Why do we get tired after our holiday meals? Is turkey to blame?

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We’ve all experienced it, the afternoon sleepiness that follows our Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. We still have to wash the dishes, but boy, could I use a nap! Falling asleep during the game? What is really to blame?

For years we have heard that the amino acid L-tryptophan is to blame for our sleepiness after Thanksgiving. But is this true?

While turkey contains this sedative-like amino acid, is it the only food that contains it? There is L-tryptophan in all animal protein sources and some even contain the same amount or more such as chicken, eggs and shrimp. L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid, meaning that your body does not produce it. It is a precursor to the hormone serotonin that aids in the sleep cycle, which is where turkey gets its reputation. So, it’s probably not the turkey alone since we consume other foods high in tryptophan throughout the year.

According to experts, we consume between 3,000-4,000 calories and 230 grams of fat at our holiday feasts alone! That may be more than double what we need and that’s in one meal! When we consume large amounts of carbohydrates, such as the stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, rolls, cranberry sauce and pie (to name a few!), various things happen that together, can cause drowsiness.

When we eat high amounts of carbohydrates as we do on Thanksgiving we trigger the release of large amounts of insulin to take care of all those carbs and then crash once they are used up. We also go into a state of rest when blood is pulled from the brain and other parts of the body to be used for digesting the large amounts of food we have eaten. Let the brain rest while we digest! And thus, we get sluggish and drowsy. We may also be grazing on foods all day, drinking alcohol and sitting around which can help lead us to the recliner. So, what’s a person to do?

We can start by eating a breakfast containing protein. Breaking our fast, giving us energy and helping us to feel full before the onslaught of the holiday meal may help us not to overeat. Taking small amounts of the many foods offered at Thanksgiving or Christmas, taking time to chew and eat slowly will help you feel satiated with less overeating. Delight in some dinner table conversation before going for seconds. You may still want to go back but only take small amounts of your favorite dishes.

Do we really feel good after overeating? I know I love the food, but taking small amounts and enjoying them helps to make you feel satisfied yet still alert and without feeling overstuffed and uncomfortable. So, enjoy the day with family and friends, go outdoors and get fresh air and enjoy the food … a little bit of everything goes a long way!

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