Eggs & Tryptophan

Your body constantly breaks down and builds up nutrients into forms it can use. One example is tryptophan, an amino acid that your body needs to perform several essential functions. Tryptophan is found in a variety of foods including eggs. Knowing why you need tryptophan can help ensure you get enough in your daily diet.

A large bowl of eggs. (Image: PDQ1000/iStock/Getty Images)

Relaxing Effects

Tryptophan is an amino acid your body uses to produce the neurotransmitters known as melatonin and serotonin. These neurotransmitters are associated with slowing the "traffic" in your brain that makes you feel alert. By slowing down this traffic, you can feel more relaxed and sleepier. You may especially observe these effects at Thanksgiving when you feel sleepy after eating your turkey, as it contains tryptophan.

Niacin Conversion

Your body uses iron, riboflavin and vitamin B-6 to convert tryptophan into niacin. Also known as vitamin B-3, your body needs niacin to maintain normal functioning including aiding the digestive system, skin and nervous system. Niacin also helps convert the foods you eat into energy. If you do not have enough niacin in your body, you can experience digestive problems, impaired mental functioning or skin inflammation. By eating eggs, you can help ensure you have a normal niacin level.

Dietary Sources

Foods that contain protein tend to have tryptophan. In addition to eggs, cheese, chicken, eggs, fish, milk and nuts all have tryptophan. If you are a vegetarian, sources like peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, soybeans and tofu also contain tryptophan. Eggs have about 210 mg of tryptophan per 3.5 oz. serving. This is comparable to a similar serving size of red kidney beans, which have 215 mg per serving and peanuts, which have 340 mg per serving. Meats like chicken and beef tend to have 160 to 260 mg per 3.5 oz. serving, which is about the size of a deck of cards.

Uses

You can use the sleep-inducing or relaxing effects of tryptophan in eggs to your advantage. For example, if you are having trouble sleeping, trying having breakfast at night. Make an omelet and have it with a glass of milk. The calcium in milk helps your brain use tryptophan to make melatonin. Also, carbohydrates paired with tryptophan-containing foods can accelerate the effects of tryptophan. Having whole grain toast -- a complex carbohydrate -- with your omelet can help slow your brain even further, aiding in sleep.

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