Why the Twinkie Diet is a good idea and healthy (and why it isn’t)


There’s been alot of talk about the Twinkie diet that helped a nutrition professor lose 27 pounds (as reported at CNN and elsewhere).

First off, it shows once again that if you eat less calories than your body needs, you will lose weight. Mark Haub, the professor who did this, dropped around 800 calories from his typical diet. If you look at this article by David Katz, M.D.:on What Really Happens, you can see that adds up. So, from a weight loss perspective, it was healthy.

As David Katz shows, it is healthy from a cholesterol point of view as well. Haub’s cholesterol improved dramatically over this time. Another sign that this is a healthy diet.

Nutritionally, Haub covered the bases. For example, look at his typical day (provided by CNN):

Espresso, Double: 6 calories; 0 grams of fat
Hostess Twinkies Golden Sponge Cake: 150 calories; 5 grams of fat
Centrum Advanced Formula From A To Zinc: 0 calories; 0 grams of fat
Little Debbie Star Crunch: 150 calories; 6 grams of fat
Hostess Twinkies Golden Sponge Cake: 150 calories; 5 grams of fat
Diet Mountain Dew: 0 calories; 0 grams of fat
Doritos Cool Ranch: 75 calories; 4 grams of fat
Kellogg’s Corn Pops: 220 calories; 0 grams of fat
whole milk: 150 calories; 8 grams of fat
baby carrots: 18 calories; 0 grams of fat
Duncan Hines Family Style Brownie Chewy Fudge: 270 calories; 14 grams of fat
Little Debbie Zebra Cake: 160 calories; 8 grams of fat
Muscle Milk Protein Shake: 240 calories; 9 grams of fat
Totals: 1,589 calories and 59 grams of fat 

Now here’s the list without the cakes or the calorie free caffeine drinks in it:

Centrum Advanced Formula From A To Zinc: 0 calories; 0 grams of fat
Doritos Cool Ranch: 75 calories; 4 grams of fat
Kellogg’s Corn Pops: 220 calories; 0 grams of fat
whole milk: 150 calories; 8 grams of fat
baby carrots: 18 calories; 0 grams of fat
Muscle Milk Protein Shake: 240 calories; 9 grams of fat 

The protein shake and milk provide protein, while the carrots and the vitamin and milk provide most of the minerals and vitamins. The carrots and cereal provide some fibre, as likely do the cool ranch chips. And there is no lack of carbohydrates in this diet.

To summarize: the diet allowed him to lose weight (healthy), improve his cholesterol (healthy) and have enough nutrients and calories to get through the day (also healthy).  What’s the problem?

Well, to me, there are a number of problems. Without the vitamin and the protein shake, the diet falls apart (not surprisingly). The cakes provide energy and a feeling of being full and likely not much else. I think it would be better for someone to eat more fruits and vegetables and whole grains to get the same calories and likely better nutrients. And I would argue that apples and bananas and some other fruits and relatively cheap as is a loaf of whole wheat or multigrain bread. More importantly, getting into a habit of eating those foods is better than getting into the habit of eating cakes daily. Eating cakes daily is not a healthy way of eating (it should go without saying).

That said, I think this experiment is valuable, because I think nutrition tends to get dogmatic, and I think like any good science, it should not be. I have not seen anything to sway me from the belief that the best diet is one high in fruits and vegetables and low in fats and simple carbs.  But I think we should keep an open mind and realize there is alot to learn.

Time for a cookie. And some fruit.

(Image of Twinkies from Wikipedia)

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