Every Thanksgiving it seems that we are treated to an incredible feast before making our way to the living room and gathering around a television as we discuss how much we ate and watch the Dallas Cowboys or Detroit Lions host an NFL game.
Usually during the post-meal discussion, someone brings up the myth that turkey makes you tired because of the L-tryptophan inside of the meat.
Well, while it is true in a sense, that’s not the entire story. In fact, it’s probably not even the turkey that is making you tired, so it’s time to look for another scapegoat.
Here’s the true part: tryptophan in the brain is essential for the production of serotonin. While it’s a gross oversimplification of neurochemistry to say that serotonin makes you happy, that statement tends to be more true than false. Finally, some of that serotonin then gets converted to melatonin. Melatonin, in turn, promotes sleepiness.
However, here’s where the myth starts to break down. Yes, it’s true that turkey does contain tryptophan, but not a particularly high amount. In fact, all meats contain tryptophan. Tryptophan is just an amino acid—a building block of muscle. Turkey has only marginally more tryptophan than chicken, but not as much as a pork chop. You want a meat that’s really high in tryptophan? Try caribou, also known as reindeer (run, run Rudolph!). In fact, some vegetables even have more tryptophan than turkey. Heck, soybeans have twice the tryptophan as turkey. You’d be better off reaching for a slice of tofurkey.
If you want to find something to blame for making you tired after you eat, you need to find something that produces higher melatonin levels while avoiding adding any amino acides into your bloodstream. To do that, all you need is to load up on some carbs.
Considering all of the mashed potatoes you probably stuffed down your face during the meal, that could be a reason for your fatigue.
It could also be all of the alcohol that you washed down your food with or the simple fact that you were piling pounds and pounds of food into your body. Whatever the reason, it isn’t solely because of the tryptophan that was in the turkey. So while it is necessary to enjoy your meal, don’t go blaming the poor bird for causing your food induced coma later in the day.