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Paging Dr. Frischer - Twinkie
WRITTEN BY :   Dr. Alan Frischer

I cannot imagine how many times in my professional career I’ve made fun of the Hostess Twinkie.
Everyone knows them; the Twinkie has become a cultural icon. It is a food (if I may be so bold to call it that) that anyone who cares about nutrition just loves to bash. When I talk about whole foods, the Twinkie is the example I use as the polar opposite. It is time to do the research and come up with the scientific reasons…or lack thereof…for never, ever, eating a Twinkie.
What is a Twinkie? It is a sponge cake-like ladyfinger filled with a cream filling that packs 150 calories. In spite of its lack of healthful credentials, 500 million of them are made each year. It is the source of myths and legends. Because they are always found on the shelf still spongy and soft, rumors spread that they were made entirely of artificial ingredients, and that Hostess made billions of them years ago that are still in storage, waiting to be sold! As the rumor goes, they have an infinite shelf life. As is so often true, this legend is false. Now let’s explore the facts.
Twinkies were created in Pennsylvania in 1930 by James Dewar, and were sold two-for-a-nickel. The filling started out as banana-flavored, but during World War II, banana rationing led to a change to vanilla. No, Twinkies do not stay fresh forever – they have a shelf life of 26 days, which is nonetheless quite a long time for a baked product to stay fresh. The secret to this extended shelf life is their lack of dairy products. After the sponge cake portion is baked, the filling is injected through three holes along the top. Hostess estimates that it uses eight million pounds of sugar, seven million pounds of flour and one million eggs to bake them each year. Which Americans consume the most Twinkies? Per capita, citizens of New Orleans are number one.
Twinkies gained quite a bit of notoriety in 1979, when Dan White stood trial for murdering San Francisco mayor George Moscone and city supervisor Harvey Milk. The media created the infamous term “Twinkie defense” when White’s depression and consequential consumption of junk foods such as Twinkies was linked to his diminished capacity to reason. (In all fairness, note that that the Twinkie was never specifically mentioned inside the courtroom.)
So what’s up with the 39 ingredients that make up a Twinkie? Note that you can bake a cake at home with as few as six ingredients, but a Twinkie uses 39! In Steve Ettinger’s Twinkie Deconstructed, he explains that cellulose gum, lecithin, and sodium stearoyl lactylate are used to replace milk, cream and butter, which would spoil far too quickly on a store shelf. You will find corn dextrin, a common thickener, also used as the glue on postage stamps and envelopes. Ferrous sulfate is used as the iron supplement in enriched flour and vitamin pills, but is also a disinfectant and weed killer.
Your Twinkie originated from phosphate mines, gypsum mines, and oil fields, rather then from the four basic food groups.
It has been repeatedly proven that a diet made up of whole natural foods is good for our bodies. In what manner consumption of a Twinkie’s 39 ingredients affects us may not be known for generations to come. It is your choice as to whether you wish to consume them.
We are what we eat – good health to you all!
Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and former chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.

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Published: July 22, 2010 – Volume 9 – Issue 14



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