How That Thanksgiving Meal Affects Your Brain

Even if your Thanksgiving will look a little different this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, odds are millions of Americans will still be filling up on turkey in some fashion. And if your Thanksgiving meal involves turkey, you’ve probably heard how the bird contains an amino acid called tryptophan that could be the reason why your Uncle Bob falls asleep on the couch shortly after lunch.

But is this belief actually true? We explain how tryptophan affects your brain and the real reason why you may feel compelled to nap after your Thanksgiving meal in today’s blog.

Tryptophan, Turkey and Your Brain

First off, lets take a closer look at tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid, that when it makes its way into the brain, is broken down into chemicals like melatonin and serotonin, which creates a drowsing effect. However, the idea that a turkey is packed with the amino acid is a bit of a falsehood. While the bird does contain some tryptophan, it typically has the same levels as a chicken or duck. In other words, it’s not an excessively high level of tryptophan in that Thanksgiving meal that’s causing your brain to release chemicals that in turn make you sleepy – most likely.

We say most likely because the tryptophan in turkey could end up causing sleepiness, but certain factors would need to be present. For example, you’d have to eat a lot of turkey while simultaneously limiting carbohydrate and additional protein intake. Given that dinner rolls, potatoes and other carbohydrate-dense options are usually staple sides, it’s unlikely that it’s tryptophan alone causing your tiredness after eating that Thanksgiving meal.

So what’s actually behind the reason why we oftentimes feel tired after eating a Thanksgiving meal? According to experts, it’s not really about what we’re eating, but how much we’re eating.

At Thanksgiving, we’re much more likely to eat a big meal, and although we can’t see it, digesting all this food is hard work for your body. When you couple it with the fact that many people eat a Thanksgiving lunch, you’re also eating a lot more than you normally would for your midday meal. It may not seem abnormal to feel tired after a big dinner because you’ve been awake for 10+ hours and that’s going to be tiring in and of itself. But when we over-consume earlier in the day, the stressing effects of digestion can become more apparent.

So if you’re planning on ringing in Thanksgiving with a lunchtime meal, try not to overeat, otherwise you may find it hard to make it through the rest of your day without a nap!

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