Why do you get sleepy after you eat? This is a familiar scenario for everyone. You eat, and you can’t believe how much you ate, and the next thing you want to do is have a nap or at least have an unproductive afternoon where you are not going to do anything or as little as possible. After all you don’t feel like doing anything and you have to force yourself to work for the first half an hour or more. This phenomenon is known as a food coma in everyday language or carb coma. Scientists call this postprandial somnolence, where postprandial means after a meal and somnolence means drowsiness. Why does this happen?
To understand this phenomenon, we need to understand our digestive system and how it works. It all comes down to hormones and what they trigger when we eat a specific food. When you are chewing, your stomach automatically produces the gastrin hormone which triggers the production of juices that break down your food. Once broken down, food moves into the small intestine and your gut releases enterogastrone, the blood-flow regulating hormone. During this process, your pancreas releases another hormone called insulin that can help your stomach absorb glucose from the carbohydrates in the meal. Also, insulin will send different amino acids straight to your brain which includes tryptophan, the infamous sleepy chemical. It all comes down to tryptophan and whether this hormone is released to your brain or not.
You probably noticed that the food coma doesn’t happen after each meal you have. It usually happens when you eat indulgent food and when you eat a lot of it. There are a few reasons why this happens only when eating tasty food. If a meal is high in carbohydrates it can trigger a large increase in insulin which is responsible for creating more tryptophan that enters your brain. When that happens, usually the tryptophan will turn into serotonin which is a feel-good hormone and melatonin which can make you feel drowsy. Glucose from the carbs can block brain cells which are called orexin neurons and they are responsible for making you alert and awake.
High-protein meals don’t have a sleepy effect since proteins can lead to the release of stimulating acids that keep you awake.
Food comas can’t be avoided completely. Nobody really wants to watch their diet during the holiday season. However, if you want to avoid a food coma as much as possible start with watching your portions and eating slowly so your hormones have some time to balance out. It’s also important to eat balanced meals, some without too much fat and starch and more vitamins and veggies.
If you really want to stay alert during the holiday season and avoid food comas, here are a few food choices that you should make. The first one is oatmeal even though it contains carbs it has the benefit of slow-burning and it will keep you awake and alert for the whole morning. Another great breakfast choice to avoid a food coma is eggs. They are full of proteins but they can give you a great jumpstart in the morning. However, to stay awake try avoiding bacon with eggs. Another good food choice is beans. Beans make the perfect lunch before going for a family dinner, as only one cup of beans is packed with enough proteins to leave you feeling satisfied and full. Furthermore, beans will stabilize the level of sugar in your body and keep you on a steady pace for the whole day.
Almonds are a perfect snack to prevent a food coma since they are rich in Vitamin B and full of magnesium. Almonds can help your metabolism, especially after your exercise. So here you have the perfect breakfast, lunch and snack recipe ideas before going to a family dinner so you won’t fall into a food coma if you eat accordingly during the day. Enjoy and happy holidays.