Seasonal Diet Tips

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Does Turkey Really Make You Tired?

Thanksgiving is notorious for a tableful of turkey and restful nap. But are the two interconnected like popular belief or is it a full-on rumor? BistroMD is dishing up the truth on whether or not that tryptophan-containing turkey is the contributor to that post-Thanksgiving nap!

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What Is Tryptophan?

Before playing the blame game, let's first establish what exactly tryptophan is. More formally written as L-tryptophan is a type of amino acid, or a building block of protein, and is among one of the nine essential amino acids. Being essential, the body is unable to produce it on its own and must be obtained from tryptophan-offering food products. Along with the notorious Thanksgiving turkey, nuts and seeds, fish, chicken, cheese and tofu, and eggs are additional foods with tryptophan.

Along with its association of protein benefits, tryptophan is required to synthesize serotonin. Also known as that "feel good" hormone, serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood. But the sequence does not stop there, as serotonin can heighten levels of melatonin. Melatonin has been utilized to manage and treat insomnia and sleep disorders, as it is often supplemented to induce greater sleep by controlling the body's sleep and wake cycles.

So, Does Tryptophan in Turkey Make You Tired?

Okay, let's chew on this... If turkey makes you tired, that insinuates the other tryptophan-containing products can, too. Okay, now let's think about not only the turkey, but the other foods present at the Thanksgiving feast: Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, casseroles, rolls, pies... Need we say more? Beyond their presence at Thanksgiving, they also have a common theme of being high in carb and starch. And beyond tryptophan's role in serotonin conversion, carbohydrates do not avoid the spotlight...

Turkey may be needed to fill the tryptophan tank, but carbohydrate is suggested to "empty" it out. The total plate, filled with both tryptophan and carbohydrate, is suggested to induce sleepiness, rather than turkey primarily on its own. And not to mention, with such a large volume of food being consumed, the body uses most of the energy for the digestion process and relocating and fixating energy to the gut. All-in-all, linking turkey directly to increased sleepiness is a far turkey trot. Instead, the plate's totality and the mass quantity generally consumed may trigger the desire for some shuteye. The body may feel extra tired from using extra energy to digest all the food and from all the devoted energy used and needed to prepare the large feast.

Beating the Zzz's

If aiming to avoid that post-turkey dinner, try limiting mass portions of food. While indulging on the infamous holiday meal can in fact still occur, overeating does not. Reduce gorging risk and beat those Zzz's by...

...eating breakfast. Most people try to save up on calories by skipping out on breakfast. However, depriving the body of its morning energy may leave it feeling ravenous come turkey time. Eating a protein-rich breakfast can lessen the risk of overeating on large portions of turkey and carb-rich sources.

...utilizing small plates. Serving portions on smaller plates can assist in monitoring portion sizes, reducing the risk of overeating. Try offering balance to the protein-rich turkey meal by pairing and plating offered fiber-loaded veggies! The combination of protein and fiber are shown to induce feelings of fullness without overstuffing yourself.

...practicing mindful eating. Opposite of mindless, senseless eating, mindful eating promotes the utilization of the senses. Implementing the practice heightens food awareness by appreciating the smells, tastes, and other associated feelings. Mindful eating naturally slows down the eating process, which can innately surface hunger and satiety cues.

But whether sleepiness arises following the meal or related to the hustle and bustle of your day, cozying up to a nap may be the gravy on top of the mashed potatoes! Holidays are meant for enjoying time and relaxing with family and friends, so if desiring a peaceful nap, bistroMD says, "Go for it!"

Written By Christy Zagarella, MS, RDN. Published on November 07, 2012. Updated on May 14, 2019.

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