One modern day myth regarding Turkey Day is the cause of the inevitable post turkey nap. We were once lead to believe that tryptophan, a chemical present in turkey puts you to sleep, just like taking a melatonin supplement. However, new research shows this may not be true. Authority Health, a leader in health research, posted an article revealing the harmful effects of wheat and other carbohydrates. So why is turkey, our favorite Thanksgiving Day meal the blame for this post meal crash? The simple answer, tryptophan. But, what is tryptophan, and how did it end up taking the blame for this sleepiness?
Tryptophan and Sleepiness
Tryptophan is an amino acid, the basic building block of all proteins. By consuming this amino acid, you are signaling your brain to produce more serotonin, the sleepy hormone. With higher amounts of tryptophan, your body will begin to feel tiredness due to the increase hormones in your body. However, this effect is not as big as once told in the typical Turkey Day myth. According to this myth, turkey meat has so much tryptophan, our bodies cannot process all of this amino acid properly, leaving us in a near coma feeling post meal. But, by taking a look at simple nutrition facts of multiple high protein foods, we can easily debunk this fact. Turkey has no more of this amino acid than any other poultry. Per 100 grams, eggs have more than four times the amount of tryptophan than turkey, but this common breakfast food never gets any sleepy slack. So, if turkey is not the problem, we should turn to the other parts of the meal and see where the real problem comes from.
Carbs, Carbs, and More Carbs
If you take a second and look beyond the main Thanksgiving dish, you’ll see carbohydrates piled high. Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, rolls, stuffing, and plenty of sweets for dessert all load up the carb side of a Thanksgiving meal. Now, while tryptophan does actually cause an increase of serotonin in the blood, amino acids have trouble getting across cellular walls on their own. Therefore, they need the help of a carbohydrate molecule to sneak them past these boundaries. With so many carbs loaded up on your plate, the turkey’s tryptophan has a VIP ticket to release sleep inducing hormones into your bloodstream. In addition to this carb heavy meal, there is one other Turkey Day problem that causes many of us to sigh in tiredness.
Most people find the Thanksgiving feast near impossible to avoid. So many delicious options usually means your plate will be piled high with once a year traditions. Once you finish your very full plate, you’ll almost always be reaching for the serving spoon to fill up for seconds or thirds. Our bodies are not built to deal with overly large meals, and therefore, Thanksgiving tends to cause some trouble in the gastrointestinal tract. Our stomach and intestines are now working double time to try and digest all of the goodies we just stuffed in. In addition to the tryptophan being on the fast track to serotonin release, any energy we have left is being used up by our digestive organs. This leaves us no energy at all to head out for that post meal football game. Instead, we find ourselves piled onto the couch fighting sleep.
Is the Turkey Day Crash Inevitable?
While tryptophan can and does help your body naturally release serotonin into the bloodstream, this is not the main cause of that post Thanksgiving grogginess. By loading your plate high with carbohydrate filled side dishes, you are offering a theoretical highway for the tryptophan to get to your brain. With more serotonin in your blood and the rest of your body’s energy being sucked to help digest the three plates of food you promised you wouldn’t eat all of, its no wonder why we all feel sleepy after the Turkey Day feast. By limiting the amount of carbs you put on your plate, swapping them for better choices like green beans or some salad, and stopping yourself from taking that extra helping of food, you can help to keep yourself more alert for the following day’s Black Friday shopping spree.