Mark Haub is a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University. Back in 2010, he made the news for his “Junk food diet” experiment. To make a point for his students, he decided to eat almost nothing but the worst junk food for 10 weeks.
He ate snacks you can find at convenience stores, like Twinkie’s, donuts, Doritos, Oreo cookies, etc.
To supplement this extremely deficient diet, he took a multi-vitamin and ate a few vegetables, mostly canned.
So the diet was junk food, a vitamin pill, and a few canned veggies. That’s it.
After 10 weeks, he had lost 27 pounds.
Of course, he limited himself to 1800 calories a day. So he was in a caloric deficit, even though he ate calorie-rich foods.
But here’s the interesting part…
His health improved!
Not only did he go from a body mass index (BMI) of 28.8 (overweight) to 24.9 (normal weight, but he also dropped his LDL cholesterol by 20%, increased his good cholesterol (HDL) by 20%, and most surprisingly, lowered his triglycerides by 39%.
Mr. Haub did not endorse this junk food diet.
And this was not a scientific experiment.
But it was a personal experiment from a nutrition professor to prove that in order to lose weight, calories matter, not the nutritional content of the food.
Of course, you could assume that he’d have better results on the same 1800 calorie diet, but with healthier foods.
However, the point is that many health benefits people get from certain diet come from the fact that they’re losing excess weight. They think it’s all about the foods that they’re eating, but in fact it’s a lot about achieving a normal BMI.
I’ve often said that the benefits that many people experience on a raw food diet don’t come from the fact that their food is uncooked, but rather from the fact that a raw food diet forces certain things:
– Avoiding salt.
– Losing weight.
– Eating more fruits and vegetables.
So what does this mean? It means that being lean is important.
And it means that nutrition is very complex and you can’t just simplify it to a simple formula, like “To be healthy, you have to go raw vegan” or “you must eat less than 10% of your calories from fat.”
I surely don’t endorse a junk food diet.
However, let’s be clear that the standard American diet is extremely bad not just because of the food choices, but because the average American eats 3000 calories a day.
The standard American diet wouldn’t be as “SAD” if everyone ate just enough to maintain a healthy body weight, probably closer to 2200 calories a day.
There would still be pathologies caused by the wrong diet, but I think you’d see most health problems magically disappear.
In fact, over a hundred years ago, many alternative health doctors helped people overcome many health problems simply by practicing what they called at the time “frugality” or what we’d call today caloric restriction. They didn’t even change the composition of their patient’s diet.
The real magic will occur if you can do both: change the quality of your diet as well as limiting calories to achieve your ideal weight.