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Truth about Tryptophan

Have you ever heard that the reason you get sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner is because turkey has high levels of an amino acid called Tryptophan?

The truth is you can’t blame the post-meal food coma solely on the tryptophan in the turkey. It is a good source of tryptophan, but that is only part of a chain of reactions that start with this essential amino acid. Here’s how it works: Tryptophan is used by the body to make niacin (a B vitamin that is important for digestion, the skin and nerves) and serotonin. Serotonin is a brain chemical that plays a large role in mood and can help to create a feeling of well-being and relaxation.

If you eat turkey at Thanksgiving dinner and then eat a slice of pumpkin pie – or any small (30g) all-carbohydrate snack – the tryptophan stored in your body will boost your serotonin levels. It’s the combination of the carbs with the tryptophan stored in your body from food you’ve already eaten that gives you the biggest boost of serotonin. Serotonin is needed to make Melatonin, which is the hormone that regulates your body’s sleep cycles.

Good sources of tryptophan are: poultry, meat, cheese, yogurt, fish, and eggs. In fact, chicken actually contains more tryptophan per serving than turkey! So stop the blame game, and be nice to those turkeys!!

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Sharon Richter, RD
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Phone: 212.977.7779

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