We are sitting at iTrulli, a top New York City Italian restaurant, and I have already unbuttoned my pants as I try to gather strength for dessert. I glance to my left and my sister-in-law has eaten herself to sleep. Her head is slumped on my wife’s shoulder and drool is about to begin trickling from her mouth. After taking several pictures to add this event to family lore, I was again asked about the cause of the dreaded food coma.
There are many possibilities as to what causes the classic “food coma.” Many people report drowsiness after eating the traditional Thanksgiving meal. Turkey is blamed for this soporific effect, specifically the amount of L-tryptophan contained in turkey. L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid and is a precursor of serotonin. Both serotonin and L-tryptophan have a calming, sedative effect in the human body.
L-tryptophan is naturally found in turkey protein but is actually present in many plants and animals, including chicken and cows. The average serving of turkey (about 100 grams of 3.5 ounces) contains a similar amount of L-tryptophan as found in an average serving of chicken and ground beef.
Two other factors that contribute to the desire to sleep at the dinner table are meal composition and increased blood flow to the gastrointestinal tract. Studies have shown that a solid-food meal resulted in faster fatigue onset than a liquid diet. The solid-food meal also causes a variety of stances to jump into action that ultimately leads to increased blood flow to the abdomen. This increase in blood flow and an increase in the metabolic rate for digestion can contribute to the “coma.”
Now, I can tell the end of the family story. A good double espresso can sometimes be enough of a pick-me-up to get through desert. But, in an attempt to resuscitate her comatose sister, my wife took her to the bathroom to splash water on her face and press her belly against the cold bathroom tiles. Unfortunately, time is the only true cure for the food coma.
From: Why do Men Have Nipples? by: Mark Leyner and Billy Goldberg, M.D.