Ah, Thanksgiving. A time for food, family, fun, and a nice long post-turkey dinner nap…because turkey makes you sleepy. But does it really?
You may have heard people say that turkey contains a chemical that makes you feel sleepy, called “tryptophan.” This is true, but more often than not the tired feeling probably comes from a few too many servings of stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, sweet potatoes, mac and cheese, biscuits, butter rolls, pumpkin pie, apple pie, pecan pie…You get the point here.
That being said, turkey does contain tryptophan, which is an essential amino acid. The body relies on tryptophan for general growth and development, as well as the production of niacin (vitamin B3), and the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin (regulates anxiety, happiness, and mood) and melatonin (a hormone that regulates night and day cycles or sleep-wake cycle).
This protein building block can be found in many plant and animal proteins and is vital for a wide variety of metabolic functions that affect everything from your mood, your mental cognition, your behavior, and your sleep. Tryptophan is referred to as an “essential” amino acid, because the body can’t make it, and needs to get it from, you guessed it- turkey- well, and some other foods.
Tryptophan is present in everything from tofu, soybeans, milk, squash, pumpkin seeds, oatmeal, and eggs. It can also be found in peanut butter, sweet potatoes, couscous, spinach, and broccoli. And it can even be found, in cocoa powder. Yum.
So does this mean if we all eat just a little more turkey, and a few more servings of tryptophan-rich foods, our mood, depression, and anxiety can all be improved?
Well, scientific opinion and research on this topic, have been met with some mixed results.
Some argue that to really feel the benefits of tryptophan, it must be taken as a nutritional supplement and that you can’t get enough of it from turkey or other foods, to really boost your mood. However, all scientists agree that a diet rich in tryptophan and other amino acids, can most definitely result in better sleep, increased mood, and decreased anxiety. Especially when combined with therapy and medication.
So turkey might not be the magic key to feeling happier and more relaxed this Thanksgiving, but don’t fret. There’s something else that is sure to help boost your mood and feelings of well-being this Thanksgiving. And you can find that, from just a few extra servings of Gratitude.
Thanksgiving is a time for all of us to do what it sounds like, “give thanks”.
Giving thanks for the harvest, giving thanks for our families, and giving thanks for all the good in our lives. And there is good in all of our lives. Even if it doesn’t always feel like that. When it comes to gratitude, mood follows action. Start thinking grateful thoughts, start sharing grateful thoughts, and you will most certainly experience a positive change in your mood.
For more information on the benefits of gratitude, check out our previous blog article on the subject.
And for more information on foods that can help increase tryptophan and serotonin check out the following links.