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A few tips can help families avoid Thanksgiving food coma

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 23, 2021

Thanksgiving with family and friends also means combating food coma after a big meal.  (Courtesy of YorkTest)
Thanksgiving with family and friends also means combating food coma after a big meal. (Courtesy of YorkTest)

We’ve joked about the heavy eyelids – or food coma – after the Thanksgiving meal. A snooze isn’t unusual following an abundance of holiday eating and drinking along with big loads of simple carbohydrates.

Kerri Ferraioli, a nutritionist for the food sensitivity test company YorkTest, has some tips to help avoid that lag. And a blog from the meal-kit company HelloFresh also offers seasonal advice. It can start with pacing your food intake during the entire day.

There’s typically so much food around on Thanksgiving day, and then any visitors bring a dish or treat with them, Ferraioli said. A food overload tends to be squeezed into a short amount of time, which makes it easier to eat too much, Ferraioli said.

Families could start at breakfast with a goal to spread out those bites during the entire day, ideally leaving at least an hour or more between meals to allow food to digest, she said.

Offer lighter appetizers

Thanksgiving usually starts with appetizers, which might be spinach artichoke dip served with bread, stuffed mushrooms, chips or crackers with cheese.

Instead of starting with heavy items, consider a large vegetable tray or fruit platter. Ferraioli serves roasted chickpeas in a bowl for guests to eat while chatting.

The Thanksgiving meal itself often equates to overeating, especially lots of carbs and high-sugar items, the HelloFresh blog said.

“This causes our pancreas to work overtime to produce enough insulin to deal with it all. And with a spike in insulin comes a corresponding spike in serotonin and melatonin.”

Don’t blame the turkey

Turkey contains tryptophan, a naturally occurring essential amino acid that plays a role in the body’s production of serotonin, melatonin, niacin and nicotinamide. Tryptophan is one of several essential amino acids and combines with the high carbohydrate content of bread and stuffing toward that after-meal slump.

The Washington Post and science news outlets in recent years have cited experts who shift the blame away from the turkey, and its tryptophan, as well.

It turns out the real Thanksgiving nap-inducers are many of the typical side dishes.

Instead, people can add greener sides and take smaller servings of potatoes, sweet potato casserole, stuffing and apple pie, all rich simple carbohydrates or sugar. They don’t contain tryptophan but clear the path for it to get to the brain fast, a Washington Post article said.

Also, reducing the turkey portion size and minimizing bread can help keep energy levels high, Ferraioli said.

Use healthier alternatives

Ferraioli suggests that people can find dozens of options to swap traditional ingredients for slightly healthier alternatives that are still delicious.

Instead of doing a traditional stuffing, consider making an alternative using quinoa, cranberries and walnuts with the same spices you would use in stuffing, she said.

Mashed potatoes can be made healthier by using yellow potatoes, and instead of using milk and butter, drain the water and use that to whip the potatoes.

Be aware of food sensitivities

YorkTest estimates that around 149 million Americans suffer from at least one food sensitivity, so if you are hosting Thanksgiving, consider the requirements of your guests.

The gluten in bread rolls and bread stuffing can be an issue for some, so you could opt for a gluten-free option or ask gluten-free guests to bring a suitable dish to share.

Make desserts healthier

For apple crisps, use maple syrup instead of sugar. For the crisp on top, you can use ingredients such as almond flour, oats and nuts with some dates ground in a food processor for lighter and healthier choices than pastry.

For brownies, you can use sweet potatoes to make them sweet and mushy without having to use a lot of sugar.

The HelloFresh blog also offered additional tips:

• Drink lots of lemon water and herbal tea.

• Eat a balanced breakfast with healthy fats, lean proteins and whole grain carbs.

• Load up on colorful, fibrous foods during the day.

• Lace up for a long post-Thanksgiving stroll.

In the end, Ferraioli said people should relax and do the best they can because the real focus is to enjoy time with family and friends.

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