For over a hundred years, people have been stuffing themselves silly on Thanksgiving, and then regretting the indulgence as intense grogginess sets over. It is common to blame the bird or, more specifically, the tryptophan present within it. Interestingly, it might not be absolutely wrong, say food scientists.
Thanksgiving dinner has sent millions of Americans in a daze. While many feel the heaviness set right after the equally heavy meal, others experience it with a delayed fuse. However, nearly all those who gorge on the turkey meal will sooner or later enter into digestive oblivion. Conveniently, we have squarely laid the blame for our stupor on the chemical tryptophan in the turkey.
But tryptophan isn’t to blame for our comatose states, well, directly. It is quite understandable how tryptophan earned the notoriety of being an entirely legal way of causing people to experience a food-induced dizziness.
In the 1980s, tryptophan was an extremely popular sleeping aid, reported LiveScience. Tryptophan is one of the essential amino acids which the body uses to make serotonin. Now serotonin is one of the “fun” chemicals that produce feelings of well-being and relaxation. Unfortunately, the human body is incapable of generating tryptophan, and hence has to rely entirely on our food to obtain the chemical.
Our Thanksgiving turkey does contain tryptophan, but here comes the twist – the bird doesn’t have significantly more amount as compared to pork, chicken, chocolate, milk, cheese, bananas, peanuts, oats, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds. Interestingly, freeze-dried tofu has about double the amount of tryptophan as turkey, but southern Californians aren’t heard complaining how their faux-meat is making them feel sleepy.
So what is responsible for our stupor? Carbohydrates or carbs are the main culprit, reported AJC. Considering what Americans eat beside the turkey, it is a surprise they are able to even rise from the table. Mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, pie, and other side dishes are loaded with carbs that bombard our bloodstreams with glucose.
In order to regulate the excessively high amount of glucose (a form of sugar), our body releases insulin, which in turns pulls a lot of amino acids to break down the sugar. Though tryptophan too, is an amino acid, insulin doesn’t need it.
Amino acids play an important role of limiting tryptophan’s access to our brains, but they being away to help insulin, tryptophan has an open road to our cerebrum. Once in the brain, tryptophan gets converted in serotonin, and then melatonin, a chemical known to cause drowsiness. Apart from tryptophan, behavioral scientists also suggest our body also acts on the “rest and digest” signals received via the parasympathetic nervous system.
Hence, despite what the myth-busters say, tryptophan is responsible for us feeling sleepy after a hearty Thanksgiving meal.
[Image Credit | Nedfoxes]