Turkeys, Thanksgiving and Drowsiness

Turkeys, Thanksgiving and Drowsiness

For many of us, eating turkey at Thanksgiving is a ritual that has been passed down for generations. We thought that you might enjoy learning some things about turkeys.
  • The male turkey is called a tom and the female turkey is called a hen.
  • Wild turkeys can fly up to 55 miles per hour for short distances and can run 20 miles per hour.
  • Turkeys are clever but not necessarily smart and can drown if they look up when it is raining.
  • Fossil remains of turkeys have been dated to ten million years ago.
  • It takes 75-80 pounds of feed to raise a 30 pound tom turkey.
  • United States turkey growers will produce an estimated 269.8 million turkeys in 2007.
  • Forty-five million turkeys are eaten each Thanksgiving.
  • Twenty-two million turkeys are eaten each Christmas.
  • Nineteen million turkeys are eaten each Easter.
  • It is estimated that 97% of Americans eat turkey at Thanksgiving.
  • The heaviest turkey ever raised was 86 pounds, about the size of a large dog.
  • A 15-pound turkey usually has about 70 percent white meat and 30 percent dark meat.
  • White meat has fewer calories and less fat than dark meat.
  • Turkey is low in fat and high in protein and has more protein than chicken or beef.
  • As a result of breeding turkeys with larger breasts, the breasts sometimes grow so large that the turkeys fall over.

THANKSGIVING DAY Although a day of thanksgiving was celebrated by the early colonists to America (the first recorded official holiday of Thanksgiving was in July), it was not officially recognized as a national holiday until Abraham Lincoln, on October 3, 1863 issued a proclamation setting aside the last Thursday in November as the day of national thanksgiving. Of course, since the Southern states did not recognize Lincoln’s authority at that time, it was only an official holiday in 1863 in the North.

OUR NATIONAL BIRD? Although he was unsuccessful, Benjamin Franklin is known to have lobbied to have the turkey, not the bald eagle, be the national bird of the United States. Here is an excerpt from a letter he wrote to his daughter: “For my own part I wish the Eagle had not been chosen the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead tree near the river, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labor of the Fishing Hawk ... For the truth the Turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America ... He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on.”

DROWSINESS Many of us eat Thanksgiving dinner and start to feel drowsy. We have heard that turkey is high in tryptophan and somehow this is the reason.

WHAT IS TRYPTOPHAN? Tryptophan is an essential amino acid. According to the Encarta Dictionary, “Amino acids make up proteins and are important components of cells. Some can be synthesized by the body (nonessential amino acids) and others must be obtained through the diet (essential amino acids).” So tryptophan is an essential amino acid because it cannot be produced by our bodies but must be derived from foods we eat. Foods that are considered sources of tryptophan are dairy products, beef, poultry, barley, brown rice, fish, soybeans, and peanuts and, in higher amounts, turkeys.

WHAT DOES TRYPTOPHAN DO? Tryptophan is needed for the body to make serotonin and niacin, a B vitamin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (a chemical that carries messages between different nerve cells or between nerve cells and muscles). Serotonin acts as a natural calming agent in the brain of most people. Serotonin is normally broken down by the body to produce melatonin which helps us sleep. There is no test to determine how much serotonin each of us needs to be calm. Scientists know that it varies from person to person, but generally it is thought that the more serotonin produced the more calm a person will be. Because turkeys are great sources of tryptophan and because we eat a lot of turkey at Thanksgiving, and because many of us feel like taking a nap afterwards or fall asleep on the couch, the turkey has been labeled as the cause of this drowsiness.

IS THE TURKEY RESPONSIBLE FOR FEELING DROWSY AFTER EATING YOUR THANKSGIVING DINNER? Scientists now, in the main, say no. They point out that most people have lots of carbohydrates and fats like dressing (stuffing), cranberries, sweet potatoes, bread, pies, cakes and whipped cream. In fact, the extra high level of carbohydrates produce higher than normal levels of glucose (the body’s sugar) which in turn triggers the release of high levels of insulin (a hormone produced in the pancreas that the body uses to regulate the level of glucose in the blood) and this can lead to us feeling tired. Some also drink alcohol which is a strong central nervous system depressant and will likely have a sedative effect. It is also hard for the body to digest all this food, so the body diverts blood away from other parts of your body to your stomach and this can have a sedative effect. Finally, it appears that for most of us, the actual amount of tryptophan that makes it to the brain after a full Thanksgiving dinner will be much less than the amount going to the brain if you just ate a slice of turkey without all the other trimmings. The conclusion then is that it’s not the turkey but what we eat with the turkey.

All of us at Novus wish you a great Thanksgiving. We all have much to be thankful for and as we eat we should reflect on this, but don't blame the turkey if you feel drowsy after eating your Thanksgiving dinner.

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