NOV 22, 2017 9:40 AM PST

Debunking the Turkey and Tryptophan Myth


Despite being a quintessential part of the Thanksgiving feast, turkey endures a number of bad reputations. Notably, tryptophan-laden turkey alone bears the brunt of the blame for the post-feast sleepiness and lethargy. But here's why this accusation is undeserved.

It's true that turkey contains L-tryptophan, an amino acid that promotes sleepiness. However, turkey isn't the only food that contains L-tryptophan. Foods rich in tryptophan include nuts, cheese, red meat, chicken, fish, and eggs. Furthermore, L-tryptophan requires help getting into the brain, and this help is in the form of carbohydrates. Taken together, the effects of the so-called turkey-induced drowsiness is really caused by everything found on the Thanksgiving table, not just turkey.

Another reason to let turkey off the hook for the post-meal tiredness? We get this tired after every big meal, not just at Thanksgiving. It's called post-prandial fatigue, and it describes how the body slows down in reaction to large quantities of food, regardless of whether turkey was included.
About the Author
Doctorate (PhD)
I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at
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