Talking turkey: feeling your best after the big feast

(Photo provided)

This year, as a result of the pandemic, Thanksgiving dinners may not involve as many guests and family members as you might have liked to have around the table, but parents are still cooking up a lot of questions about that Thanksgiving turkey and why everyone gets sleepy after a big Thanksgiving dinner. Thankfully, I can provide some information on healthy eating at Thanksgiving that will hopefully keep everyone awake.

Don’t blame the tryptophan

It’s true that turkey contains an amino acid called tryptophan that is needed to make proteins – and when eaten alone, tryptophan goes to the brain and is converted into a substance that calms us down and makes us sleepy. Yet turkey contains many other amino acids as well, which counteract the sleep effect of tryptophan in the brain. So what makes you sleepy if it’s not the turkey? It is all the starchy and sugar-containing foods like breads, potatoes, stuffing, pumpkin pie and other desserts, which can cause fullness and with it a desire to just rest and digest all of that food. In addition, eating a big dinner causes increased blood flow to the stomach and less to the brain, which will also produce drowsiness.

Try these eye-opening tips

What can you do to not get sleepy on Thanksgiving? You could try eating small, healthy meals during the day so you do not eat one big meal at the end of the day — although that is easier said than done. You could try limiting the amount of sugar and starch you eat. A good walk after the meal will also aid digestion and prevent drowsiness.

Remember to practice food safety

Finally, when cooking, make sure your hands are clean at all times. Never place food ready to eat on an unwashed plate that previously held raw meat or poultry. And don’t forget to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold to prevent food from spoiling or transmitting bacteria that can cause indigestion and food poisoning.

Hopefully tips like these will be easy ones to gobble up when it comes to eating healthy on Thanksgiving.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and NBC5.


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