If you feel lethargic after your Thanksgiving meal, don’t blame the turkey. It’s likely from too much food, especially carbohydrate-rich foods and drinks.
Studies have linked an amino acid in turkey, called tryptophan, to feelings of drowsiness. But feeling sleepy after a turkey dinner is more likely due to the sedating effects of plenty of carbohydrates, particularly the wine and dessert that accompany your family’s traditional meal. In addition, the energy your body requires to digest a big meal can make you want to doze off.
It takes lots of energy to digest a huge holiday meal, which can make some of us feel less energetic. There’s a greater volume of blood circulating in your gastrointestinal tract to aid the digestion of all those “calories.” As a result, there will be less blood flowing to your brain. Naturally, you’ll experience lethargy.
In the brain, tryptophan can be converted into serotonin, a natural relaxant. But it’s unlikely there would be enough tryptophan in a typical holiday meal to induce relaxation. In addition, you’d have to consume tryptophan alone and on an empty stomach to experience its sedating effect.
Tryptophan occurring naturally in foods is accompanied by many other amino acids. These various amino acids compete to cross the blood-brain barrier. Because tryptophan is a bulkier amino acid, it is less successful entering the brain than the smaller amino acids. Therefore, very little of the tryptophan gets into the brain to boost serotonin levels.
Dairy products, beef, pork, chicken and beans also provide tryptophan. Swiss cheese, pumpkin seeds and pork have more tryptophan per gram than turkey. If tryptophan was responsible for our food coma, why do we not fall asleep after eating these foods?
To avoid a food coma, drink extra water throughout the day before your holiday meal. Being fully hydrated is energy-boosting and may help decrease hunger when it’s time to eat. It will also offset the dehydrating effects of the alcohol you may be tipping back during the evening.
Fill at least half of your plate with vegetables. The fibre is filling and you’ll be less likely to overeat, especially when dessert is served!
To further avoid lethargy afterwards, try to avoid overeating. Practice serving sizes and put your fork down often between bites. Also, avoid sitting around after the meal: help do the dishes or go outside for a leisurely stroll. Gentle activity – not intense, aggressive movements – can assist digestion and helps route some blood to your brain.
This Thanksgiving, stay awake to enjoy the time with family and friends!