Sunday, 29 June 2014

What is the Potato Hack and should I try it?


Boiled potatoes, with Himalayan salt and cracked pepper

A couple of weeks ago, when I mentioned at #paleohour that I really needed to shed some fat, it was suggested I try the Potato Hack! What is the Potato Hack I asked? When you just eat potatoes and nothing else, came the reply? Really? Isn't that insane?

A couple of days later though, when two hours after a light lunch I was starving, I thought I would check it out. After all, I love potatoes, and they do fill you up.

So I began to try and find out what the potato hack was all about. I wanted to know if there was any science anywhere saying whether this might be a good or bad idea. After all, I thought potatoes were supposed to be 'bad'.

Potatoes are still part of my diet on a regular basis, even after adopting (my version of) a Paleo diet. There are a couple of reasons for that, one being that I really like them and 2, being that it does make it easier to eat out now and again. Allowing myself potatoes helps me resist the temptation for wheat products, which is the most important thing for me, and rice just gives me the worst belly ache.

It was quite hard to find information, hence the reason for writing this post. A google search leads to several forums on Marks Daily Apple, though Mark doesn't seem to mention it himself. Still people are liking it and recording great fat losses of 1/2lb to 1lb a day so I decided to look further.

There is plenty of evidence that eating just potatoes helps you to burn fat. Forums are full of people with stats, and there is this case of a guy who ate only potatoes for 60 days.  He works for the Washington state potato commission so the results could be biased, but I do like the fact that they are so open about that in the first line. Though they record weightloss no necessarily fat loss, the results are surprising!

Overall Results (After 60 Days)
Weight: -21 lbs (-11%)
BMI : -3 pt
Cholesterol:-67 pts (-31%)
Triglycerides: -60 pts (-44%)
HDL: +3 pt
LDL: -58 pts (-41%)
Glucose: -10 pts (-9%)
Chol/HDL ratio:-1.75 pts (-37%)
LDL/HDL ratio: -1.40 pts (-44%)

No one else is suggesting doing 60 days though. The general consensus is that it's a hack, for a limited time, but that it can give your fat loss a boost, or a kick start. Common sense tells us that it simply can't be healthy to eat only potatoes long term. But for a few days maybe it's worth a try. 

I read lots that said the theory behind the fat loss it is due to the fact that white potatoes cause a massive insulin spike and that your body needs fat to make insulin, so providing you don't eat any fat with your potatoes, you body uses your fat reserves to do this. Not being one to accept this without scientific evidence, I did a google search. I have to say I didn't find much. Most websites are saying what most of us believe, that insulin makes you fat rather than burning it! Also the more you read into the forums the more you read that the science just doesn't stack up! Though there is no doubt that this seems to work for losing fat, I didn't really find any satisfactory evidenced based research on the mechanism of how (other than the fact that you consume less calories than would normally as it's really hard to eat 2000 calories worth of potatoes in a day- that would be 2.3 kilos or 5lbs).

I did however find a great podcast at Fat Burning Man that says it's not as simple as insulin makes you fat, and that sometimes it makes you burn fat. It's definitely worth a view if you have time, but in summary it says it depends on when you eat your carbs. Most people eat foods throughout the day that cause insulin release. Insulin in the system does inhibit fat burning so most of us are inhibiting fat loss all day. However, Kiefer suggests that if you hold off on the carbs all day, and then eat them at night (they are calling this carb backloading if you want to research it further) so you have an insulin spike rather than constant insulin, and then you can burn fat. They suggest that you eat fat in the morning and carbs at night. The opposite of the no carbs after lunch theory, but it appears to be working. Also, eating the carbs is good for the muscles as it replenishes them with glycogen so that they can work harder tomorrow. The podcast is aimed at people that exercise a whole lot more than I am doing right now, but there is evidence it works for non athletes too. 

I also found information about resistant starch. Something potatoes have a significant amount of, particularly if you eat them cold (resistant starch in potatoes is reduced by heating and cooking but increases again when they are cooled). Resistant starch is undoubtedly a good thing according to it's Wikipedia entry, and when you look at the list of foods containing it, and you consider the fact that green bananas are not appetising and I don't eat grains or legumes, here is a case for me to eat potatoes (and green peas)! 

So, I did try it. I managed a couple of days of eating exclusively potatoes. Almost. I do like potatoes, but I like other food too. I also worry about nutrients, though apparently potatoes do have a really good nutrient profile which is why they were chosen over foods like rice for this hack. Never the less, I like a good balance, and get twitchy if there's nothing green on my plate. 

So, I don't think I will be doing days on end of just potatoes, but a day or two could be good. Better still a low carb fasting day followed by a satisfying bowl of potatoes at night sounds really appealing, and could just work well for me, practically, financially and health wise. 

I am happy I did this research too. I will no longer feel guilty about eating potatoes, or about having a simple dinner of just steamed veggies sometimes!