We’ve all heard the claim that eating turkey can make you sleepy. There doesn’t seem to be much of a reason to doubt the claim – right after stuffing ourselves at Thanksgiving, it’s all we can do to not take a nap. One reader sent us an email and asked, “Does eating turkey really make people tired?”
The Short Answer
No, not at all. Those delicious-looking turkey breasts do not make you any more tired than eating other types of meat.
Turkey does in fact contain low levels of tryptophan. That much is correct. Tryptophan is an amino acid that aids in serotonin production. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain which regulates sleep and moods. This is probably how the myth originated.
However, what many people don’t know, is that the majority of other meat types also contain low levels of tryptophan. Beef, chicken, eggs and even fish contain tryptophan. In fact, out of the most commonly eaten foods, seaweed, soy and spinach contain the most tryptophan.
So Why Do We Get Tired After Eating Turkey?
The reason you are getting tired is because of higher than normal levels of insulin. The consumption of carbohydrates triggers a release of insulin into your system, and a Thanksgiving meal is very likely to be extra rich in carbohydrates. Since many people usually splurge during Thanksgiving meals, their bodies will experience quite a large dose when compared to their regular meals. They are probably experiencing the highest insulin levels they’ve had all year.
Insulin is responsible for helping amino acids cross the blood-brain barrier. The result of this, is a sharp rise of serotonin and melatonin in your brain. Since both regulate mood and sleep, higher levels means tiredness and lethargy – you’re in the mood to take a long nap. So it turns out that the true culprit is insulin, not tryptophan. It seems tryptophan doesn’t deserve the bad rap after all.
All The Frills
Fun Fact: Those white little booties which sometimes cap the end of the turkey legs are called “turkey frills“. Turkey frills are used to enhance the presentation of a meal in formal settings by covering the unpleasant-looking boney stub. In the past, they were usually included with the purchase of most whole turkeys. The can still be purchased today, but many people now make their own thanks to instructions being made freely available on the internet.