Ever blamed your family’s post-Thanksgiving meal exhaustion on the turkey? We asked endocrinology dietitian Erika Davies to weigh in on drowsiness, tryptophan and turkey.

What is tryptophan?

Davies explained that tryptophan is an essential amino acid that must be obtained through diet because the body cannot produce it.  “It is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin,” Davies said.

According to WebMD, tryptophan is used by the body to make niacin, a B vitamin that is important for digestion, skin and nerves and serotonin. Serotonin is a brain chemical that plays a large role in mood and can help to create a feeling of relaxation. Tryptophan is needed to produce serotonin, which is used to make melatonin, a hormone that helps control your sleep and wake cycles.

WebMD notes that tryptophan requires assistance from foods high in carbohydrates to affect serotonin levels. As the food digests, tryptophan is competing against various amino acids in the bloodstream trying to enter the brain. It’s the carbohydrates that actually help tryptophan raise serotonin levels.

What causes that sleepy feeling after you gobble down a Thanksgiving meal?

While tryptophan can make a person sleepy, turkey does not contain substantially more tryptophan than other protein sources like chicken. In fact, tryptophan can also be found in cheese, milk, eggs, fish, nuts and soy.

Davies said that the sleepiness people feel after their Thanksgiving meal is more likely due to the heavy intake of food, especially carbohydrates.

What can parents do to ensure children have a healthy Thanksgiving?

Since most of the foods offered at Thanksgiving contain a lot of carbohydrates, Davies recommends that parents:

  • Offer non-starchy vegetable choices such as tomatoes, celery, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, green beans, eggplant, summer squash, onions or peppers.
  • Try to stick to their regular meal plan, if possible.
  • Keep kids active to help them burn off all those extra carbohydrates – take a walk around the neighborhood, ride bikes, go to the park or play outside with other family members.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erika Davies, MD, RD, LD, is an endocrinology dietitian at Children's National.

Subscribe to our newsletter and get free parenting tips delivered to your inbox every week!

This contact form is deactivated because you refused to accept Google reCaptcha service which is necessary to validate any messages sent by the form.

Related Content

Turkey dinner
Teal bucket with non-food treats outside
Little girl in halloween costume eating lollipop
child hoarding cookies and croissants
brother and sister eating
girl eating
back-to-school written on a chalkboard
mom breastfeeding
foods rich in folic acid
girl watching fireworks
Girl thinking she's fat
girl preparing barbecue in the garden
heart healthy foods
Red heart in child and parent hands
Little boy listenting to heartbeat of stuffed bear
healthy vegetables and nuts
winter vegetables
Smoothie bowl with banana, strawberry, blueberry, granola and pomegranate
little boy holding toy airplane
0 replies

Leave a Comment

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.