The Truth About Tryptophan

By Alyse Borkan  |  Jul 8, 2014
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When you hear the word tryptophan, we bet you automatically think about the Thanksgiving bird. Yeah, you may have been told that tryptophan’s a myth — but you’re probably not sure what it really is, or if it actually makes you sleepy.

Let us level with you. Tryptophan’s an amino acid that functions as a precursor to the making of sleepy cousins serotonin and melatonin in the brain. YES: it’s present in turkey. But it’s also found in cheese, chicken, beef, and pork. Research indicates that eating turkey alone doesn’t kick that food coma into high gear — when we combine it with excess carbohydrates, we succumb to the Big Thanksgiving Sleep.

So don’t blame the bird. On Thanksgiving, we eat more carbs in one sitting than we typically eat in an entire day. When we overindulge on mashed potatoes, stuffing, and dinner rolls, insulin is released, stimulating the uptake of amino acids and glucose into the cells — which then leaves behind a higher concentration of the turkey’s tryptophan in the bloodstream. Boom. Food coma.

But don’t beat yourself up on Black Friday. Tryptophan can be used as a healthy addition to your sleep routine. Pair a small serving of complex carbs with turkey, beef, or cheese for a snooze-inducing serotonin boost any time of the year. Just go easy on those taters.

— Kimberly Geller

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