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    In The News: Nutrition Professor Eats Twinkies, Loses Weight.

    1283457996610Earlier this month, the media feasted on the following news bit:

    “Mark Haub, 40, associate professor in Kansas State University”s Department of Human Nutrition, began a 30-day junk food marathon on Aug. 25. He is living on a diet of high-calorie, high-fat foods, such as snack cakes, powdered doughnuts and sticky buns, to show that foods commonly regarded as junk can actually help people lose weight.”

    Alas, the day this news was published I received almost a dozen e-mails from Small Bites readers asking what I thought. My guess is that this professor’s project is still making the rounds on various news websites, since over the past ten days I have received 14 more e-mails asking for my opinion.

    Before I share my thoughts, though, let me give you a few more bits of info.  Here is what Mr. Haub told AOL News about his diet:

    “Is it truly weight we should be concerned with or should it be what we eat?  If we lose weight, this diet should be viewed as healthy.”

    This is part of the problem with America’s perception of health — that as long as weight loss is accomplished, we are on the right track. Not so; the scale does not give us any indication of how our arteries look or how the way we eat impacts our gut flora.

    In the first three weeks of this diet, Mr. Haub “lost 13 pounds, his bad cholesterol levels dropped and his HDL, or good cholesterol, improved,” as reported by Canada’s CTV news.

    As much as the media attempted to turn this junk food experiment into “food for thought” regarding dieting, the most this elicits from me is a feeble shrug.

    No one in the nutrition field denies that caloric reductions result in weight loss (well, the fringe “calories are absolutely meaningless” camp will claim you can add 2,000 calories of heavy whipping cream to your day and still lose weight since those calories are carb-free, but let’ not go there right now).

    As I’ve stated before, you can very well eat nothing but pepperoni pizza and ice cream and lose weight, provided you are only consuming a certain amount of calories.  Of course, since those foods are rather high in calories, you would reach your daily caloric limits by eating very small amounts of each. There is also the pesky tidbit that subsisting on highly processed junk, even if it results in weight loss, is bad news for your cardiovascular health, digestive health, blood sugar, and so on and so forth.

    So Mr. Haub’s LDL cholesterol dropped and his HDL improved?  Well of course — he lost weight!  Remember: weight loss intrinsically improves blood lipid levels.  Had he lost weight in healthier ways (ie: eaten a diet high in soluble fiber, focused on consuming mainly monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids), those numbers may have been even better.

    Notice, though, that his triglyceride numbers have not been reported.  I suspect that a diet so high in refined grains and added sugars has not proven helpful in that department.

    Mind you, all this media hype comes with one big disclaimer. Mr Haub says:

    “I don’t recommend it, I don’t promote it, but it’s an examination into (the fact) there is more than one way to achieve the path to weight loss, and this is one.”

    I don’t think there was ever any doubt that caloric restriction results in weight loss. What this country needs more than ever is honest conversation that caloric quality is crucial. If anything, this “Twinkie diet” shows us what happens when a society becomes so obsessed with numbers on the scale instead of overall health.


    One Comment

    1. Ken Leebow said on October 1st, 2010

      Like I’ve told people for years, you can go on a Dunkin Donut diet and lose weight. Just eat 6 a day and the weight will come off. Of course, you’ll feel like crap.

      Ken Leebow

      P.S. There’s even an ad campaign about donuts the sixth food group. Take a peak http://bit.ly/9DJMMf

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