Eat Turkey but Avoid the Hangover

Holiday dinners usually mean Turkey. With the turkey dinner comes the aftermath, lying on the floor or couch, sleepy and full. However, there are many benefits of a delicious turkey dinner.The turkey is often cited as the culprit in the after dinner lethargy, but most of the time it is not the bird that makes you feel the effects of the feast. Turkey does contain L-tryptophan, an essential amino acid with a documented sleep including effect. L-tryptophan is used in the body to produce the B-vitamin, niacin. Tryptophan also can be metabolized into serotonin and melatonin, neurotransmitters that exert a calming effect and regulates sleep. However, for tryptophan to really take effect and make you feel sleepy, it needs to be taken on an empty stomach without other amino acids or protein. You’re likely enjoying your tryptophan filled turkey with other delicious dishes.

L-tryptophan may be found in turkey and other dietary proteins, but it’s actually a carbohydrate-rich (as opposed to protein-rich) meal that increases the level of this amino acid in the brain and leads to serotonin synthesis. Carbohydrates stimulate the pancreas to secrete insulin. When this occurs, some amino acids that complete 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 you feel that familiar sleepy feeling.

Here are 5 reasons to indulge on the holidays and enjoy your turkey dinner:

  1. One of the main health benefits of turkey is that it supports healthy growth. This nutritious meat contains a massive 30 grams of protein per 100 gram serving. Protein’s main role in the body is to build, maintain and repair the body’s cell. Without protein your body cannot produce new cells and is unable to grow and develop properly.
  2. Another health benefit of turkey is that it can boost your mood. The protein found in turkey contains high levels of the amino acid tryptophan which your body can use to produce serotonin. Serotonin is an important hormone which has been shown to improve mood levels and even prevent depression.
  3. If you struggle to sleep then you may be interested in this health benefit of turkey. The tryptophan found in this meat has been shown to improve sleep cycles (especially for insomniacs).
  4. Turkey is rich in two key cancer fighting antioxidants. It contains 0.032 milligrams of selenium (over half the recommended daily allowance) and 1.32 mg of zinc (1/5 of the recommended daily allowance). Selenium has been shown to prevent colon cancer, lung cancer and prostate cancer while zinc has been shown to protect against prostate cancer.
  5. Another key health benefit of turkey is that it promotes a strong immune system. The selenium in turkey helps your body produce antibodies (organisms which work as part of the immune system to fight disease and infection) while the zinc in turkey helps your body produce white blood cells (cells of the immune system which protect the body from disease and infection).

So, turkey isn’t the culprit here. It’s likely the amount of food we end up eating. It takes a great deal of energy to digest a large meal. When your stomach is full, blood is directed away from other organ systems, including your nervous system. The result is a feeling of lethargy, especially after a big meal that may be high in fats and carbohydrates. Take it slow over the holidays. Enjoy all your favorite foods, but do it in moderation. A little bit of everything. You can always have some leftovers the next day.

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