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Fact Check: Does Eating Turkey On Thanksgiving Make You Sleepy?

You have seen the scene play out over and over on Thanksgiving Day, for as long as you can remember. Relatives who ate turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and all the sides during the holiday meal are now dozing off on the couch an hour after the meal.

One family member turns to another and says, “must be that Tryptophan from the turkey that knocked them out…it is known to relax you and make you feel sleepy. That’s why people are so tired after Thanksgiving dinner!” Everyone nods in agreement and goes on talking, watching football, and ultimately battling their own fatigue.

No More Turkey Talk On Thanksgiving

There is one thing wrong with this picture: Turkey does not actually make you sleepy! What is really making you feel sleepy after your annual turkey dinner is the excessive amount of carbs and fat being consumed in your side dishes.

Tryptophan In Turkey & Other Protein

While turkey does contain Tryptophan – so do many other sources of protein – and Tryptophan cannot get into the brain from eating protein. The only way Tryptophan can enter the brain is by eating carbs, which lead to the conversion of Tryptophan into Serotonin. You can eat 10 turkeys and you still won’t have Tryptophan in the brain because other amino acids will get there first and essentially block  Tryptophan from getting past the blood-brain barrier.

The Science Behind The Serotonin Power Diet

It is the basis of the Serotonin Power Diet, a way to help individuals with antidepressant-related weight gain and emotional overeating manage their cravings by eating specific carbs in specific quantities at specific times to boost serotonin in the brain. More serotonin in the brain can help you curb your appetite, improve mental energy, and improve your mood.  

Spread The Word: It’s Not The Bird

So the next time a friend or relative at Thanksgiving dinner blames the poor bird for their lack of energy after the meal, tell them to give credit where credit is due: the high level of carbs and fat in the meal.

Tips For Balanced Eating On Thanksgiving

One quick side note for those of you who are hoping or expecting to eat moderately during the Thanksgiving meal this year: try a carb snack about an hour before the meal, such as low-fat popcorn, an English muffin, pretzels or oatmeal. It will help you feel satiated and less likely to overeat. Even more importantly, don’t beat yourself up if you end up overeating! Large family gatherings (or this year, small family gatherings) are stressful for many of us. Just do your best to check in with how you are feeling and try not to eat to the point of feeling worse. It’s one day and you can always make healthier choices the next day.

Happy Thanksgiving and happy napping!  

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