"Food coma" is a term that comes to mind for many when it comes to celebrating Thanksgiving, but with mindful eating, the harvest holiday doesn't have to be the husky holiday.
"Turkey doesn't make you sleepy; eating very large quantities of turkey, stuffing, potatoes and pie makes you sleepy," said Kim Sasso, a registered and licensed dietitian at Loyola University Health System. "Turkey does contain tryptophan, but so do yogurt, eggs, fish, cheese and other meats."
Soybeans, she said, actually contain more tryptophan than turkey.
"Because of transport and breakdown, not enough tryptophan will reach the brain to cause sleepiness after a holiday meal," Sasso said of the popular myth. "Likely, the stressful hustle and bustle of the holiday, travel schedules, alcohol indulgence and cooking tasks will contribute more to fatigue than a few slices of turkey."
L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid, a protein building block. The body does not produce amino acids, and therefore it is obtained from food.
Here are Sasso's top tips for navigating the bounty of food at Thanksgiving:
• Don't skip meals. "Eat breakfast and lunch so you avoid overeating during the traditional Thanksgiving dinner," Sasso said. "If you save your appetite for the big meal, you will likely eat more and experience the 'food coma' many complain about."
• Mind what you eat. "Focus on eating your favorite once-a-year holiday foods and pass on other everyday dishes," Sasso said. "Don't eat your weight in appetizers if you really are looking forward to the main meal."
• Quality not quantity. "Three slices of dessert will not taste as good or be as appreciated as three small sampling portions," she said. "Or, skip the crust when eating pie or the big dollop of ice cream or whipped topping to save calories."
• Load up on vegetables and fruits. "Produce is loaded with vitamins and minerals, and you will benefit from the fiber," Sasso said. "Eating vegetables doused in cream sauce and butter is better than not eating any at all."