Let’s talk turkey: The truth about tryptophan

An oldie but a goodie: this post was originally published on November 26, 2015.

This Thursday after digging into your delicious Thanksgiving meal, you might find yourself slouching on your sofa, pants feeling a little snug, and you might find yourself feeling a dozy. Your first inclination will likely be to blame that delectable turkey and all of that tryptophan. Because turkey has tryptophan, and tryptophan makes us sleepy, right?

Well… This may likely be a myth that we have all been telling ourselves. The science behind tryptophan is pretty clear: tryptophan is an essential amino acid that our bodies need to help make niacin and serotonin. Our bodies do not produce tryptophan, so we must get it from our diet. Serotonin is believed to help us sleep better and stabilize our moods. It would appear, then, if tryptophan helps us make serotonin, and serotonin helps us sleep, that consuming tryptophan would make us sleepy, right?

Not so fast. Tryptophan is found in lots of our food sources, including that wonderful Thanksgiving turkey. It is also found in cheese, chicken, eggs, fish, milk, nuts, peanut butter, and tofu, among other things. When was the last time you felt sleepy after hitting the cheese and crackers tray a little too hard at a holiday party? Probably never.

The truth is that many other foods contain a lot more tryptophan than turkey, and  those foods do not make us sleepy. And you would have to eat a LOT of turkey to start feeling any sleepy side effects. The real reason we probably all feel a little drowsy after the big meal is just that – it’s a big meal. We consume a lot of food at Thanksgiving, much of which is carbohydrate-heavy, and that overconsumption is more likely what is leading to all of the post-gorging sleepiness. Add alcohol to the mix, and you have the recipe for a very lethargic afternoon.

So let’s stop blaming our turkeys for our Thanksgiving overindulgence-assisted sleepiness, and just enjoy…in moderation. And a little nap on Thanksgiving doesn’t sound so bad, after all.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us!






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