It feels like there is a simultaneous conversation happening at Thanksgiving tables across the country. You eat a big meal -- which includes a generous helping of turkey -- and all of a sudden you're feeling like you really want to lie down and take a nap. "It's the tryptophan," says Aunt Doris or Grandma Peggy or that cousin who always makes a big point of announcing that she's watching her weight this year. Everyone nods in agreement, as if the tryptophan is a perfectly reasonable excuse. Unfortunately, the reality is that you just ate way too much.
It's high time that we set the record straight. Tryptophan does not make you sleepy. You do not feel like this on Thanksgiving because of tryptophan:
You feel like that because you ate like this:
Then why has this myth spread so widely? Tryptophan is an amino acid. And if you think back to high school chemistry, you'll remember that amino acids are building blocks of proteins. In reality, tryptophan helps create serotonin, a brain chemical that can create a feeling of well-being and that the body can subsequently convert into melatonin, a brain chemical that regulates sleep cycles.
In order for tryptophan to make you sleepy, you have to eat foods that contain it on an empty stomach, and without any other amino acids or proteins. That's pretty much impossible on Thanksgiving.
Also, while turkey does contain tryptophan, so do most other meats, as well as dairy products and many more common foods. In fact, turkey isn't even particularly high in tryptophan.
Then why do you feel so sluggish after eating Thanksgiving food? That's likely thanks to all the carbohydrates you're consuming in the form of desserts and sides. And, let's not forget that alcohol doesn't help either.
If this year's Thanksgiving meal once again makes you want to put on the sweatpants and curl up on the couch, know that it's not fair to blame the turkey. Instead, maybe blame your portion sizes.