So, is it really the turkey making you tired on Thanksgiving?

November 21, 2016

We all have our favorite memories from the holidays when we were little. My aunt used to have a bowl full of fresh nuts in the shell. It was a mission to see if I could crack every type of nut in the bowl and keep them as whole as possible. Whether the "little brain" of a walnut, a round hazelnut, or the smooth Brazil nut, it was a task that needed doing. 

Living in Connecticut, pewter was also "a thing" and living down the road from Woodbury Pewter, my aunt had special goblets that the adults would drink their wine from while mine was filled with ginger ale. Once you have tasted a pewter cup, you will always remember that taste. When dinner was finished, desserts had been enjoyed and coffee cups were emptied, it was time for the Thanksgiving nap.

Now, as a kid, you hear that turkey makes you tired. Someone would maybe mention this long "T" word and in an attempt to share holiday news stories, maybe you would even hear about it on the morning radio or Good Morning America. But is tryptophan really that much of a contributor to the post-meal crash?




According to Art Spielman, Ph.D., an insomnia expert and professor of psychology at the City College of New York, tryptophan is an amino acid which when released into the brain produces serotonin—a serenity-boosting neurotransmitter. “[However], tryptophan-containing foods don’t produce the hypnotic effects pure tryptophan does, because other amino acids in those foods compete to get into the brain,” he explains. So, if it's not the tryptophan, what is it?


It's more likely than not that what is causing for you to feel so sleepy is a very taxed digestive system combined with a blood sugar crash. Add in some family drama (because we all know that holidays can be a Tension Convention), a little bit of booze, and a little less sleep if you've had to travel or prepare - and WHAM-O! It's time for a siesta. So now that we've ruled out the turkey and can contribute the heavy eyelids to a few other culprits, what can you do you to not feel so fatigued after the big meal? Let's talk about watching what and HOW you eat.

1) Avoid the appetizers or pre-dinner snacks if there are any and wait for the main meal. If you really can't help it, maybe have a few olives or 6-8  nuts as healthy fats can help you from feeling really hungry before you sit down to eat. And if you're really hungry, you're apt to eat more. 


2) What you drink is just as important. Many of our favorite autumn beverages can contain a lot of sugar (and calories) whether a mulled wine or spiced cider. If you do opt for an alcoholic beverage, chose seltzer or club soda as a mixer. Avoid heavy drinks like Tom & Jerry's and follow a wise rule of one glass of water for each alcoholic drink to maintain good hydration. 


3) Balance your plate with a variety of different foods. Turkey is the star of Thanksgiving dinner so a few slices of white meat is a great way to start. Look for dishes with vegetables that are green like salads, Brussels sprouts, or green beans. Avoid heavy cream sauces and keep starchy vegetables to a minimum (potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, acorn squash, etc.) Skip the buns if you can, especially if you can't pass up the stuffing. Use extras like gravy and cranberry sauce sparingly. 


4) Be sure to chew your food well and allow for an extra few minutes before going back for seconds. When I talk to people about chewing their food, I see lots of head nods when I say that we eat too fast and don't chew well enough. Smaller food in your stomach and the journey beyond will be less of a burden for your body to digest. Since it also takes a little longer to eat that way, you will be more in tune with your true hunger signals are will more likely be able to tell when you're really full. Practice chewing at least 10 times before swallowing your food. 


5) Wait to have dessert. For starters, your stomach is probably way too full to handle any more food. If there's a sweet treat that you just can't resist, see if someone would like to share it with you. Take the time to savor the bite as we all know there's some truth to the notion that, "Nothing tastes as good as the first bite." 


6) Go for a walk.  Staying active after a large meal can help you break out of the food-coma. When you move and exercise your body, all of that glucose in your blood stream can be better utilized by those working muscles. So, in addition to your dish-to-pass, don't forget to bring your sneakers to your gathering. 

If all else fails, it's important to remember that Thanksgiving dinner is just one meal. So, if you want to live it up and dig in, do it up! But then when you're done, you're done. I don't want to be a fun sponge, but a lot of indulgence can really do a number on your body and tax your immune system. With a busy holiday season upon us, we need all the help we can get. 


Check out the recipes featured on last year's Thanksgiving post if you're looking for  healthy alternatives to some of the traditional favorites. 




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