linked in pixel
Thanksgiving turkey on table

Does Turkey Really Make You Sleepy? 4 Things to Know

Pinterest Logo

Turkey is a food that has been surrounded by misinformation for years. Below, we're separating fact from fiction on some of the most common turkey talking points. 

1. Turkey makes you sleepy: Fiction

Turkey is often held as the culprit for post-Thanksgiving dinner drowsiness, with its high tryptophan levels cited as the reason for turkey's sleep-inducing properties.

It's true that turkey is rich in tryptophan, an amino acid needed for the body to produce serotonin. And serotonin is used to make melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep and wake cycles. But simply eating foods that are high in tryptophan won't maximize our brain levels of tryptophan and serotonin. We also need carbohydrates to enhance our body's levels of serotonin, and therefore melatonin.

Also, plenty of foods are higher in tryptophan than turkey. Ounce for ounce, pork loin, roasted pumpkin seeds, part-skim mozzarella and chicken breast have more tryptophan than turkey. And let's be honest: how many of us have ever blamed a grilled chicken breast or pumpkin seeds for making us sleepy?

The most likely explanation for why you may get sleepy after a Thanksgiving meal is because you are eating a large, rich meal and often drinking wine or alcohol on top of it.

2. Turkey is a source of lean protein: Fact

With zero carbs, eight grams of protein, and less than a gram of saturated fat per ounce, skinless turkey is one of the top sources of lean protein.

3. Skinless turkey breast is healthier than dark meat: Maybe not

Dark meat turkey does have more saturated fat, but it's still not super-high. A 6-ounce serving of dark meat turkey, with no skin, has 2.4 grams of saturated fat, compared to less than a gram of saturated fat for the same amount of skinless turkey breast.

Dark meat has more than twice as much zinc and iron as turkey breast, and more than 40 percent more of the antioxidant selenium, compared to turkey breast.

4. Turkey has more potassium than a banana: Fact

In addition to being an excellent source of protein, a 6-ounce serving of turkey — white or dark meat — does have more potassium than a single banana. 

Turkey is also rich in niacin, which helps convert food into energy and plays a key role in our digestive system, healthy skin and nerve functioning. It's an excellent source of vitamin B6, which helps to keep blood sugar levels stable and helps our bodies make antibodies to fight disease.

Be inspired to live your strongest, healthiest life! Subscribe to my podcast FUELED | wellness + nutrition for the latest trends and research related to your body and mind.

Ready to change your diet for good? Our registered dietitians can help. Learn more. 

You may also be interested in: