Are you a tryptophan fan? Apparently, you’re not alone. Americans consume much more turkey today than they did 50 years ago. In 1970, 50 percent of turkey consumption occurred between the …
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Are you a tryptophan fan?
Apparently, you’re not alone. Americans consume much more turkey today than they did 50 years ago. In 1970, 50 percent of turkey consumption occurred between the Thanksgiving and New Year holidays. Today, only 30 percent of turkey consumption occurs throughout the holiday season.
According to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans will eat turkey on Thanksgiving. Approximately 46 million turkeys will be consumed on Thanksgiving, and another 22 million during the Christmas holiday.
Rumor has it that tryptophan from turkey makes you sleepy. Before diving into this rumor, let’s take a look at tryptophan and how it affects your body.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are 20 amino acids that your body uses to build protein, and your body can synthesize 11 of those amino acids. The remaining nine amino acids must be acquired through food and tryptophan is one of those nine “essential” amino acids.
Tryptophan has several critical functions in the human body, one is to make vitamin B3, also known as niacin, which is important for vascular health, digestion and nerve function.
Tryptophan is also required for the production of serotonin, which helps improve mood. In return, serotonin is needed to produce melatonin which regulates sleep patterns.
Now we are getting somewhere, maybe the melatonin produced by the serotonin, which originated from the tryptophan in the turkey causes you to feel sleepy.
But not so fast! There are other interactions related to the amino acids from turkey and the foods consumed during Thanksgiving dinner.
Getting more out of your meal
Turkey has less tryptophan than chicken, beef and cheese yet people who eat these foods every day don’t talk about how it makes them sleepy. Vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds contain a variety of amino acids including tryptophan, all of which help your body build protein. Pumpkin and other squash seeds, along with soybeans contain more tryptophan by weight than turkey or any other animal protein.
So why do we get sleepy after a turkey filled Thanksgiving dinner?
The answer is the carbohydrates. In order for the tryptophan to do its job creating serotonin and eventually melatonin; your body needs carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the only fuel the brain can use and they help the serotonin and melatonin cross the blood-brain barrier. If you were to eat only turkey, without the carbohydrates, the tryptophan would be in competition with all of the other amino acids in the turkey, and tryptophan would not be able to do its job of creating serotonin. This theory was proven in a 2003 study.
If you are struggling with sleep at night and you want a true tryptophan experience, give up the animal protein and try eating a handful of pumpkin seeds with a few whole wheat crackers about an hour or so before bed. Not only will you have increased serotonin production that improves your overall mood, you will sleep better and wake up feeling refreshed.
Paul Webster is certified in Holistic Nutrition, Weight Management, Sports Nutrition and Training. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.
Questions and Comments can be set to Info@ServingHealthy.com
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