Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
February 21, 2024

Thanksgiving: Bring on the turkeys

By Alice Hung | November 15, 2012

With Thanksgiving just lurking around the corner, many of us are probably in the midst of planning the dinner menu for the big night. Regardless of the side dishes, a roasted stuffed turkey is always the highlight at the table. In honor of this unfortunate species, this is a good time to point out some turkey facts and misconceptions.

1.Sleepiness: Blame the turkey?

Turkeys contain relatively high levels of tryptophan, which is an essential amino acid part of our diet. Tryptophan triggers the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, which is further metabolized into melatonin. Melatonin is a key hormone regulating sleep. As a result, people often point to turkeys as the culprit for post-dinner coma.

However, the primary reason causing drowsiness after Thanksgiving dinners is actually not turkeys per se. What is it then, that induces sleep? The answer resides in the large amount of carbohydrates we consume as part of the dinner – the cornbread, potatoes, and pie. All of these complex sugars trigger the release of insulin, which indirectly causes sleepiness.

So before pointing your finger at the turkey, take a moment to consider the many slices of pie on your plate!

2. Turkey meat: red or white?

Ever wonder why certain areas of turkeys are red meat, while others white? The answer depends on the amount of exercise your turkey engaged in while it was alive.

Turkey meat, as with all meat, is muscle. All muscles require adequate blood supply to provide sufficient oxygen. Oxygen molecules bind to myoglobin molecules in the muscle and are stored for future use. Therefore, the more frequently a muscle is used for cardiovascular activity, like running, the more myoglobin it will have.

Myoglobin gives muscles the familiar dark color that we attribute to red meat. Its redness is analogous to the color of hemoglobin that make up our red blood cells.

Therefore, if an animal exercises its muscles a lot, it will have a lot of red meat. Unfortunately, because domesticated turkeys are so fat, they are unable to use their breast muscles to fly. As a result, turkey breast is considered white meat.

3. Fact or myth: flying turkeys?

Contrary to common conception, turkeys can fly! Domestic turkeys don’t because they’re too fat to lift themselves. Wild turkeys, while they have the ability, rarely do because they feed off the ground. As a result, most people think turkeys can’t fly. In actuality, turkeys can fly up to 55mph for short bursts!


Happy Thanksgiving!

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