What’s up with these Twinkies? A look at the Twinkie diet

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We’ve all probably heard of the Twinkie defense from the 1970s, a term associated with a murder case involving George Moscone and Harvey Milk.  The term was coined by journalists which described a legal defense establishing “diminished capacity” resulting from depression.  Basically, the argument ran like this: the murderer started eating a lot of Twinkies and other sugary food and drinks, he commits a crime, and then it was found that he was depressed in the first place as indicated by his overconsumption of Twinkies.  In this case, other than the unhealthy effects of having too much sugar in the diet, is reaching for a Twinkie a sign of a very bad thing?

Some may argue otherwise, and the argument may be based on a scientific exercise that was recently conducted by a human nutrition professor. Mark Haub went on a two-month “Twinkie diet” and lost 27 pounds.  It might be a misconception because he did not just consume Twinkies; everyday, he would eat these sweet cakes in place of his regular meals, although he would also have the occasional vegetable (four celery stalks and green beans) and a daily protein shake.  Nonetheless, his cake diet made him lose the weight, and afterwards, his tests showed that he was actually healthier!  His bad cholesterol or LDLs dropped by 20% and his triglycerides, a form of fat, dropped by 39%.  Isn’t this encouraging among us Twinkie lovers or what!

But of course, here comes the analysis.  Haub, who was overweight before the experiment, mostly consumed healthy food: whole wheat, high fiber, berries, bananas, vegetables, and the occasional pizza.  The result of his experiment made him quite broken — does that mean he’s going to have more Twinkies now?  That his years trying to be healthy by eating healthy food were all but wasted?

Evidently, experts jumped in on the evaluation and the last thing they wanted was to endorse Ding Dongs.  The concession was that the lost of weight was not due to the Twinkies but the caloric intake he had while he was on the diet.  Having Twinkies at least three times a day actually led to lesser calories thus leading to weight loss.  His diet amounted to a mere 1,800 calories per day as compared to his regular healthy diet that made him take in about 2,600 calories on average.

So where does this lead us?  Are Twinkie sales going to increase?  Models now making sexy TV ads as they devour a small log of sugared treat in their underwear? Not so. Although Haub does not endorse the diet nor he is saying that Twinkies are bad, the main lesson of this story is that maybe the secret to weight loss is really the portion size.  You may be eating healthy, but you are eating for two people and the calorie content may be too high.  A Hostess Twinkie only has 150 calories compared to, say, a cup of pasta with pesto sauce that can run up to 350 calories.  In this case, staying under a healthy daily calorie consumption can do the wonders.

But what about the “healthier” effects, you say?  True, Haub may seem healthier but the tests did not factor in other measures such as whether this diet can increase chances for more serious diseases such as diabetes and cancer.  Which is why Haub pointed out that eating healthy is not the same as being healthy; health is not just about food but there are other elements as well such as lifestyle, exercise and general living conditions.  Clearly, it’s not enough to use another Twinkie defense to go on a Twinkie diet; you gotta do the work and the discipline.

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Yasmin Coles

Yasmin Coles

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