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What Does Tryptophan Do To Us?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- If you ate a lot of turkey this Thanksgiving you may sleep a little bit better tonight.

Some people think heavy eating means better sleeping.

Others think it's tryptophan that makes us drowsy.

It's an amino acid found in turkey.

So what does tryptophan do to our bodies? And what other foods is it found in? Good Question.

Thanksgiving is the one day of the year when you don't have to ask what's for dinner.

And every family has a grandparent or aunt or uncle who falls asleep on the couch right after the turkey and mashed potatoes are gone.

"It's got unsaturated fats which are good for us. And it's got tryptophan and it's got protein," said Ted Labuza.

Labuza has no problem talking turkey. He's a food science professor at the University of Minnesota. He said our bodies convert tryptophan into hormone-like compounds such as serotonin and melatonin, the latter of which can act as a natural sleep aid.

But the truth is turkey isn't the only food that contains tryptophan.

"Steak or any kind of meat. It's going to be there," said Labuza.

In fact, turkey really doesn't have any more tryptophan than chicken. Egg whites, pork chops, cheese, and sunflower seeds are just some of the foods that have higher tryptophan levels than turkey.

Other foods, and less blood flow to your brain after a big meal, likely contribute to feeling groggy. Still, Labuza said tryptophan is an essential amino acid -- it can help with sleep and depression and can be bought over the counter. It's just far more enjoyable when it comes with turkey.


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