By Dr. Jay Trussler
I have watched the Buffalo Bills and the Dallas Cowboys kickoff many times on Thanksgiving Day, but like so many, I have never stayed awake for the entire four quarters. For years I thought the tryptophan in the turkey was to blame… Yes and no. Read on if you want to be able to impress grandma this year with your knowledge of the sacrificial gobbler (because she is not impressed with your beard. In fact, she will keep asking, “When are you going to shave that thing?”).
The truth is, many foods you will be eating this holiday season contain tryptophan in amounts similar to turkey. Chicken has it, and cheddar cheese actually has more than turkey when calculating pound for pound. Basically, there are a lot of proteins trying to get into the brain through a special wall known as the blood brain barrier. BUT when we eat a lot of carbs (i.e. stuffing, cornbread, and sweet potatoes smothered in butter, brown sugar, and marshmallows) there is a big release of insulin from our pancreas. The insulin removes most of the other amino acids from the blood, leaving tryptophan all alone to scale that wall in the brain. The tryptophan then gets converted into serotonin (our “happy” chemical) and then it eventually becomes melatonin, which truly triggers that sleepiness. So basically, if you eat any meal that has tryptophan in it (e.g. General Tso’s Chicken) AND chase it with some carbs such as fried rice, then you’re going to be sleepy before you pop open that fortune cookie. Happy Thanksgiving and sweet dreams!