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A mouth-watering plate of turkey.

Can turkey make you sleepy?

It’s Thanksgiving-- the perfect time of year to indulge in a mouth-watering plate of turkey and then fall face-down onto the couch in a food coma. But does eating turkey really make you sleepy, or is this just a time-honored Thanksgiving myth? Haley Robinson, a clinical dietitian with Piedmont Atlanta Hospital sets the record straight.

Does eating turkey make you sleepy?

Many people believe turkey makes you sleepy, because it contains an essential amino acid called tryptophan that helps create serotonin in the body.

Serotonin is a chemical released by the brain that plays an important role in regulating mood.  It is also used to make melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate your sleep and wake cycles. It has been rumored that eating a diet high in tryptophan can improve your mood and help you relax.

But according to Robinson, turkey doesn’t really contain any more tryptophan than other kinds of poultry.

“Actually, turkey has slightly less tryptophan than chicken,” says Robinson. “Also, many nuts and seeds tend to have more tryptophan than turkey as well.”

Why are people so tired after eating a Thanksgiving meal?

“The reason we get so tired after Thanksgiving dinner is because we overeat.  It not because of tryptophan,” says Robinson. “Digestion takes a lot of our energy, especially when you are eating two to three plates full of food.”

Eating too many carbohydrates like stuffing, sweet potato casserole and mashed potatoes can also contribute to post-dinner fatigue.

“Consuming carbs triggers the release of insulin, which helps remove the glucose and amino acids from our blood,” says Robinson. “This allows tryptophan to pass the blood brain barrier, enter the brain to form serotonin and ultimately, melatonin. Add alcohol and exhaustion from preparing for the holidays, and you will definitely be ready for a nap after your big meal.”

Healthy Thanksgiving tips

If you want to enjoy your Turkey Day without overdoing it, try to follow Robinson’s health tips:

  • Make sure you exercise a little more on Thanksgiving Day. This will create a calorie deficit by burning off extra calories before the big meal. Sign up with the family for an annual 5K turkey trot or just take a long walk around the block before and after dinner.
  • Don’t skip breakfast. Eat a small breakfast with protein and fiber to help control your appetite throughout the day.  It will keep you from overeating at dinner.
  • Make healthier dishes. You can make your favorite dishes healthier by replacing or lowering the amount of fat and sugar you add.
  • Try not to go for seconds. One plate should be enough food to satisfy you.
  • Eat slowly. If you can pace yourself, you will feel satisfied after only one plate of food.
  • Take it easy on the alcohol. Drink water in between drinks to stay hydrated and limit the empty calories from alcohol.

Happy Thanksgiving!

For more helpful, healthful tips click here

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