Twinkies, Weight Loss and Healthy Living: Is There A Connection?

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!

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