Thanksgiving Dinner: Is there Anything New?

dinner napYou may think you know everything there is to know about the up-coming holiday because (you say) it's the same every year--same food, same guests, same bloated stomach, same redundant leftovers. Still, perhaps there are a few Thanksgiving-related questions you can't answer.  Try these:  Can eating turkey make you sleepy?    Can a turkey be fried indoors? What's the best way to prepare a turkey for traveling? We'll answer these and other questions including the most important one: is there any way to make this holiday fun for overworked hosts?  Let's find out. 


Will partaking of the big bird (not Big Bird) cause you to doze off after Thanksgiving dinner? 


Rest assured, you won't fall asleep at the table after eating turkey. It's true that turkey contains L-tryptophan.  And yes, your body uses tryptophan to make niacin, a B vitamin that helps the body produce serotonin, a brain chemical that helps people relax, feel cheerful, and (yes) sleep better. However, experts quoted in the WebMD article "The Truth About Tryptophan" explain why tryptophan is not likely to knock you out:


  • ŸTryptophan is not only in turkey; it's also in other poultry, meat, cheese, yogurt, fish, and eggs.  In fact, chicken actually contains a little more tryptophan than turkey, but have you ever heard anyone blaming drowsiness on a chicken breast? 
  • ŸTryptophan, by itself, does not induce sleepiness. Proteins that contain a lot of tryptophan need assistance from foods high in carbohydrates in order to affect serotonin levels. Want to sleep better?  Nutritionist Elizabeth Somers, MA, RD and the author of several books on nutrition recommends not turkey leftovers but a 30-gram carbohydrate snack before bedtime (for example, half of a whole wheat bagel with honey, a Fig Newton, or air-popped popcorn). 


If tryptophan is not the reason, then why might diners feel sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner? Here are my guesses: all that chewing, all that wine, prolonged sitting, or prolonged annoyance if conversing with relatives is uninteresting or stressful.


In case you're wondering just what L-tryptophan is, explains:  it's an amino acid made from plant or animal sources. It is, furthermore, an alternative medicine often sold as an herbal supplement. People use it for insomnia, anxiety, depression, attention deficit disorder, and other conditions. points out that not all of its uses have been approved by the FDA and that herbal supplements in general are not regulated by the FDA and could be contaminated or present other problems.  To learn more about this supplement, go to the page "L-tryptophan" or ask your doctor or pharmacist about it.


Is it possible to avoid overeating at Thanksgiving dinner?


A recent study conducted at Texas Christian University (and reported in Consumer Reports on Health) showed that eating more slowly leads to eating less. Our advice: at the Thanksgiving dinner table, chew less and talk (and listen) more.  Focus on people rather than exclusively on food.  Give your stomach a chance to discover that it's consumed enough to be satisfied. The additional benefit of slow eating: there's less hunger afterward than if one eats fast, participants in the study discovered. 


Is turkey frying still popular, or was this just a passing fad?


Says Dr. Bowser: "Many people in Oklahoma fry their turkeys outdoors for Thanksgiving. Evidence of this is in the grocery stores that are stocking 3-gallon jugs of peanut oil for sale specifically for turkey fries and the sporting goods stores that are advertising fryers."


Food scientist Dr. Catherine Cutter, who's from Pennsylvania, assures us that frying turkey is still popular in the eastern part of the country.


To read some advice about frying turkey, click on Dr. Bowser's article: "Using a Turkey Fryer: Tips and Warnings."


Can a turkey be fried indoors?


You may think the answer is "Only if you want to burn your house down."  But you'd be wrong.


Food process engineer Dr. Timothy Bowser provides another answer:  "There are several indoor turkey fryers that are available from Masterbuilt, Butterball, Cajun Injector and Waring Pro (for example). Indoor turkey frying could be a game-changer for the northern states where it may be VERY cold during Thanksgiving. It’s also safer since there is no flame. The Waring Pro® unit takes things one step further by adding a rotisserie. Waring claims that their machine uses less oil, and it can fry a 20 lb. turkey in about 1 hour. The Waring Pro is a pricey item, $239 on Amazon, but it does have a high rating (4.4 stars out of 5 by 42 customers) and is my personal choice."


What's a good method for cooking a turkey that then has to travel?


Suppose you've been invited to a potluck Thanksgiving dinner and been asked to bring the turkey.   The Chicago Tribune recommends having your butcher cut the turkey into parts (like a cut-up raw chicken) and braising it.  The author rubbed a spice blend "evocative of Moroccan tagines" for seasoning on each piece.  Then the turkey parts were arranged on a bed of vegetables with broth added to the pan.  The recipe the Tribune provided is in the paper but not online. However, here's a recipe from hat looks beautiful and scrumptious: "Herb Roasted and Braised Turkey." It would be a lot lighter and easier to travel with than a whole, uncut turkey would be.  Many other recipes of braised turkey can be found online, so take your pick. 


What can be served to vegetarian and vegan guests for Thanksgiving?


Most popular are turkey substitutes made with tofu. See Vegetarian Times "Stuffed Tofu-Turkey" if you want to make it from scratch.  Ready-made tofu turkey is also available.  Check out "Vegetarian Turkey Substitutes" at for a lot of ideas.


Is there a way to make this holiday less of an ordeal for the host(s)?


Yes, there is, and most families have already discovered it.  Thanksgiving should be a potluck meal.  Even if the host doesn't ask guests to bring something, a kind-hearted person will enthusiastically offer and even insist.  If you're too busy to cook, buy something to contribute and tell the host beforehand what you're bringing.  If you are not into cooking, anyone can cut up a salad. Bringing a salad saves the host from a last-minute, messy job that's a delight to delegate. Ask how many guests are attending the gathering so you know how much to bring. Don't forget a few salad dressings (regular and low-calorie) and something to pour them into.  Remember salad tongs so your host won't need to search for these.


Where can one find online advice on how to handle a turkey?


Try or if necessary.  But first, check all the tips on Shelf Life Advice by clicking here:  The links at the right margin can get you to Q/As on almost everything you need to know including whether to stuff your turkey, whether to trust the thermometer it comes with, and whether doneness can be judged by the color of the meat. 


Enjoy the feast!


Source(s): "The Truth About Tryptophan" "L-tryptophan"


Timothy J. Bowser, Ph.D., Oklahoma State University, Dept. of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering


Catherine N. Cutter, Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University, Dept. of Food Science


Chicago Tribune "Good Eating" section, "Mobile turkey, "November 19, 2014.


Consumer Reports on Health, Tip of the month, "Does eating more slowly lead to eating less?"

December 2014.



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