Friday, November 26, 2010

Turkeying - Does it Really Make You Sleepy?

"Every year at Thanksgiving, most of us engage in an annual rite of passage: stuffing ourselves mercilessly with turkey, cranberry sauce, and pie. But inevitably, in that hour between feeling so full you think you'll explode and gearing up for round two with the leftovers, your relatives can find you conked out on the couch."
Everybody blames the turkey because it's pumped up with L-tryptophan. Your aunt even insists that there could never be another reason. So is it true? Is the turkey really what we ought to point our fingers at? Is it the reason for Thanksgiving sleepiness? The experts helped WebMD sort out the facts at

L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid. The body can't make it, so diet must supply tryptophan. Amino acids are building blocks of proteins. Foods rich in tryptophan include, you guessed it, turkey. Tryptophan is also found in other poultry, meat, cheese, yogurt, fish, and eggs.

Tryptophan is used by the body to make niacin, a B vitamin that is important for digestion, skin and nerves, and serotonin. Serotonin is a brain chemical that plays a large role in mood and can help to create a feeling of well-being and relaxation. "When levels of serotonin are high, you're in a better mood, sleep better and have a higher pain tolerance," says Elizabeth Somer, MA, RD. Tryptophan is needed for the body to produce serotonin. Serotonin is used to make melatonin: a hormone that helps to control your sleep and wake cycles.

So is the turkey your sleep inducer?
As it turns out, turkey contains no more of the amino acid tryptophan than other kinds of poultry. In fact, turkey actually has slightly less tryptophan than chicken, says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, LDN.
Jackson Blatner says that if we're sleepy on Thanksgiving as a direct result of eating turkey, then eating other foods rich in tryptophan should have the same effect.
"When is the last time someone ate a chicken breast at a summertime barbecue and thought they felt sluggish [because of it]?" she asks.
Turkey is, indeed, a good source of tryptophan. Still, it's a myth that eating foods high in tryptophan boosts brain levels of tryptophan and therefore brain levels of serotonin, Somer says.
Somer says that proteins like turkey, chicken, and fish, which are high in tryptophan, require assistance from foods high in carbohydrates to affect serotonin levels. Because protein foods are overloaded with many types of amino acids, these will compete to reach the bloodstream and then the brain. So, carbs in this case are there ticket to blood! Don't worry there's no way to have too much tryptophan in your body.
So if eating turkey isn't the reason, why the sudden grogginess as soon as our holiday feast is over?
Jackson explains that "When people overeat food, the digestion process takes a lot of energy. Don't incriminate the turkey that you ate," she says of post-Thanksgiving meal exhaustion, "incriminate the three plates of food that you piled high."
And let's not forget that the holidays generally mean time off from work and with family. Many people feel more relaxed to begin with. Add alcohol to the mix, and voila! Sleep!

NB: This is all from WebMD, I just found the article interesting since all the people I know blame it on the turkey! Well, not anymore :)

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