meme Log

May 28, 2012

Potatoes not Prozac (2.0)

Filed under: Books — Lynn Fikstad @ 16:36

By Kathleen DesMaisons

I knew this would be an odd book, written primarily to benefit the author by selling a book, but the title sounded interesting. Knowing that potatoes and other carbs have been claimed to function like exorphins, I wasn’t too surprised that someone had written a book to cash in on the tentative research in this area. DesMaisons makes some outlandish claims throughout the book, including the title, especially considering the lack of support for her claims in the narrative. The most extensive description of research concerned sugar addition in rats (not very convincing). She does have a ton of references at the end of the book, and they might be worth exploring.

People do get addicted to carbs, but this book is mostly about being addicted to one kind of carb, sugar. In fact, other carbs (which have shown to have similar effects) are used to stop the sugar craving of the “sugar sensitive”. The high glycemic load, high glycemic index potato is the magic DesMaisons uses to break the sugar addiction. Considering much of the research on food addiction includes the opioid effects of carbs (even whole grain carbs), using a nightly potato feast is an unusual method to break a sugar addiction, unless you want to just substitute another addictive food (a potato) for sugar. In fact, there are many more people addicted to carbs than sugar. You won’t hear too many people saying sugar would be the last food they would be willing to forgo. In all likelihood people will tell you they could never give up their grains or starches (pasta, bread, potatoes, etc). The one sugar based product people may be unwilling to give up is chocolate (and they probably shouldn’t).

She claims eating sugar increases serotonin in the sugar sensitive individual. It also increases their beta endorphins. The down regulation and up regulation of the neurotransmitter receptors make the process quite involved and it seems almost impossible to control, especially when blood sugar is also fluctuating and affecting emotional states. But she has miraculously discovered the cure in a potato with the skin. The skin is needed to slow down the insulin response, which it barely does. Think of a potato as an oval clump of sugar covered in a somewhat vitamin enriched skin. That’s a better description than a healthy alternative to sugar.

She prescribes a seven step plan, which really comes down to: don’t eat sugar, include protein in every meal, and eat a plain potato with the skin every night. This will rebalance your serotonin, your beta endorphins, your blood sugar, and even your dopamine.

The potato magic will only work if you don’t eat any protein with it since protein slows down the effect (likely decreasing the insulin response). Obviously any fat would too, so you probably can’t butter it either. That is definitely unappealing and probably helps with the placebo effect undoubtedly experienced from the stringent diet. The mechanism for potato effectiveness is a little convoluted. You must eat the potato at night; probably to prevent interference from other foods. You eat the potato, not for tryptophan (about 20mg of tryptophan), but to help the proteins you’ve eaten throughout the day move out of the way so the tryptophan to can easily get past the blood brain barrier. Tryptophan does better when it doesn’t have to compete with other amino acids. Since the increases insulin at just the right amount, the insulin will make use of the non-tryptophan amino acids which compete with the tryptophan. Once in the brain, tryptophan will create just the right amount of serotonin so you won’t need your daily Prozac. No research backs this up other than the anecdotal claims of her followers.

The only chapter that was interesting was the brain chemistry chapter. This chapter was well done, but the rest of the book was quite silly because of its unbounded speculation.

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