The Turkey Myth

An amino acid called tryptophan is a precursor for the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which has a sleep-inducing effect on the brain. In fact, it was once believed that eating turkey, a food high in tryptophan, could make you sleepy, causing that Thanksgiving slump. However, for tryptophan to have a sedative effect, it must be taken on an empty stomach -- an unlikely outcome after even a modest Thanksgiving meal [source: Stoppler].

You may think of turkey as just a Thanksgiving dish -- it's something we eat once a year that many of us associate with family, friends and football. However, turkey is a nutritious, affordable food that can help keep us happy year-round.

Turkey contains high amounts of phenylalanine, an essential amino acid the brain uses to create dopamine, a neurotransmitter that activates several of the mind's pleasure centers. Dopamine can almost immediately elevate your mood, but it also helps prevent depression and can even increase motivation [source: Men's Health]. Phenylalanine is so powerful, in fact, that research has found it to be as effective in combating depression as some prescription drugs [source: Men's Health].

As anyone who's ever been stuck eating Thanksgiving leftovers can tell you, turkey is an amazingly adaptable meat. It's great by itself or in sandwiches, salads or stews. And you don't have to buy an entire bird to enjoy turkey's benefits. You'll find many different turkey products at your local supermarket -- it comes ground or in packages of legs, thighs and breasts, so it's easy to incorporate into your diet.