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Food Myths Debunked: Turkey Makes You Sleepy

Fitday Editor
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One of the most widely believed food myths is the idea that eating turkey can make you sleepy. This is often used as an excuse not to eat turkey, or a justification for why you may often feel sleepy after a big Christmas or Thanksgiving meal. While this myth isn't true, there is some scientific basis for the belief.

Turkey Contains Tryptophan

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is used by the human body to build proteins and is needed for it to function properly and for good health. It is used in the process of making serotonin, a chemical which is involved in the regulation of sleep patterns. Tryptophan, in a purified form, will in fact make you sleepy, and has in the past been used in sleeping pills. However, it usually needs to be taken on an empty stomach, as different amino acids tend to compete for access to the brain. If there are lots of different amino acids competing all at once, as they do after you eat meals, the amounts of tryptophan reaching the right places wouldn't be high enough to make you sleepy.

In fact, many other foods contain tryptophan, including most animal products like meats and cheese and even soybeans. Beef contains more tryptophan than turkey, but it is never blamed for sleepiness--probably because it is not associated with enormous holiday meals like turkey is.

Sleepiness Contributors

Generally, when a large meal is consumed it tends to make you sleepy regardless of what the meal contained. This is because digestive processes draw energy from other body functions, leaving you with an overall feeling of tiredness. Additionally, meals that are high in carbohydrates tend to induce an insulin surge, which can leave you feeling flat and tired after it passes. Carbohydrates also actually do stimulate the production of serotonin, as turkey is supposed to, which does lead to sleepiness.

Health Benefits of Turkey

Turkey is a very lean meat and the fats it does contain tend to be unsaturated, particularly if the skin is removed. It also provides a good amount of iron, B vitamins, niacin, selenium and zinc and more protein per ounce than chicken or beef. In fact, eating a small, high-protein meal, such as a salad with chopped turkey or a turkey sandwich is more likely to leave you alert and awake than a meal that is high in carbohydrates or sugars. Turkey has been called a "super-food" because of its healthy qualities.

While turkey does contain tryptophan, it contains no more than other meats and less than some. Tryptophan, however, is not a factor that contributes to sleepiness after a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal. Turkey is heart healthy and nutritionally dense, which makes it a good food to consider as a regular part of a healthy diet.

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