Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Where do I get my tryptophan?

Thanksgiving is again upon us. It is certainly my favorite All American holiday. Folks get to eat well and then sleep very well after eating a huge amount of calories in a massive turkey dinner. Legend has it that it is this certain protein called tryptophan in the turkey that causes the sleepiness. Tryptophan is a standard and essential amino acid in the diet. It is not true that turkey has more tryptophan than other foods, in fact on a per unit mass basis dried egg whites have four times as much tryptophan than turkey if you eat the same mass of the two foods. Parmesan and cheddar cheese are also richer in tryptophan than is turkey. My advice is if you really want to sleep well after your Thanksgiving meal, sprinkle your turkey with parmesan and have meringues for dessert rather than pumpkin pie. Actually all who eat over 1,000 calories will sleep well no matter what is on the Thanksgiving dinner menu.

The Japanese company Showa Denko attempted to produce synthetic tryptophan as a food supplement in 1989. Unfortunately their quality control was terrible and they produced the dimer (two molecules connected) of tryptophan, a poisonous chemical that caused thirty seven deaths and permanent disability to over 1,500 people. Their manufacturing motto must have been try to kill two birds with one stone.

There are approximately 100 million households in the USA and some 30 million turkeys will be cooked for Thanksgiving dinners. The average mass of a turkey is about 16 pounds. Therefore some 500 million pounds of turkey will be cooked. The amount of gas and electricity needed to roast these birds is not that enormous. If one assumes that the birds take four hours to roast and that the oven uses about .4 kilowatt hours for each hour of cooking, the sum total of energy used in roasting turkeys is 48 million kilowatt hours. The Hoover Dam can produce 48 million kilowatt hours each day so we use one day’s of electric generation of the Hoover Dam to make the majority of citizens in the country very content once a year.

All this talk of fowl makes me sad. Last year around Thanksgiving we had to put our dog Jason down. Jason was thirteen and a half years old and had a wonderful life. He was allergic to many foods and the vets at Alto Tiburon gave us the recommendation of a special diet when Jason was a small pup. His diet consisted of roasted chicken, rice, and fat free cottage cheese. Jason consumed one and a half chickens a week or about seventy five chickens a year. Therefore Jason accounted for the demise of some one thousand chickens during the course of his remarkable life. Only Colonel Saunders did in more of these fine feathered fowl. Jason loved all and was perhaps the easiest going dog on the peninsular. This thanksgiving we are going to miss Jason as he was always happy to substitute turkey for chicken and Thanksgiving was his favorite holiday except for perhaps the Jewish New year when he was given a special treat of chopped chicken liver. An Iranian friend of ours coined the name “shikamoo” for Jason. This Persian word can roughly be translated as glutton. Jason was no glutton for punishment. He was a wonderful dog that my daughter chose for the family many years ago. We should all give thanks for the Jason’s of this world. Maybe there is tryptophan in the afterlife?

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