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The Twinkie Diet: Caution -- Toxic

Do Not Attempt To Do This At Homeā€¦or Anywhere!

When Kansas State University nutrition researcher Mark Haub decided to prove a point to the students enrolled in his energy balance class, he probably didn’t realize he’d end up creating a global stir. Haub became a guinea pig to prove that in reducing body weight, the bottom line is to drop the number of calories consumed. Further, he argues, a calorie is a calorie and to drop weight, it doesn’t matter where it comes from. To make the case, Haub created a Junk Food Diet, consuming 60% junk food, augmented by a protein shake, multivitamin pills, a can of green beans or four stalks of celery each day. He avoided meat, whole grains and fruits.

Here’s a typical day from his Facebook journal:

September 10, 2010: A double espresso; two servings of Hostess Twinkies Golden Sponge Cake; one Centrum Advance Formula “From A To Zinc” pill; one serving of Little Debbie Star Crunch cookies; a Diet Mt. Dew drink; half a serving of Doritos Cool Ranch corn chips; two servings of Kellogg’s Corn Pops cereal; a serving of whole milk; half a serving of raw baby carrots; one and a half servings of Duncan Hines Family Style Chewy Fudge brownie; half a serving of Little Debbie Zebra Cake; one serving of Muscle Milk Protein Shake drink; Total: 1589 calories.

His normal pre-junk food calorie intake was about 2600 calories. While on the junk food diet, he consumed on average about 1800 calories, aiming for about a 800 calorie deficit. He continued to do the same level of moderate daily physical activity as he was doing prior to the diet.

Here’s what happened to his biomarkers and body composition after 10 weeks:

1) Shed 27 pounds, reducing his BMI from 28.8 to 24.9

2) Decreased his body fat from 33.4 to 24.9 percent

3) Dropped his “bad” cholesterol, LDL, by 20 percent, increased his “good” cholesterol, HDL, by 20 percent, reduced his triglycerides by 39 percent

Alright, before you go racing off to the store and stock up on junk food, here are my comments.

1) To Reduce Weight, You Must Create a Daily Caloric Deficit. To drops those extra pounds, you need to be taking in fewer calories, regardless where those energy units (calories) come from. That’s really all that Haub demonstrated. And it’s not new news at all. You can eat three candy bars per day and drop weight. It’s a numbers game. Let’s do Haub’s math: He consumed1800 calories instead of 2600 calories resulting in a 800 deficit, which equaled a 5600 calories weekly deficit x 10 weeks = 56,000 deficit divided by 3500 cal/lb= resulting in a 16 pound weight reduction. Add this to his moderate physical activity of approximately 550 calories expended per day x 7 days = 3,850 calories per week x 10 weeks = 38,500 calories expended divided by 3,500 cal/lb for 11 pounds, which added to 16 pounds, equals his 27 pound weight reduction.

2) Don’t be Fooled by Temporary Changes in Biomarkers. According to Haub: “The healthy aspect of diets depends on perception… If cholesterol is a valid marker of cardiovascular disease risk, then it would appear my risk for cardiovascular disease decreased.” Whoa, not so fast. Weight reduction creates short term changes in metabolic indices like cholesterol and triglycerides. Of course there are going to be changes, since you’re making dramatic changes in the content of fat cells and other metabolic processes in the body. The key is whether these changes are sustainable once energy balance is restored after weight reduction is completed. Maintaining a normal cholesterol profile for the long term confers cardiovascular protection, not some short term experiment.

3) Beware False Protection from Vitamins and Shakes. Haub noted that “It doesn’t matter where the macronutrients are derived from as long as essential nutrients are consumed at the recommended levels, and the fuel is consumed at a level at or below energy expenditure.” Consuming a protein shake, a can of beans, a few celery stalks and vitamins does not confer any kind of protection or “nutritional insurance” from junk food. None of these foods can neutralize the oxidative floods of chemicals from the junk food he was consuming.

4) Junk Foods are Scary Science Fair Projects. 60% of what Haub ate was not food. Those products are food-like substances processed in plants, not made by plants. Their shelf life is quite long due to the level of preservatives. Just for grins, here’s what’s in a Twinkie: The Twinkie, which was created during the Depression, contains thirty-nine ingredients. One 43g Twinkie contains 2% of the recommended daily amount (RDA) of iron but none of the RDA for vitamins A and C and calcium. Each cake has 5g of fat (2g of which are saturated), 20mg of cholesterol, 200mg of salt, 25g of carbohydrates (of which 14g is sugar), 1g of protein and no fiber. Five ingredients come from rocks. I’m not kidding. These include: phosphate mines in Idaho, gypsum mines in Oklahoma, and oil fields in China. Sorbic acid, for example, is actually derived from natural gas. Cellulose gum, Polysorbate 60, and calcium sulfate are also used in sheet rock, shampoo, and rocket fuel. The vitamins, artificial colors, and flavorings in Twinkies come from petroleum. Limestone makes Twinkies light and the cream looking center is made of shortening. There is no cream. [Editor's note: A typo in the sodium content was corrected on 11-11-10. Source: dietfacts.com]

5) Mission Impossible: Portion Control on Junk Food. Haub noted he was overweight and having problems managing his weight. “I was eating healthier, but I wasn’t healthy,” he noted. “I was eating too much.” Haub, like so many Americans, has issues with portion control. Yet, mysteriously, he was able to eat his fill of junk and was able to “push away the wrapper” to keep within his calorie budget on junk food. Why couldn’t he do this with healthy fare? Science has clearly shown that when you eat a tsunami of refined sugar, insulin levels skyrocket and plummet, resulting in a raging appetite for more sugar. And don’t forget the stress and abuse you’re putting your pancreas and liver through. No one can control their appetite on a 60% junk food intake.

6) It’s a Guy Thing. Guys can turn themselves into guinea pigs like this and show very little emotional reaction to doing this kind of thing to their bodies. Can you imagine most women doing this and continuing it for the long term? I don’t think so. Women have a very different emotional relationship with food. When a woman is distressed and/or experiencing a hormonal milestone, portion control is truly a mission impossible. Finally, I shudder with horror at the thought of a pregnant woman consuming this kind of junk.

7) The Real Goal is Weight Reduction that is Sustainable and that Results in Long Term Optimal Health and Wellbeing. I was flabbergasted by Haub’s statement: “I wish I could say the outcomes are unhealthy. I wish I could say it’s healthy. I’m not confident enough in doing that. That frustrates a lot of people. One side says it’s irresponsible. It is unhealthy, but the data doesn’t say that.” Are you kidding me? On the contrary, the data is very clear. Haub reduced his weight by creating a caloric deficit. Period. There’s no new news here.

However, the method he chose is absolutely unhealthy. You cannot sustain the weight reduction nor achieve optimal health in the long term consuming 60% science fair projects that contain more chemicals than an oil rig. Here’s my prediction. One year from now, he’ll either have gained all of the weight back and then some, or he will have gotten help with portion control and consume a healthy diet of whole foods, occasional treats, and lean proteins, combined with regular exercise. I’m hoping for his sake, and that of his students, that he opts for the latter.

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