Born and brought up in North India, I didn’t have much curd rice growing up, and it was not until my early twenties, that I had curd rice for the first time in my life! Not only that, I had to travel to the other side of the world to discover this yummy food. Once I started living in USA, most of my friends were from South India and they introduced me to this wonderful dish. It was indeed love at “first taste”, and I joined the community of lakhs of people around the world (mostly South Indians living globally) who have to have this dish at least once a day to feel that their day is complete.
Having curd rice gives you such a sense of satisfaction, and contentment. It also makes one feel restful and sometimes sleepy too, especially if eaten in excess. Let’s examine today why this dish is so sought after and gives us this immense feeling of satiation, contentment and happiness.
The first ingredient in this process of creating a sense of satisfaction is Tryptophan, an essential amino acid present in curd. It is an essential amino acid meaning that it can’t be made by the body and must be taken through our diet.
What is Tryptophan?
Tryptophan is the building block of a chemical called Serotonin. Serotonin has a wide variety of functions in the body, from playing a role in learning and memory to digestion. Serotonin is also a neuro-chemical and a natural mood regulator, which makes us feel happy, emotionally stable, less anxious, more tranquil and even more focused and energetic. Low levels of Serotonin are also linked to mood disorders like Depression.
Serotonin is also a precursor for Melatonin, the sleep inducing chemical which is necessary to induce sleepiness. That is why sometimes we feel sleepy after eating a lot of curd rice.
Serotonin can not cross the bloodbrain barrier, so for it to make us happy, it has to be produced in the brain. Here is where the rice comes in. Many foods contain tryptophan, but what makes the brain take up tryptophan to create serotonin is the carbs! That is why just eating foods rich in tryptophan might not create the same satisfaction and happiness.
The best way to reap the benefits of tryptophan is to combine complex carbohydrates with it. Extensive studies at MIT carried out by Richard Wurtman, M.D., showed that tryptophan, the building block of serotonin, could get into the brain only after sweet or starchy carbohydrates were eaten. The carb rich foods create production of insulin in the body that clears the competing amino acids from the blood stream so that brain can take up tryptophan. In absence of insulin the brain prefers the competing amino acids, so eating Tryptohan rich foods without the carbs doesn’t have the same impact that curd rice has. This is one of the reason when we are sad or upset we reach out for carb heavy foods, so that our brain can take up tryptophan and create serotonin.
So its the combination of Tryptohan containing curd and the carbs in the rice that creates the bliss we experience after eating curd rice! Let’s be happy that our ancestors knew these simple ways of creating daily happiness and reach for that pot of curd rice.