by Judith Wurtman, PhD, and Nina Frusztajer, MD
Timothy L. McCoy, Pharm.D. Candidate, Florida A&M University College of Pharmacy
How would you like to lose 2lbs per week by eating the carbohydrates you love? I know you may be thinking that it is impossible, especially since you probably have heard on more than one occasion that carbohydrates increase your weight. Well it’s true, and it is called The Serotonin Power Diet.
This diet was developed by Judith Wurtman, PhD, and Nina Frusztajer, MD, as a way to help individuals lose weight without feeling agitated or craving unhealthy foods. The diet targets and solves issues such as emotional overeating, medication-associated weight gain, and post-low-carb diet bingeing. It solves the issues by increasing the production of a brain chemical called serotonin which controls your appetite and emotional well-being.
Serotonin is produced when tryptophan, an amino acid, crosses a barrier between the brain and blood. Once the amino acid has crossed the barrier, it is converted to serotonin. Adequate levels of serotonin control your appetite so you will not overeat and it also helps you to better cope with the stresses of life, which can minimize overeating and thus weight gain. Carbohydrates increase the transport of tryptophan across the barrier between the blood and brain, thus increasing serotonin production. This finding was concluded after research by Wurtman and Frusztajer. Therefore, the basis of the serotonin power diet is to snack on carbohydrates daily to control appetite, reduce cravings, and prevent emotional overeating.
The amount and timing of each carbohydrate snack is determined by the phase of the diet you are presently in. There are three phases of the diet; serotonin surge (phase one), serotonin balance (phase two), and serotonin control (phase three).
During phase one, individuals should consume three carb snacks per day; two carb snacks daily during phase two; and one carb snack daily during phase three. Participants are instructed to consume 25-35 grams of carbohydrates per snack during phase one and two. It is recommended that individuals consume 20-25 grams of carbohydrates per snack during phase three. To make it easier the authors list several carb snacks in the book which contain the recommended amount to increase serotonin levels.
What’s more is that the authors of this diet prepare participants for the unexpected. If an individual begins to experience carbohydrate cravings or become stressed, he or she is instructed to return to a lower phase of the diet where they may consume more carb snacks per day in an attempt to avoid carbohydrate bingeing. The diet consists of fast and simple recipes, accommodating enough for the busiest person’s schedule. Individuals are educated on the importance of portion-control, low-fat foods, and exercise to assist with their weight reduction. Though the diet was designed specifically for individuals who gained weight due to emotional overeating, medications, and carbohydrate cravings, it is a realistic program for many individuals wanting to lose weight without one of these issues.
I would not recommend this diet for patients diagnosed with diabetes. My reason is that most individuals diagnosed with diabetes are not skilled at counting carbohydrates and do not know how to read a nutritional label. The two most important items on a nutritional label as it relates to diabetes are serving size and carbohydrates. Currently, I am on my ambulatory care rotation with an emphasis on diabetes. I meet with diabetic patients at a physician office once a week and I know personally the lack of understanding they have regarding diabetes. I have met patients that have been diagnosed for over ten years who have difficulty counting carbs, determining which foods are high in carbs, and reading a nutritional label.
Yes, the authors of the diet provide a list of foods they recommend to snack on. However, an individual who does not know how to read a nutritional label may easily assume the entire package contains only 25 grams of carbohydrates when the 25 grams is actually one serving size. Additionally, depending on which phase of the diet a person is in, he or she will be consuming three carbohydrate snacks per day in addition to eating carbohydrates at breakfast and dinner. This could lead to a dramatic increase in blood glucose levels in individuals who have yet to master carb counting and nutritional label reading or in individuals that are not compliant with their medications. For diabetes patients that have mastered carb counting and nutritional label reading, increased physical activity and reduced portion sizes should allow for weight reduction.
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