Post from the Past: What Do Potatoes and Twinkies Have in Common?

Well, the short answer is that you lose weight if you eat nothing but either of them.

In two (I must say) fascinating articles recently e-mailed to me by a friend, two separate men embark on journeys consisting almost solely of Twinkies (and other “convenience store” junk food) and potatoes, respectively. Both men lost weight, as well as experiencing lowered BMI, cholesterol, and even blood sugar, in the case of the potatoes.

I find this both appalling and fascinating. Evidently, losing weight makes a big difference in your health. However, I disagree with this statement by Dawn Jackson Blatner, a dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association:

“When you lose weight, regardless of how you’re doing it — even if it’s with packaged foods, generally you will see these markers improve when weight loss has improved.”

I would challenge the Twinkie professor to follow this diet for longer than 10 weeks. Say, a lifetime. After all, Morgan Spurlock‘s dangerous health numbers made an unexpected improvement toward the end of his 30 days eating only McDonald’s on an increased calorie diet.

Also, one-third of the Twinkie professor’s food was a multivitamin pill, a protein shake, canned green beans, and celery. Not the most nutrient dense food, but he was getting protein and a very few antioxidants. In addition, he was watching his calorie intake.

As for Chris Voigt, the head of the Washington State Potato Commission, he ate only potatoes and seasonings for two months to protest the USDA banning potatoes from the approved WIC foods.

I looked up the list, which you can find at the link above. No organic foods are allowed. This is understandable considering the improved cost of organic food, but it still sucks. Whole milk is not listed as an approved food (though it isn’t listed as Do Not Buy), and soy milk is approved. The fat in whole milk is best for nursing mothers and young children, which is why it was traditionally reserved only for them. And I’ve already addressed issues with soy milk.

Finally, whole wheat bread was listed as approved, but since most of it includes high fructose corn syrup, that doesn’t really seem like an improvement.

That said, the WIC approved list does do a pretty good job of limiting packaged foods or additives. However, while white potatoes are definitely not the most nutritious choice, they are far from harmful in the way that packaged, processed foods are.

“There are things we can’t measure,” said Blatner, questioning how the lack of fruits and vegetables could affect long-term health. “How much does that affect the risk for cancer? We can’t measure how diet changes affect our health.”

Well, actually, we can. In the past sixty years, the health of Americans has declined drastically, and instances of chronic disease (heart disease, diabetes), cancer, heck, virtually everything have risen just as drastically. We may have wiped out smallpox and polio, but we are seeing a brand new range of debilitating health issues: ADHD, autism, chronic fatigue syndrome, and Crohn’s disease.

I think most poignant for me is the claim of “CornSugar.com” that “high fructose corn syrup—corn sugar—has been used in the food supply for more than forty years…”
I can only assume that this is supposed to be an argument for the safety of HFCS. However, in the last forty years we have seen U.S. cancer deaths rise from 330,972 in 1970 to
554,740 in 1996 to a projected “leading cause of death” in 2010 at over 7 million worldwide.

Update: I had saved this article about HFCS in a post draft: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-08/acs-swn081007.php

Despite dramatic medical advances over the past 50 years, heart disease remains a leading cause of death globally and the Number 1 cause of death in the United States,” reports a 2008 article.

Once called “adult onset” diabetes, type-2 diabetes is now affecting children as young as four. This is entirely caused by lifestyle and diet, and is entirely reversible. “The odds of developing diabetes increased by 40% from the 1970s to 1980s and then doubled between the 1970s and 1990s.”

Is this all the fault of high fructose corn syrup? Of course not. But it’s not a great track record for foods introduced in the last forty years. And it’s not a great argument for eating potatoes and/or Twinkies to lose weight. I find it amazing the lengths to which people will go to prove a pointless point, when indicators that dietary changes will majorly and positively impact disease in America are staring us all in the face. Just goes to show what can happen when money is involved.

12/2/10

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