I have been studying nutrition since I was
13 years old. Growing up on a rich Austrian-Bavarian diet
with lots of homemade cakes and pastries, I simply had to.
So I have seen many fad diets come and go. For a while low
fat diets such as the Pritikin Diet were popular. In Ayurveda
fat is “sneha” which is a synonym for “love”.
So there were a lot of love-deprived people running around!
Today we know that (healthy) fats are an essential part of
the diet, and low fat diets can actually increase the risk
During the current low-carb/pro-protein
diet craze, carbohydrates including grains and starchy vegetables
have been demonized -- accused of causing weight gain, sugar
cravings, diabetes, and blamed as the reason people can't
People do lose weight on high-protein, low-carbohydrate
diets, though the weight loss is due to water loss and reduced
calories, not to lower insulin levels as advocates claim.
First, the weight loss is difficult to maintain over the long
term. Second, there is some evidence that these diets may
increase the risk of coronary heart disease and kidney damage
and since a high protein diet is often recommended for people
with diabetes, who are already at high risk for heart or kidney
problems, it might aggravate their condition in the long run.
And a diet high in animal protein can increase the risk for
inflammation in the body and certain cancers.
Scientists have found that when you stop
eating carbohydrates, your brain stops regulating serotonin,
a chemical that elevates mood and suppresses appetite. And
only carbohydrate consumption naturally stimulates production
Serotonin is essential not only to control
your appetite and stop you from overeating; it's essential
to keep your moods regulated.
Antidepressants are intended to activate
serotonin in the brain in order to regulate moods. Carbohydrates
raise serotonin levels naturally and act like a natural tranquilizer.
Scientists discovered that the brain makes
serotonin only after a person consumes carbohydrates. But
these carbohydrates must be eaten in combination with very
little or no protein!
So a meal like rice and vegetables or a
snack like a whole grain muffin will allow the brain to make
serotonin, but eating chicken and potatoes or snacking on
string cheese will actually prevent serotonin from being made.
Especially women have much less serotonin
in their brains than men, so a serotonin-depleting diet will
make women feel irritable and prone to over-eating.
Some people need to eat a certain amount
of carbohydrates to keep their moods steady. They experience
a change in their mood, usually in the late afternoon or mid-evening.
And with this mood change comes a yearning to eat something
sweet or starchy.
This is not a question of will power, the
brain is sending out signals to eat carbohydrates. If the
carbohydrate craver eats protein instead, he or she will become
grumpy, irritable or restless. Furthermore, filling up on
fatty foods like cheese makes you tired and lethargic. Not
to mention the dubious quality of fish, meat and most cheeses
these days. Will eating a lot of fat and protein, while staying
away from carbohydrates turn you into an emotional zombie?
I have been thinking about how this translates
into Ayurveda. I like to compare different health systems.
According to Ayurveda a high protein diet without grains will
create a doshic imbalance and increase Pitta. A Pitta
imbalance will manifest in irritablilty, grumpiness, impatience
and anger. I am not saying that protein isn’t important,
especially in the cold season. Dr. Mishra claims that we all
need some kind of animal protein in our diet, otherwise we
lose our self-confidence. An interesting thought! But we don’t
need a huge steak or protein with every meal, as the high
protein/low carb advocates claim. We need to include more
grains into our diet.
Grains in Ayurveda, have a grounding, nourishing
and calming effect, which corresponds to the serotonin theory
Of course I am not talking about carbohydrates
in the form of sugar, white flour or fruit juices. I am talking
about complex carbohydrates in the form of grains such as
rye, millet, quinoa and amaranth. And of course also starchy
vegetables like potatoes, beets, yams, parsnips etc.. Basmati
rice is consumed a lot in Ayurvedic cooking, and the reason
behind it is that it is easy on the digestion, so even though
the outer hull of the grain is removed, the body is able to
pull out more nutrients because it does not have to work as
I have traveled the world and in most cultures
whole grains and vegetables are consumed in great amounts
with only a little bit of meat or fish. Just think of the
Asian diet or the Mediterranean diet. And you don’t
see any obese people there. America is the country with the
highest cost of health care and yet the worst health compared
to other countries due to the rise in the so-called civilization
diseases. I believe the high protein/ low carb craze is just
a fad that will soon be replaced by yet another one. So go
ahead you protein fanatics and have your mid-afternoon string
cheese snack, or beef jerky, I for my part, will jumpstart
my serotonin levels with a homemade oatmeal cookie and a nice
cup of chai!!!
Ward, L.Ac. is cofounder of The Prana Center,
Santa Barbara's exclusive healing center for Ayurveda
and Chinese Medicine,
offering authentic Ayurvedic bodywork, marma therapy, consultations,
nutrition, acupuncture and Pancha Karma cleanses. She is a
Licensed Acupuncturist, Diplomate
of Acupuncture, Diplomate of Chinese Herbology and an Ayurvedic