Do carbs make you happy or heavy?

Gave up carbs ; now feeling cranky?

Most nutritionists, doctors and food companies come up with their own diet making one nutrient popular and another nutrient the villain. Being desperate to lose weight, we try all possible fads and diets just to realise it doesn’t work in the long term.

We shunned good fats like coconut, ghee , butter for a few decades, and embraced fat-free foods and refined oils. This resulted in a generation of people with issues like Vitamin D deficiency, cardiovascular diseases, Diabetes, PCOS, Thyroid and many other chronic lifestyle diseases.

Now we know that good fats like coconut, ghee, butter, avocado etc are extremely important for health and doctors are recommending it too.

The current fad is shunning carbs. Will we become a generation that is cranky , depressed and devoid of peace?

No unprocessed food that we term as ‘Carbs’ are made up of only carbohydrates or starch. They also contain some amount of amino acids/protein. Carb sources also contain the amino acid Tryptophan which helps in the production of neurotransmitter Serotonin.

Serotonin is the hormone that regulates our appetite, mood, anxiety, happiness, mental well-being , sexual desire and sleep. Tryptophan is the amino acid that is a precursor to the feel-good hormone serotonin.

Most protein sources also have tryptophan though only when there is release  of insulin can this amino acid reach our brain. Wholesome carbs and nuts like cashews are the easiest way to get tryptophan and make serotonin.

In other words, Serotonin is the reason why we feel nice after a bowl of yogurt rice/pongal/pulao/idly or khichdi and in some worst cases a piece of cake or pastry.

Any South Indian who has tried losing weight or controlling blood sugar levels, would have tried giving up rice totally or switched to brown rice, only to realise that they are attached to rice more than they realised.

Most women who have PMS also have refined carb sources to make them feel good before and during their periods. Blame serotonin , as your brain knows the quickest way to feel good is to load with refined carbs. However, the serotonin secreted quickly this way  goes down quickly too.

Are carbohydrates bad?

Yes, if they are from ultra processed refined sources like bread, bagels, breakfast cereal,  burgers( even if its plant based ), noodles, pizza, biscuits , cookies, chips, soft drinks, bottles juices and fruit bars.

No, if they are from wholesome sources like wheat, rice , millets, fruits ,  yams, tubers,  and other vegetables.

What makes the wholesome carb sources different?

The wholesome carb sources contain resistant starch.  These resistant starches are fermented in our large intestine by gut bacteria and produce Short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) like butyric acid. Short chain fatty acids are also known to boost intestinal and brain health.  By the way, butyric acid is one of the main ingredients in keto foods and fat burners.

Resistant starch in diets are known to reduce risk of Irritable bowel syndrome, cardiovascular diseases, colon cancer, lower triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and improve insulin sensitivity.

There are populations that live in the blue zones of the world, who have some of the longest lifespan on earth like Okinawans(Japan) whose diets are made up to 80%  by  rice  and tubers.

Prebiotocs/Resistant starch , Probiotics and Vitamin B12

Prebiotics, also known as resistant starch are the favourite food for our gut bacteria – probiotics.

Probiotics is the latest in the nutraceutical industry . Its marketed now in supplements, bottled juices, breakfast cereals, flavoured yogurts, fruits bars and the list goes on.

Good bacteria can survive in our intestine only if we feed them with their favourite food Resistant starch/prebiotics.  The wholesome carbs mentioned earlier are rich sources of prebiotics and they support varying species of probiotic bacteria.  

Prebiotics, probiotics and Vit b12

Probiotics are the good bacteria that our body needs to keep us healthy and help us produce vitamin B12.

Poor memory, dementia, depression, and neurological symptoms like numbness and tingling sensations can be symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency.

How to improve Vitamin B12 levels in body?

If you have heard or read that you might be deficient in Vit B12 if you are a vegetarian, its not true. Most meat eaters are also equally deficient or even worse in B12 levels.  B12 can be produced in your own body by your gut bacteria if you have a healthy digestive system. What is needed to improve B12 is different species of gut bacteria and food to support them – Wholesome carb sources.

In other words, just by gobbling juices/drinks/supplements of probiotics, we cannot improve gut health or B12 levels in a long term.

If a food can make us happy, calm and feel nice along with improve the health of our gut and brain , assist in burning fat in addiion to optimizing other health parameters, how can it ever be called as a villain? Above all, why should we  avoid it?

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The Wonderberry – Manathakkali


Did you know that Manathakkali has the phytochemical resveratrol , to which the health benefits of ‘Red Wine’ and ‘Dark Chocolate’ are attributed to?

In an era prior to video games and 24×7 TV,  one of the main pastime for children were to search for the ripe purple fruits of Solanum Nigrum/Solanum Americanum- manathakkali (aka kaagesoppu/kamanchi chettu/makoi/black nightshade  in other languages) and eat it.

It has amazing medicinal and nutritional values, which was known to and valued by our ancestors. Most things that are easily available wont be valued, and the same goes with manathakkali too.  Instead of consuming this whenever available, we have started buying varieties of exotic berries  sprayed with pesticides , imported from the world over.

This Wonder berry has anthocyanins and is a powerhouse of antioxidants and has anti cancer properties. It is also rich in Vitamin A, which will help improve eyesight and night blindness. It is used in traditional medicine to heal peptic and mouth ulcers,  improve gut health and digestion.

The ripe berries are either consumed directly or can be processed naturally at home. The ripe and unripe berries are mixed in spiced/yogurt/buttermilk and dried thoroughly in sun(to increase Vitamin D ). This mixture can then be stored and fried whenever required in oil/ghee.  This snack is generally given to expecting/ new/nursing mothers. The probiotics in the mixture, the Sun exposure and essential fat(Short Chain Fatty Acids) from frying in Ghee, put together ensures that this is a perfect recovery food for new mothers. It helps heal their internal wounds, strengthens their bones and improves their lactation and digestion.

The leaves of this plant are edible and are highly nutritious. They have high amounts of Vitamin K which is the miracle solution for the Vitamin D deficiency and low bone density. Instead of buying  Vitamin D and Calcium supplements to rectify your deficiency, include these leaves in your diet in any form that will suit your palette.

It’s time to move over the blue/black/goji/acai berries and find the wonder berry in your market or your backyard. Just because the spinach lady near your house doesn’t sell this with tags such as ‘heart-healthy’, ‘antioxidant-rich’, ‘organic’, ‘anti-aging’, ‘anti-cancer’ doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have all these properties. In fact it has all of this and one more, ‘ fresh’, as it grows close to you and not in a place you have seen/heard of only in a map.

Have you plucked this berry in your childhood? When was the last time you ate this? Pour in your thoughts via comments

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