Tryptophan, Triglycerides and Food Coma! Game Plan for T-Day
Posted: November 28, 2012
The season for excessive eating is close at hand. As a teen, I was not being able to eat enough of the Thanksgiving meal to satisfy my craving for the foods I had helped prepare. The blend of flavors and the number of foods available combined forces, enticing me to eat beyond my gastric capability. I was not much help in the clean-up! I reclined on the couch in great discomfort, hoping the digestive process would kick in soon, so I could buckle up and have another piece of pie!
Learning a little restraint through the years, I’m still tempted by large assortments of foods, and especially delicious foods. I am not uncommon, as these two conditions, along with excessive hunger, are the three most common prompts for overeating. I manage my susceptibility by preparing only 3 dishes for most meals, having a pre-meal snack of an apple or some baby carrots when I am very hungry, and by avoiding buffets and other large spreads of food. And as for Thanksgiving – well, I still struggle but try to stop eating when I am “80% full”. This means my hunger is gone and I feel satisfied, but I’m not stuffed to the gills.
There are some good reasons to avoid oversize meals. Skipping meals leads to larger, higher calorie meals being consumed later in the day. Excessive hunger provides the urge to consume more food and less healthy food than otherwise. People who skip meals take in a greater number of calories in a day and are less likely to lose weight than those who do not skip meals.
Protein use comes under attack with large meals. Protein is used for the constant process of building, repairing and replacing tissues. For protein to be taken up and used in muscle tissue, research shows that the maximum amount of protein we can utilize from one meal is about 30 grams. This is the amount of protein in 4-5 ounces of meat. Of course, our meals contain protein from eggs, cheese, milk, beans, nuts and other sources. We can easily consume more than 30 grams of proteins when we have a large meal of assorted foods. The excess protein is then used for calorie production, rather than body structure.
The lethargic feeling we experience after a feast, popularly called “food coma” is unlikely to be from the amino acid tryptophan, widely promoted as the “sleep factor” in the turkey dinner. Tryptophan is in many foods and can be used as a building block to produce many different bio-chemicals, including serotonin, which gives a sense of wellbeing and sleepiness; however the small amount of tryptophan consumed from a serving or two of turkey is unlikely to be responsible for that post-meal somnolence! The most likely culprits are the large assortment of carbohydrates and fats. These sugars, starches and fats contribute to high levels of post-meal glucose (blood sugar) and triglycerides (fats) circulating in the bloodstream, combining with the large mass of food in the digestive tract to give us that sluggish feeling. In fact, the boost in triglycerides after a single fatty meal can set up the lining of the blood vessels to make them susceptible to atherosclerosis.
Fortunately, there are steps we can take to preserve our health and lessen gastric overload this holiday season. Choose lighter versions of holiday foods. Research supports the benefit of taking a long, slow walk the day before the feast in reducing the rise in triglycerides post-meal. Another slow walk after the meal can help bring down blood sugar levels. Have a few raw veggies or a crisp apple or pear prior to the feast to lessen the gnawing hunger, and eat only until you are 80% full – then wait a while before bringing on dessert!
Rayna Cooper is a Registered Dietitian and Family & Consumer Sciences/Nutrition Educator serving Penn State Extension in Adams County. Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workforce. Penn State Extension in Adams County is located at 670 Old Harrisburg Road, Suite 204, Gettysburg, PA 17325, phone 334-6271, email email@example.com.