Monthly Archives: November 2011

Gobble, gobble…Could turkey be making us sleepy?

Technically, Thanksgiving commemorates the day when pilgrims and Native Americans joined together to celebrate the autumn harvest. At my house though, Thanksgiving becomes an excuse to indulge in a great meal, watch professional football and catch some extra Zzz’s on the couch.

The excessive sleepiness that dominates this holiday has often been tied to a nutrient in turkey called tryptophan (trip-toe-fan). Even though our late-afternoon nap typically occurs right after the Thanksgiving feast, it’s probably not the turkey that’s making us drowsy. It’s more likely the carbohydrate-rich stuffing and mashed potatoes we just gobbled down.

Tryptophan is an amino acid that’s found in many protein-rich foods, like turkey. But if it was the turkey that was making us tired, we’d be nodding off every time we ate chicken, beef or certain kinds of fish too, since these foods contain similar amounts of this amino acid.

Now let’s talk science. Tryptophan is a precursor to a chemical substance called serotonin that acts on the nervous system. When tryptophan enters the brain, it’s converted to serotonin, which can make us feel calm and relaxed in large enough amounts. However, it’s actually a meal high in carbs that initiates this process. Large portions of carbohydrates cause a spike in insulin levels in our body, which makes tryptophan more available to the brain for conversion into sleep-inducing serotonin. Therefore, it’s likely the simultaneous consumption of delicious, high-carb side dishes, rather than the turkey that’s causing our drowsiness.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

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Megan Madden, MS, RD quoted on SHAPE.com

Check out Megan’s comments on avocados, whole grains, olive oil, nuts, plant sterols & salmon as featured on Shape.com’s “20 Artery-Cleansing Foods You Should Be Eating”.  Here’s to a healthy heart!

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Filed under Fats & Oils, Food Groups, Grains, Heart Healthy Choices, Media, Medical Conditions

You Snooze, You Lose. But is caffeine a healthy alternative?

For many of us, the afternoon slump at the office usually triggers a coffee run to the nearest Starbucks. While it’s true that a caffeinated “cup of joe” can perk you up, you may want to rethink how many you’re consuming in one day.

A standard 12-ounce Starbucks coffee may contain as much as 260 milligrams (mg) of caffeine. That’s nearly the amount of caffeine I would recommend you consume in an entire day! I don’t want to pick on coffee though. Tea, soda and energy drinks can also pack a caffeinated punch and there are hidden sources of caffeine, such as chocolate, coffee-flavored ice cream and over the counter cold medicine.

How much is too much? Moderate caffeine consumption – about 300 mg per day for adults – appears relatively safe. Overdoing it on the java, however, can cause temporary undesirable effects, depending on your usual intake and tolerance. Common symptoms may include headaches, trembling, raised heart rate, a spike in blood pressure and increased fluid losses via urine. Consuming caffeine within six hours of bedtime may also interfere with getting a good night’s sleep.

During pregnancy, caffeine crosses the placental barrier, but a baby has only a limited ability to metabolize it. Pregnant women should consult their doctor on how much caffeine is appropriate to consume.

Some studies have indicated that caffeine may be detrimental to bone health, but the research is inconclusive. Ordinary intakes of caffeine (say, the amount in two small cups of coffee), may increase calcium losses in the body, but this may occur only when calcium consumption is low. Studies have also shown that high intakes of coffee, in particular, may inhibit iron and zinc absorption, but it’s not all simply due to caffeine.

Is it best to nix the caffeine all together? Not necessarily. It’s perfectly healthy to indulge in two small cups of coffee per day, as long as you’re not also slugging back sodas and energy drinks. This should provide enough caffeine to give you the energy boost you’re looking for. Plus, there is limited evidence that coffee and tea may actually reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, dementia and certain types of cancer.

Use the table below to tally how much caffeine you’re consuming and aim for less than 300 mg per day!

Beverage (serving size)

Approx. Caffeine Content

Coffee, generic, brewed (12 oz)

140 mg

Starbucks coffee, brewed (12 oz)

260 mg

McDonalds coffee, brewed (12 oz)

75 mg

Green Tea (8 oz)

30 mg

Black Tea (8 oz)

38 mg

Lipton Brisk Lemon Iced Tea (12 oz)

7 mg

Coca-Cola Classic (12 oz)

35 mg

Mountain Dew (12 oz)

54 mg

Pepsi Max (12 oz)

69 mg

Club soda, 7-Up, Sprite (12 oz)

0 mg

Red Bull energy drink (8 oz)

80 mg

Monster energy drink (8 oz)

80 mg

5-Hour Energy (2 oz)

140 mg

**In addition to caffeine content, you should always be aware of the liquid calories you’re consuming, so that beverages do not contribute to unwanted weight gain.

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