You've been looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner all year — turkey, mashed
potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Mmm-mmm! But after you finish that second
helping of turkey with gravy, you start to feel a little sleepy.
As your Uncle George starts to explain why eating turkey makes people so tired,
you suddenly feel like curling up in front of the TV and napping until next Thanksgiving.
But is gobbling up all that turkey really to blame?
The Usual Suspect: L-tryptophan
Not exactly. Here's why: Turkey meat contains a lot of an amino acid called L-tryptophan
(say: el-trip-teh-fan). Amino acids are the "building blocks" for
the proteins that make up our muscles
and other important parts of our bodies. (L-tryptophan is just one kind of amino acid
— there are many different kinds of amino acids in the foods we eat.)
When we eat foods that contain L-tryptophan, this amino acid travels in the blood
from the digestive system and later enters the brain. The brain then changes the L-tryptophan
into another chemical called serotonin (say: sare-uh-toh-nin). Serotonin
calms us down and helps us sleep.
But scientists now know that L-tryptophan can really only make a person tired right
away if it is eaten or taken by itself without any amino acids. And the protein in
turkey contains plenty of other amino acids!
Blame It On Blood Flow
Most scientists think that there's a different reason why eating a special meal
might make you drowsy. Eating a big Thanksgiving dinner causes increased blood flow
to the stomach (needed to help digest the meal) and less blood flow to the brain.
So just how do you avoid that sleepy feeling on Turkey Day?
Eat small, healthy meals (try to limit junk foods) throughout the day before you
sit down for your big meal — don't starve yourself in anticipation of the feast
Have small portions of foods that are part of your Thanksgiving meal (including
whatever veggies are on the table).
Drink water and take breaks while you are eating to see how full you've become.
Stop eating once you're full — there will always be leftovers tomorrow.
Finally, take a walk outside afterward to digest your meal. This will make you
feel better than crashing on the couch.
Follow these tips and have a Happy Thanksgiving — gobble, gobble!