The workings of tryptophan - Deepstash

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Can some foods really make you sleepy?

The workings of tryptophan

  • L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid, meaning your body can't produce it. You obtain it from your diet. Your body uses L-tryptophan as a building block to make serotonin, which is associated with happiness. Pharmaceutical preparations of tryptophan can indeed treat insomnia.
  • But tryptophan as a pharmaceutical preparation is not the same as tryptophan from the diet. The protein in a meal also contains large neutral amino acids (LNAAs), and these compete with tryptophan to cross the blood-brain barrier.
  • For tryptophan to produce serotonin, it needs to be eaten on an empty stomach and without other competing amino acids.
  • Studies showed eating butternut squash seeds (high in tryptophan) with sugar dextrose improved sleep. This is because sweet carbohydrates cause the secretion of insulin which encourages other amino acids to be absorbed in tissues, leaving the typtophan to cross the blood-brain barrier.

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Eating Distract from Emotions

We often associate eating with relief or even excitement, and it’s only natural that we’d reach for those same feelings when we’re worried or sad.

Why we choose comfort food

Comfort foods don’t tend to be healthy. We want cake or pasta or chips when we’re emotionally eating. We have emotional memories around certain foods, which are more likely to involve your grandma’s lasagna than a salad. 

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Comfort food

We associate comfort food with positive memories.

Think about all the happy and comforting memories you have involving food. Maybe your family used to celebrate occasions with a trip to the ice cream shop, or maybe your mom or dad used to soften the blow of a bad day with macaroni and cheese. When you’re feeling rejected or anxious today, eating one of those foods is an instant connection to that soothing time.