Turkey Day Musings From a Psychiatrist

Thanksgiving: a time of year to celebrate the harvest and, according to some historians, to celebrate the “cooperative interaction” between colonists and Native Americans. The origins of Thanksgiving go way back, to at least the 17th century. It is a time of year to get together with family and friends and focus on eating, watching football and movies and relaxing. Most people get a four day weekend as well. What a great holiday.

The US Census Bureau has come up with some interesting facts in regards to Thanksgiving. It is estimated that 271 million turkeys will be raised in the United States in 2008. The cumulative weight of them is 7.9 billion pounds, valued at $3.7 billion. The state that tops the union in number of turkeys raised is Minnesota at 49 million. How did Minnesota become the turkey raising capitol of the United States?    I’m not sure; maybe turkeys prefer it there for the diverse culture in the twin cities or for the amazing hockey. Either way, I am not surprised Minnesotans chose to call their state the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” versus “The Turkey State”.    It is also known as “The Gopher State”, so go figure.

Anyway, there are a total of three places in the entire United States named “Turkey”. These three lucky places are in Texas, Louisiana and North Carolina. The cumulative population of these three hot­spots is 1,098 people with Turkey, Texas being the most populous at a whopping 465. Why wouldn’t more people want to call “Turkey” home?

At an average of about $1 dollar per pound frozen, turkey is an excellent bargain at the grocery store. Interestingly, it is much cheaper than chicken and beef, but far behind them in terms of what Americans choose for the meat that they eat. Turkey even falls behind pork in this category. Actually, most of us don’t really eat turkey unless it is the holidays. Approximately half of all turkeys consumed in the US are consumed during the holidays, approximately 46 million during Thanksgiving and 22 million during Christmas.

We should eat more turkey. Besides being cheaper, it tends to be low in fat and high in protein. It is good for you. It is a source of iron and zinc as well as selenium, potassium and B vitamins.    Selenium is considered to be an antioxidant that may help prevent prostate cancer. Zinc is important in cell function and immunity.

While on the subject of nutrition, there is also, of course, tryptophan. Tryptophan is indeed in turkey. It is an essential amino acid which means the body needs it, but cannot produce it by itself. It is important in the synthesis of serotonin, which is good for mood and anxiety and can help with sleep. That is why people have taken tryptophan as a supplement. Actually, the tryptophan likely is not the culprit; you need to synthesize the serotonin first in order to get sleepy and tryptophan works best on an empty stomach. In a normal Thanksgiving meal, it competes with all of the other amino acids and food you have just filled up with, so you probably do not get a big dose of it. My guess is that what makes a person sleepy is all of the sitting around and eating in general that is “accomplished” (not to mention the alcohol if you so choose to imbibe) on Thanksgiving.

There are an estimated 116 million households in the United States. That provides plenty of places to celebrate Thanksgiving. I hope that you have a place to go to be with friends and family and to reflect on the good things and blessings you have. That is what is most important in life. Have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.

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