Ahhh yes the smell of turkey from the oven, mashed potatoes, squash, and gravy. That’s what I am talking about. With pumpkins all around and family gathering to celebrate the end of a good summer and a time of harvest--it’s all about Thanksgiving. Let’s not forget that we are also blessed with a long weekend, which is always a treat. But another reason why I wanted to bring up this subject is to talk about turkey.
Turkey is packed with protein, has very little fat and almost zero carbs. But perhaps what it is most famous for is its high level of an amino acid (i.e. the building block of protein) called Tryptophan. This is one of the essential amino acids meaning that it is required for life and cannot be made by the body. It must instead come from the diet.
After absorption from the digestive tract Tryptophan travels to the brain where it is converted to serotonin, a very important neurotransmitter (i.e. a substance used for communication between nerve cells). Serotonin, like Dopamine, makes us feel good but it is also important in preventing us from feeling depressed. That is why many prescription drugs used for depression work by increasing the levels of serotonin in our brain. Unfortunately, as I mention on the upcoming show “Radical Remedies”, these drugs have many unwanted side effects; some of them very serious. On the other hand, obtaining Tryptophan from diet does not produce these side effects but rather has only beneficial health properties. As a matter of fact, research has shown Tryptophan by itself to have anti-depressant properties as well as to be an effective “augmenter” of anti-depressant prescription drugs (which are best taken as a last resort, not the first). Another way to augment serotonin levels in the brain is to take a Tryptophan metabolite, 5-HTP. This compound is converted in our body to serotonin and is readily available without a prescription.
However, let’s go back to Turkey. The reason why Turkey makes us sleepy after eating it is because the increased serotonin gets further converted to melatonin, which is the natural substance in our brain that makes us fall asleep when we turn off the lights or when we are tired. When we fall asleep the protein from the turkey meat gets absorbed and replenishes our energy stores and our muscles. The tryptophan, through melatonin, keeps us asleep giving our brains time to rest and de-stress from our daily life, while at the same time it replenishes our serotonin levels keeping us from feeling depressed and making us feel good all around.
Wouldn’t you say that anything like that, especially without any detrimental effects to our health, deserves to be called a super food? I think you will agree with me that the answer is yes. So enjoy your Turkey this holiday as well as your time with friends and family to rejoice and celebrate one of the most amazing gifts of nature we call the Thanksgiving harvest.