HEALTH NEWS

It’s Not the Turkey Making You Sleepy… And Other Thanksgiving Myths

Written by Roberta Alexander on November 23, 2017

There's plenty of 'fake news' surrounding Thanksgiving from the tryptophan in turkey, to the pumpkin pie filling, to the crowded roads.

Thanksgiving myths

People in weight management groups sometimes refer to Thanksgiving as amateur night.

That’s when people everywhere loosen their belts and eat until they’re more stuffed than the cooked bird itself.

Interesting how a holiday that began as a religious day of fasting and gratitude has morphed into a monument to gluttony.

And while we’re on the subject of food, we can dispel a Thanksgiving myth.

It’s not really the turkey that makes you nod off after the meal.

The culprit is thought to be the amino acid tryptophan.

Tryptophan is found in turkey, notes Kristin Kirkpatrick, a registered dietitian and director of wellness nutrition services at the Cleveland Clinic.

But it’s also found in lots of other things, notably cheese.

So if pre-dinner festivities include cheese and crackers or a cheesy dip, it might feel like nighty-night time.

Then there’s the accompanying drink… or three.

“Don’t forget that alcohol is a sedative,” Kirkpatrick told Healthline.

So your sleepiness may have more to do with what you eat and drink throughout the day than how much turkey you consumed.

Not that food isn’t involved.

All those popular carb-laden treats (stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie) may lead to snooze land, too.

‘Fake’ pumpkin pie

There’s also another half-baked Thanksgiving myth we can dispel.

It’s pumpkin pie.

The fact is… it probably isn’t. Pumpkin, that is.

The canned pumpkin pie filling you find in the grocery store is most likely filled with squash.

In one way, that’s not too weird, since a pumpkin is classified as a kind of squash, albeit one that grows on a vine and is considered a flower.

What’s called “pumpkin puree” is less stringy and sweeter than the namesake orange stuff.

It’s probably made from a pumpkin cousin, such as the squashes: butternut, Hubbard, Boston Marrow, or Golden Delicious.

If the pumpkin pie made from canned puree has made your family happy all these many years, then keep doing it that way.

But if you’re a purist, look for canned puree that contains pure pumpkin, such as Libby’s.

Or go the homemade route, starting with a whole pumpkin that you cut, clean, steam, and scrape. Hint: Start early.

The USDA, which has the final word on what food may be called, takes a relaxed view of “what is a pumpkin.”

According to its guidelines, “The canned product prepared from clean, sound, properly matured, golden-fleshed, firm-shelled, sweet varieties of either pumpkins or squashes by washing, stemming, cutting, steaming, and reducing to a pulp,” may be called “pumpkin puree.”

To rephrase as a scientific mouthful, pumpkin is one type of squash and squash generally refers to four species of genus cucurbita, including the species to which pumpkin belongs.

Both squash and pumpkin belong to the same family (the cucurbitaceae).

Or, you could skip the pumpkin pie altogether and make a pecan pie before we discover it’s really made from peanuts.

A few other notes

When you get to the pie, remember, “It’s a myth to save up [calories] for a big meal.”

Kirkpatrick reminds people that being overly hungry is more likely to lead to binging.

She urges her patients to have a substantial, protein-rich breakfast with a little fat before Thanksgiving dinner.

“Have eggs,” she said.

“And don’t wait for January 1 to start a healthy eating plan. Whatever your goals are, don’t wait until January 1,” she recommended.

You might mess up a little over the holidays, but that’s normal.

“Just pick yourself up and keep going,” Kirkpatrick said.

The day after Thanksgiving has also become as encrusted with tradition as Turkey Day itself.

It’s shopping, otherwise known as Black Friday.

The term was born in Philadelphia, where it was derisively used by police irked at the traffic and crowd control issues created by the sheer number of shoppers.

But that Friday and Saturday are crucial to merchants, so the crowds weren’t going to disappear.

Your alternative is to stay in the nice warm house with the turkey carcass simmering in a big pot on the stove.

And if the kids get to fighting over the wishbone, distract them with this intriguing factoid.

Research indicates that the wishbone dates back more than 150 million years to a group of meat-eating dinosaurs that includes the tyrannosaurus and the velociraptor.

In fact, it’s this particular bit of genetic destiny that accounts for the turkey’s general reputation for klutziness.

It’s often assumed they cannot fly.

In fact, they’re frequently seen on the ground. However, turkeys like to sleep perched on tree branches and they don’t get up there on an escalator.

The large birds don’t travel very fast, though, and neither do folks heading out to grandma’s house.

However, it’s not true that the day before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year.

Busy, yes.

But the Thanksgiving Eve car commute isn’t really all that bad.

This is due to the fact that 50 percent of the folks driving for the holiday wait until Thursday morning to hit the road.

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