Ochsner: “Don’t blame the turkey”

The truth about tryptophan

Ochsner: “Don’t blame the turkey”


For years, turkey has taken the blame for all those Thanksgiving naps but, according to Ochsner weight loss dietitian/nutritionist Grace E. Mansfield, RD, LDN, it’s not fair to blame the turkey.

Like many foods, turkey is a source of the amino acid tryptophan, which when working with other vitamins, is converted to serotonin – a neurotransmitter that plays a role in many bodily functions including mood and sleep.

The old myth says that eating too much Thanksgiving turkey will cause us to feel sleepy, but that isn’t the case. According to Ochsner, the amount of turkey you would have to eat to induce sleep is probably not available at your family gathering.

So, what is the cause of that post-meal sleepiness? The answer is most likely the traditional over-indulgent Thanksgiving experience, which is loaded with carbohydrates – mashed potatoes, bread, stuffing and pie – and often accompanied by alcohol, then a sedentary post-meal spot on the couch.

Also, many other Thanksgiving foods are high in Tryptophan, such as:

  • Pumpkin
  • Cheese
  • Eggs 
  • Milk 

Did you know:

According to research from the Calorie Control Council, the average American may consume more than 4,500 calories and a whopping 229 grams of fat during a typical holiday gathering from snacking and eating a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and all the trimmings.

Let’s face it, at the end of any big meal (Thanksgiving or otherwise), we all tend to feel a bit fatigued. Ochsner says this is because digesting large amounts of food is hard work for your body – especially large amounts of carbohydrates. Overeating causes a shift in energy, instead of using energy for activity our body is using all our energy for digestion.

Ochsner recommends you still gobble up that Thanksgiving turkey, as it’s a great source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. It’s also lower in calories when compared to other protein sources, until you douse it with gravy, of course.


  • Dodge a large amount of carbs
  • Eat a little less at one sitting 
  • Try to stay active  

For more information or to schedule an appointment with an Ochsner practitioner, call 225-761-5200. You can also schedule your visit online.

Make sure you follow this guideline for thawing your turkey in time:

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