As most of you know, there are numerous weight-loss plans out there, and most of them have been shown to be ineffective. But, what if you could eat Twinkies and other items usually considered to be “junk” foods and lose weight and improve overall health? That’s a diet plan that many could stick to. Sounds great, huh? That’s exactly what a Kansas State University Professor did recently (Professor Haub’s Diet Experiments) as a proof-of-concept exercise that suggests that cutting calories is all that matters for healthy weight loss. This is certainly open for debate, but let’s take a closer look at the so-called Twinkie diet and the results of his own personal experimentation.
Professor Haub reduced his calorie intake by 800 kcals per day (from 2600 to 1800) and consumed 60% of calories from junk food (i.e. convenience store foods such as Twinkies, Little Debbies and other snack cakes). He also consumed a protein shake, a multivitamin, a can of green beans and four stalks of celery daily. During his 2 month experiments, he avoided meat, whole-grains and fruits. He also maintained his moderate-intensity exercise regime throughout the experimentation period. What were the results of this quite interesting experiment? You might be surprised! He lost 27 pounds and reduced his BMI from almost 29 to about 25. His percent body fat dropped from 33.4 to 24.9 and his ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) decreased by 20% while his ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL) increased by 20% (The Twinkie Diet: Caution, Toxic).
Most nutrition experts and clinicians would agree that these short-term change in physiologic parameters are positive, but let’s take a critical look at this approach to weight loss and some claims made by Dr. Haub.
1) Calorie reduction is required for weight loss. What foods you consume in the short-term during this calorie reduction phase are not critical. What matters is what happens when you later achieve energy balance after weight loss is completed. Could you maintain health then with a focus on junk foods?
2) Temporary changes in biomarkers should be interpreted with caution. What matters is whether these changes are stainable for longer periods of time. Changes that he noted in blood cholesterol levels would be protective against heart disease, but only if maintained for a period of months or years.
3) Vitamins and shakes should not be substituted for real, healthy foods. Most nutrition scientists would agree with this contention. Healthy whole foods have health promoting properties that supplements and shakes cannot match.
4) These foods that he consumed are nutrition train wrecks, which almost certainly cause harm over the long term. Incredibly, Twinkies contain 39 ingredients, many of them unpronounceable and of questionable relevance to human nutrition.
The bottom line is that for weight loss, calories should be reduced while still maintaining nutritional balance. This cannot be achieved when the focus is on convenience store “Franken foods”. The basic nutritional guidelines should be followed, while simultaneously increasing energy expenditure. If Dr. Haub had maintained his junk food habit over a long period of time, he would almost certainly compromise his health. What will be your approach? Twinkies and Little Debbies, or natural whole foods with proven health-promoting properties. You know that’s best, after all its common sense!
Most people enjoy cooking outdoors on the grill during the warm summer months. This activity appeals to the prototypical human omnivore as well as to others with more restrictive dietary approaches. Many foods are great grilled, from steak to poultry to fish and veggies. Have you ever considered how grilling foods may alter the nutrient content of the cooked foods? How about when certain foods become black and charred from direct contact with open flames or high temperatures? How does this affect the health benefits of foods we typically cook on the grill? Great questions! Let’s take a closer look at these issues.
Many years ago, scientists discovered that meats (in particular red meat and chicken) cooked at very high temperature over open flames formed heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and aromatic hydrocarbons. It turns out that these chemical compounds have toxic and potential mutagenic effects when consumed by humans. Animal studies also confirmed that both compounds are carcinogenic (i.e. cancer-causing). Moreover, observational studies have linked higher intake of these compounds with increased incidence of colorectal cancer in humans. Sounds quite scary, especially for those home grill masters. The good news, however, is that you can take precautionary steps to decrease the production of these compounds and still enjoy grilled foods.
Here are some tips to make grilled meats healthier (and some alternatives to grilling).
1) Grill vegetables or seafood. These foods typically produce much less of these toxic compounds.
2) Marinate meats prior to grilling. What you use to marinate the meat and how long seem to not matter.
3) Microwave food before cooking and pour off the juices. 1-2 minutes in the microwave significantly reduces HCA levels.
4) Flip foods frequently. Doing so every 1-2 minutes keeps the surface temperature lower and reduces the production of HCAs.
5) Keep grilled foods moist. Drier and more well done foods produce more HCAs and other toxic compounds. This may explain why grilled hot dogs and sausages form less HCAs, since they are encased with an outer layer which prevents the meat from drying out during cooking.
6) Don’t eat the drippings from grilled meat and poultry, as HCAs and other toxic compounds may be more concentrated here that in the meat itself.
7) Consider alternative cooking methods. The cooking methods that produce the most to least HCAs: grilling and barbecuing (most), broiling and pan-frying (still on the higher side), baking, roasting and stir-frying (less) and boiling, steaming, poaching or stewing, and microwaving (least).
The Bottom Line: Enjoyed grilled foods, but keeping these guidelines in mind will lead to a healthier experience that can be just as tasty as the old “burn it to a crisp” method.