Evidence-based twinkie diet?

I love this story.

For 10 weeks, Mark Haub, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University, ate one of these sugary cakelets every three hours, instead of meals. To add variety in his steady stream of Hostess and Little Debbie snacks, Haub munched on Doritos chips, sugary cereals and Oreos, too.

His premise: That in weight loss, pure calorie counting is what matters most — not the nutritional value of the food.

The premise held up: On his “convenience store diet,” he shed 27 pounds in two months.

For a class project, Haub limited himself to less than 1,800 calories a day. A man of Haub’s pre-dieting size usually consumes about 2,600 calories daily. So he followed a basic principle of weight loss: He consumed significantly fewer calories than he burned.

His body mass index went from 28.8, considered overweight, to 24.9, which is normal. He now weighs 174 pounds.

But you might expect other indicators of health would have suffered. Not so.

Haub’s “bad” cholesterol, or LDL, dropped 20 percent and his “good” cholesterol, or HDL, increased by 20 percent. He reduced the level of triglycerides, which are a form of fat, by 39 percent.

Does this mean we should encourage people to follow this diet? I suspect that most people believe we should not. Why then?

For me, this illustrates a couple of important points about the emphasis on evidence-based interventions.

  1. That researchers often choose what to research based on their own biases, what there’s funding for or what’s likely to get attention.
  2. That there’s evidence for something doesn’t mean it’s the best or even a good option. It doesn’t tell you what they didn’t measure, what other options are available, etc. Migration toward this diet (Yes, I know, no one is proposing mass migration to this diet.) would have vast implications, not just on individuals, but also for farmers, food manufacturers, etc.
  3. We can’t get away from values when determining the appropriate response to a social problem or question. We have to ask ourselves questions like, “Why this and not something else?”, “If resources are scarce, is this the best use of those scarce resources?”, “This might benefit one aspect of this individual’s life, what about other parts of this person’s life or others who might be affected? Why am I not addressing that? Is there an option that would do so?”