Sleepy after meal? Don't blame turkey

  • Article by: KAREN YOUSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 19, 2007 - 2:27 PM

Q Is it true that there's something in turkey that makes a person sleepy? If so, what is it?

Q Is it true that there's something in turkey that makes a person sleepy? If so, what is it?

A If eating turkey makes you sleepy, then Swiss cheese will make you sleepier. That's because the essential amino acid tryptophan, said to cause sleepiness, is found in turkey, but also in other protein foods -- sometimes in larger amounts. For example:

• 100 grams of roasted turkey contain 0.333 grams of tryptophan.

• 100 grams of Swiss cheese contain 0.401 grams of tryptophan.

• 100 grams of roasted pork loin contain 0.341 grams of tryptophan.

Tryptophan is used to produce the B-vitamin niacin, which, in turn, is used to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that exerts a calming effect and regulates sleep.

But the sleepiness effect is a little more complicated than that.

While turkey often is blamed for making people sleepy after the Thanksgiving feast, it is actually the carbohydrate-rich (not protein-rich) meal that increases the level of tryptophan and leads to serotonin synthesis.

Carbohydrates stimulate the pancreas to secrete insulin. Some amino acids that compete with tryptophan leave the bloodstream and enter muscle cells. This causes an increase in the relative concentration of tryptophan in the bloodstream. Serotonin is synthesized and the familiar sleepy feeling is the result.

In addition, a large holiday meal usually includes alcohol (which is a central nervous system depressant), overeating and a higher level of fatty foods (all of which require a lot of energy to digest). Each of these factors contributes to after-dinner fatigue.

So it's the unusually large, multicourse, carbohydrate-rich meal typically eaten on Thanksgiving that contributes to the familiar drowsiness. After all, on any other day, one does not get sleepy after eating a turkey sandwich.


Happy Meal giveaways

Q I have a great big bag of toys from McDonald's Happy Meals. Can these be donated? Are they safe?

A Consider donating them to shelters or elementary schools where teachers can use them as "prizes." For more ideas close to your home, call United Way by dialing 211.

Be aware that some of the toys may have collector value. Check online auction sites such as eBay or stores in your area that sell antiques and collectibles.

The toys are safe, according to a McDonald's fact sheet. They are made exclusively for McDonald's and are tested rigorously throughout the design and manufacturing process. Manufacturers do not use lead-based paint, a company policy for 20 years, according to McDonald's. Remember, however, that toys should go to children of appropriate age. In other words, no toys with small parts for children under age 3.

Send your questions to Fixit in care of the Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488, or call 612-673-9033, or e-mail Past columns are available at Sorry, Fixit cannot supply individual replies.

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