by Glen Depke, Traditional Naturopath
I know, we hear it all the time, it’s the tryptophan in the turkey that has you looking for a nap on the couch after your Thanksgiving meal. When we look at how we most often assume truth, we are told something, we experience this as explained, so it must be a fact.
This is a big fat WRONG!
We can look at an easy comparison first. I am sure that most of you reading this article eat eggs, and likely much more than you eat turkey. Eggs have much more tryptophan than turkey, so when you eat eggs, are you looking for the couch for a nap? Not likely I bet. Also think of all the times you may have a turkey sandwich or turkey on your salad, yet you do not get tired.
So much for the tryptophan in turkey making us tired on Thanksgivings. So what is making us tired?!
Let’s look deeper at tryptophan first. This is an essential amino acid that we have to get from our food and this does play a role in our sleep cycle. Tryptophan is a precursor for the neurotransmitter setotonin which is also a precursor to melatonin. Serotonin is one of the two major neurotransmitters along with dopamine that have to be in balance for every other neurotransmitter in our body to function properly. Beyond the sleep cycle and other neurotransmitter balance, serotonin is also known as the “happy neurotransmitter” because it helps regulate our moods. Also tryptophan is needed as a precursor to niacin production in the body. Niacin, like the other B-complex vitamins, plays an important role in energy production in the body. With this said, you could also create the argument that tyrptophan can increase your energy.
Interesting, isn’t it?
So what really is making us tired?
It’s the carbohydrate consumption causing the spikes in glucose and over production of insulin that is knocking us on our butts. You might ask, what carbohydrate consumption?
Take a look at the list of carbs that we are typically loading up with on during our Thanksgiving meal.
- The bread in the stuffing
- Whole bread slices
- Mashed potatoes
- Sweet potatoes (often with brown sugar and even sometimes marshmallow topped also)
- Canned cranberries
- Dumplings (this was one of my mother’s specialties back in the day)
- Some families make a home made macaroni and cheese
- Cranberry wine
- Other wine and alcohol drinks
- Let’s not forget the desserts
I am sure you can also add to this list with some tasty delights that are tradition in your family.
So why are all these making us so tired?
This is very simple. When we consume foods that are processed carbohydrates, this will spike blood glucose levels. These spiked blood glucose levels will create an sharp increase in the production of insulin in the pancreas. The job of the insulin is to clear the glucose from the blood and move this into cells for storage.
You may wonder why blood glucose is so important? Your body is always trying to maintain a very narrow range of blood glucose (sugar.) If it is too low your brain will suffer due to a lack of glucose for energy, but if it is too high, this can leave us with poor circulation, which will leave our brain short of oxygen and nutrients. When blood glucose is too high this can also lead to shrinking of the brain and I know that none of us want “shrinking brain syndrome.”
This significant intake and raise in glucose from our feast will release the flood gates for insulin. This extreme high release of glucose can have a kick back effect by removing too much glucose and leaving us feel drained, depleted and perhaps craving sweets. You see, the body is simply doing everything it can to keep your brain happy!
So what can you do this coming Thanksgiving to give your brain a break and how about having energy to enjoy your time with family and friends instead of hunting for the corner of the couch to lean your head back and get a bit of shut eye. Who wants to do that when there is so much fun to be had and anyway, you know that when your on the couch with your eyes closed, it is inevitable that your mouth opens and the rest of the guest are admiring your position. Most of us have been there before, so you get it.
The key this Thanksgiving is to restrict your carbohydrate consumption and I’ll also give you a little trick that will help with the carbs you do eat.
Here’s your tips.
- Only go for your holiday favorites. I am sure you have the chance to eat mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes often through the year, so feel free to skip the common foods.
- If you are playing a role in food preparation, add fat, not sugar. Adding sugar to any dish just spikes the blood sugar that much more, but when you add fat, such as butter, this will actually slow the release of glucose. So if you are in charge of bringing the mashed potatoes add a generous amount of butter and/or sour cream. If you are bringing the sweet potatoes, instead of brown sugar and marshmallows use the same fats.
- If you are making the stuffing for the turkey, start by using a gluten free bread. There are probably many people at your gathering that are gluten sensitive and they do not even know it, and trust me, nobody will know if you do not tell them. Also, put more veggies in your stuffing than usual. If you typically add celery, onion or whatever is tradition in your family, double the amount of veggies that you would typically use.
- Instead of buying the canned cranberries, do an internet search and find a recipe to make your own home made cranberry dish. This gives you the ability to have some control of the amount of sugar in the recipe.
- If you are going to indulge in the use of alcohol, wait until you have food in your stomach. Alcohol absorbs via the stomach lining and when you drink on an empty stomach, it is a direct fast track to the brain. When you are drinking alcohol, have a little fat and/or protein snack also.
- When it comes to dessert, which is most often pumpkin pie, have some home whipped whip cream on top. I say home whipped because you can use a full fat cream and just add vanilla and a very small amount of sugar if needed. I honestly only put the vanilla when I make it. This still goes very nicely with the pumpkin pie or any pie for that matter.
- Drink a lot of water throughout Thanksgiving day. This will keep you from getting dehydrated if you are consuming alcohol and most often this will lead to a lower consumption of food.
- Due to the typical high food consumption at Thanksgiving, this is the time you definitely want to use your 1,2,3 of Digestion. This is taking your 2 Prebioitic/Probiotic Formulas before eating, take 1 Prime Digestive Support when you start eating and another mid meal and lastly take a Prime Stomach Acid Support when you just have a few bites of your meal left. If you do not have these specific supplements on hand, take the probiotic, enzyme and HCL is that is convenient for you.
- Lastly, don’t worry if there was something that you missed. You know that whomever is throwing this gather is going to be pushing off plenty of “to go” bags for everyone. There will be another change to enjoy some of your holiday favorites.
So in the end, you now understand why you can get so darned tired on Thanksgiving and it’s NOT the turkey. Follow this tips and look alive for the whole day and night. Your family will appreciate it and I think you will too.
Have a very Happy Thanksgiving everyone!