Terre Pruitt's Blog

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Archive for November 26th, 2011

It’s Not the Turkey Making You Tired

Posted by terrepruitt on November 26, 2011

A while ago I heard something that explained the myth around turkey and tryptophan.  But I couldn’t remember what it was so I was thinking about it and I realized that it probably isn’t really the amount of tryptophan in the turkey that causes people to get sleepy it is more likely the combination of foods that are being consumed during a holiday meal AND the amount.  I was thinking that all the carbohydrates would be a reason that people feel sleepy after eating a turkey dinner.  So, of course I looked it up and the wonderful Wiki had a lot of great info.

First of all, the amount of tryptophan is less in turkey than in cod, soybeans, Parmesan cheese, and cheddar cheese.  It is slightly higher in turkey than chicken, beef, and pork chops.  A direct quote from Wiki:  “It is particularly plentiful in chocolate, oats, dried dates, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, red meat, eggs, fish, poultry, sesame, chickpeas, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, corn, spirulina, and peanuts.”  Basically protein based foods. Tryptohphan in turkey has been blamed for many people falling asleep after a Holiday meal.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid so that means we must eat it because our bodies cannot produce it.  If you are experiencing depression, anxiety, irritability, impatience, impulsiveness, inability to concentrate, weight gain or unexplained weight loss, overeating and/or carbohydrate cravings, poor dream recall, or insomnia, according to WHFoods, you could need to add more tryptophan to your diet.  Adding more foods that contain high amounts of tryptophan could possibly help you with these things.  It helps form serotonin which can help you feel better and help you sleep.

The ByteSize Science did a little video explaining that tryptophan does not make you sleepy.  This video says there is LESS in turkey than in chicken.  It explains that tryptophan on its own could cause you to be sleepy, but the amount in turkey has to compete with all the other food and so it is not enough to actually cause you to be tired.  This video also says that most people eat more calories in one Thanksgiving meal than they normally it in a regular day.  This huge amount of food makes the body have to work extra hard to digest the food.  The blood goes from the brain to the stomach which causes the tiredness and grogginess.

Not sure how the turkey-tryptophan myth started, but science has proved it to be exactly that – a myth.  So instead of blaming turkey, and the amino acid that our body needs to make necessary compounds, for our post Holiday food coma we should actually acknowledge it is probably the amount of food and the combination of food that is responsible.  Armed with this information we could eat our turkey without fearing it will cause us to get sleepy and maybe eat less food and less carbs and avoid the food coma that usually ensues a Holiday meal.   What do you think?

This is a portion of a chart on Wiki:

Food Protein [g/100 g of food] Tryptophan
[g/100 g of food]
Tryptophan/Protein [%]
cod, atlantic, dried




soybeans, raw




cheese, Parmesan




cheese, cheddar




pork, chop












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