thank you for pointing out that this nutritionist works for the Weston A Price foundation as it is now very clear where her allegiance lies. Yes, how very naughty indeed.

        Quite a few of these stories are propagated by the West A Price Foundation which has an outright stance against plant-based diet and believes, according the their website “our position in light of the scientific evidence that humans need animal foods, particularly animal fats, for optimum health” even though according to Wikipedia, “The foundation has been criticised by medical and health experts for “purveying misleading information” and “failing to update their recommendations in light of contradictory evidence.”

        Also, in regards to soy, isn’t it strange that a large percentage of the World’s population outside the US consumes soy products, both fermented and unfermented with no ill effects?

      • waffre

        (I realize this comment is coming a bit late, but oh well.) I agree for the most part, but you really don’t have to raise and slaughter your own turkey in order to make sure it’s raised and slaughtered humanely. Our turkey this year came from a family farm that’s near my in-laws’ house. They raise and butcher the turkeys all themselves, and my in-laws were able to go down to the farm and see how the turkeys lived (about 100 heritage and 100 conventional birds if I remember correctly). I’m not a meat fanatic by any stretch, but it doesn’t do any good to fight hyperbole with more hyperbole.

    • jamiepeck

      It’s a good thing I’m not choosing my thanksgiving food with health in mind! Actually, I’m eating seitan, which on top of being deliciou, has yet to kill me or cause any problems at all. I’m also sponsoring a rescue turkey. Gobble gobble.

    • Andrew Hunt

      Say what you will about Tofurky. I’m not a big fan. But no animals were harmed in the making of it. We demand that of our movies. Why not our meals?

    • LisaT

      Agree with all the sentiments that this is about the worst thing I’ve seen posted on this site. Also, that is not Tofurky in the photo. Shame on you all around, Blisstree.

    • bob

      These people are fucking morons. Tofurky doesnt smell funny at all, in fact it almost smells like turkey(with a hint of tofu). And no lol, It’s not a faint or feeble memory, i had turkey about 2 weeks ago, and tofurky is almost dead on. Taste like friggin turkey. And what kind of moron would ever even think to PUBLICLY say that soy beans are bad for you. Whoever did the research here is a fucking retarded monkey jacking off to the sound of cash registers. IN OTHER WORDS GTFO THIS SITE THESE PPL ARE DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUMB

    • bob

      UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU
      UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU
      UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU
      UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUMB AS FUCK

    • Dasha Smith

      This is the worst misleading article!!! I don’t even wanna waste my time to disprove the written above!