This week is Turkey Week! Everyone is getting excited for family, food and fun, however it’s also the start of the holiday season which often means…weight gain! This week I will be posting important information about Thanksgiving and staying healthy. Today’s post is brought to you by my fabulous intern: Ella Kenney.
We hear about it every time Thanksgiving rolls around: the reason you want nothing more than a snooze on the couch after your feast is because that mysterious little element in turkey – tryptophan – has made you sleepy.
This urban legend is not completely without basis, but the finer details need parsing. What is tryptophan, anyway? It is an essential amino acid, which means that you must consume tryptophan in your diet because the body cannot make it. (The body makes many of the amino acids necessary to life.) Tryptophan is found in a variety of foods, including dairy products, fish, pork, eggs, nuts and nut butters, seeds and soy products.
On to the question at hand. Tryptophan is related to sleep in a way; the body uses it to make the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps calm you and allows you to sleep well. However, tryptophan isn’t the culprit of post-prandial Thanksgiving stupor. If that were the case, every time you ate a big bowl of ice cream or even an enormous pork chop, you’d be diving under your bed covers. The amount of tryptophan in a typical Thanksgiving feast just isn’t enough to trigger a nap – you would need enormous amounts of it on an empty stomach to actually experience tryptophan-induced drowsiness. The real cause of Thanksgiving lethargy is likely the combination of extreme overeating and the consumption of alcohol. The body must work overtime to process your meal, pulling blood away from other organs and the nervous system in order to carry out the digestive process, which makes you tired. And alcohol acts as a depressant, which also contributes to afternoon drowsiness.
So enjoy your Thanksgiving, and do indulge in turkey (tryptophan is an essential amino acid, after all). But think twice before you blame drumsticks and dark meat for your sleepy urge to merge with your couch!
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