Tryptophan isn’t to blame for your food coma

Even at Thanksgiving, even as a child, I was always “that kid”, who couldn’t leave well enough alone when someone said something blatantly false, or worth questioning and examining further. My father kept admonishing me to be on my best behavior for company, which invariably meant not challenging unevidenced or ridiculous beliefs.

This was one of the ones that filtered into my subconscious and I even caught myself thinking this very thing a few years ago, til I was corrected on it. All because I was asked to turn off my skepticism as a child.

I guess I’m posting this to tell you not to squelch people’s skepticism of strange unevidenced beliefs even if those beliefs are seemingly harmless.

Unless you know there’s absolutely no goodwill to burn, let the walking Snopes database do their thing, because as annoyed as the person may be who is corrected, they’ve actually had a valuable service done to them even at the cost of a little holiday peace. A service that helps insulate people from making mistakes, and having factoids filter into their brains as though they were facts, which might introduce errors in their reasoning later in life.

And if there’s absolutely no goodwill to burn at the Thanksgiving table, and you must suffer the tyranny of someone spewing factoids, both harmless and harmful? Well, consider a smaller and more intimate Thanksgiving meal next year.

But yeah. Sorry for the tangent. Turkey doesn’t cause food comas. And I wish I could spend the American holiday with my American friends and family, so enjoy your time with them. And I hope you find a balance between the factoid-spewers and the fact-checkers so you can all enjoy your meal.

Tryptophan isn’t to blame for your food coma

18 thoughts on “Tryptophan isn’t to blame for your food coma

  1. 3

    There are some pedants who would argue that your use of the word factoid is incorrect. I admit to being torn. While I enjoy the idea of having a tool to make myself look smart around persons such as yourself who are more intelligent and better educated than myself, I also find the “incorrect” usage to be of utility and know no adequate substitute.

  2. 5

    This past Sunday’s Mythbuster’s episode (“Food Fables”) came to the same conclusion that clip did, that it was the high portion sizes, not the turkey, that caused the drowsiness.

    Coming from a culture without Turkey-thanksgiving, I would never have thought anything else. I mean, everybody is drowsy after the Christmas dinner.

    But I had a lot of fun last Christmas explaining Homeopathy to my husband’s aunt with the help of my red wine, a teaspoon and two glasses of water.

  3. 6

    Noooooo!!! Another myth debunked.

    But seriously, this is basically true. However, as is so often the case, the debunking of one falsehood leads to another. Chicken does not really have more Tryptophan that Turkey. Meats generally have the same amount, with meat of birds being essentially identical, meat of mammals being identical mostly, and meat of animals generally being similar. I might expect a difference between insects and verts. Even fish is similar to bird and mammal.

    The small differences you see on a list of amino acid amounts are more likely to be caused by differences in tissue representation among the samples. For instance, meat plus skin samples will differ between species or body parts because of the distribution of non-muscle tissues (dermis, fat, etc.). One database I know of shows a 0.2% difference between a sample of chicken and turkey, with the chicken having a tiny bit more. Basically, meat is meat.

  4. 7

    Uhm, reading my comment as it posted, I realize that it sounds like I was saying “U stoopid, hahaha”, which is not what I wanted to say. What I wanted to say was that different cultures create different food myths, so countries where basically everybody overindulges on christmas but not necessarily on the same meal don’t grow this food myth.
    But “we” believe that red cabbage contains cyanide which has t be destroyed via cooking…

  5. Amy

    “‘that kid’, who couldn’t leave well enough alone when someone said something blatantly false, or worth questioning and examining further.”

    All of you–may your tribe increase!

    And may you develop a better sense of how to pick your battles. (I’m still working on it, myself.)

  6. 11

    So is it true that milk has high levels of tryptophan and that a glass of warm milk is a good cure for insomnia? Because that’s one thing I was taught / heard somewhere ages ago.

  7. 13

    @StevoR #11:

    So is it true that milk has high levels of tryptophan and that a glass of warm milk is a good cure for insomnia?

    See: turkey.

    For similar reasons, a glass of warm milk at bedtime will not raise the level of tryptophan entering your brain. Neither will walnuts, strawberries or salmon, though many nutrition columns say so. If a glass of warm milk at bedtime helps you fall asleep, it’s not because of its tryptophan content.

    Psychology Today

  8. 15

    I have anecdotal evidence that tryptophan may not be present in fowl suppers at enough quantity to cause a descent into torpor, but turkey present in quantity definitely does so I must vigorously dissent from the final paragraph of the article. I’ve seen many a relative assume python-digesting-gazelle-shaped-lump position post-prandial. Sometimes looks like a herd of err…somethings of varying sizes…mass-tranked across the sward.

    Of course there may also be something in turkey that builds up an aversion reaction in consumers because after the fifth or so day of attempting to market turkey variants on the allegedly hungry in-house, there seems to be a trend towards any other kind of food.

    First world problems, eh?

  9. 16

    In January of this year I decided to go wheat-free for as long as I could possibly manage it, since I was suspicious of being sensitive to at least one of the wheat proteins. Could be gluten, could be any of the others; I really didn’t know.

    This went well until early March when I got bratty and decided I wanted a plate of noodles at, natch, Noodles & Co.

    Noodles & Co. does not provide huge portions, but half an hour later I was sleepy. And I had to drive home.

    I don’t think the portion sizes are necessarily the trouble here, though of course everyone wants to believe people get sick or fat from “eating too much” because of course being fat isn’t just a health issue, it’s also a freaking morality play. If you’re fat, you’re “bad,” full stop, and you can’t tell these people otherwise; they’ve got to have SOMEBODY to judge harshly, gosh darn it. Anyway, I think WHAT the person is eating matters more than how much. If what they’re eating is actually healthy for them, and does not screw with their metabolic pathways in an unhealthy manner or trick their brains on some biochemical level, they will get full when they have really had enough, and overeating won’t be an issue.

    How to tell something is bad for you: You can never, ever get enough of it.

    And I’ve only had that experience with junk carbs. Not with turkey or any other meat. If I try to go too far with those, I hit a metaphorical wall. Hard.

  10. 18

    How to tell something is bad for you not fulfilling its nutritional function: You can never, ever get enough of it.

    At the risk of being a pedant, ;), I used to go crazy over cauliflower, radishes, turnip, spinach and red meat. I could not get enough of them. Turns out, that my digestive system was not working properly, and after seeing a couple of gastroenterologists, cutting out gluten and taking strong probiotics, all of that has disappeared. I’m healthier now. I simply wasn’t getting the nutrients from the food I was eating. I was craving highly nutritious foods – but it was never, ever enough.

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