Nutritionists Debate `Hot Potato'

Published online: Oct 19, 1999
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Nutritionists attending the American Dietetic Association's annual meeting in Atlanta, GA, this week are including the potato in its list of carbohydrate-rich foods that are being unfairly slighted by the high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet fad.

The high-protein, low-carbo diet is a nightmare, Kathleen Zelman, a registered dietitian and ADA spokeswoman, stated.

Dr. Judith Wurtman, a leading carbohydrate researcher at MIT, says people who avoid sugars and starches have "serotonin hunger" that makes them depressed and likely to binge.

Wurtman explained that potatoes are "comfort food." Some researchers say that such high-carbohydrate foods soothe the brain by raising levels of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin.

A San Francisco nutritionist Kathleen DesMaisons even titled her recent book "Potatoes Not Prozac." The idea is that for millions of "sugar-sensitive" people, carbos like potatoes are antidepressants. She recommends a plain baked potato at bedtime to lift your mood and aid your sleep. She insists such complex carbohydrates can help fight overeating and addictions, including alcoholism.

French researchers recently declared potatoes a "diet food" because they make you feel full. A "satiety index" by Australian researchers put potatoes at the very top of the list, twice as satisfying as the next food, whole-wheat bread, and three times as satisfying as ice cream.

The bottomline: According to Jean Carper writing the Food column for USA Weekend Online, potatoes-are for most people-part of a good low-fat, high-fiber diet. However, if you are diabetic or prediabetic, have a family history of diabetes, or gain excessive weight from eating carbohydrates, it makes sense to restrict potatoes in a diet.