There’s a New Twinkies Cereal. Just How Bad Is It for Your Health?

At press time, Post Consumer Brands had only released an early version of the nutrition facts label for Twinkies Cereal, which could change once the product reaches customers. The company also did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

However, the nutritional information is similar to that of Donettes and Honey Bun cereals, giving clues as to what to expect from Twinkies Cereal.

Experts point to the sugar content as one of the biggest nutritional concerns they have about Twinkies Cereal. The preliminary nutrition label for Twinkies Cereal shows that a cup of the puffs contains 180 calories and 16 grams of sugar.

“The first ingredient of Twinkies Cereal is dextrose, which is sugar made from corn, and the second ingredient is just sugar, so you’re eating cereal that’s made up of more sugar than flour,” said Dr. Dyan Hes, medical director of Gramercy Pediatrics in New York City and director of the American Board of Obesity Medicine.

Compared with a pair of the snack cakes, which contain 270 calories and 33 grams of sugar per package, Twinkies Cereal seems like a better choice for sugar-conscious customers. But your opinion may change when you consider how much cereal a child eats on average at breakfast.

“What child or teenager only consumes 1 cup of cereal? Most kids consume 1.5 to 2 cups of cereal in the real world,” said Nicole Magryta, RD, author of “Nourish Your Tribe: Empowering Parents to Grow Strong, Smart, Successful Kids.”

Two cups of Twinkies Cereal brings the calorie count to 360 and the sugar content to 32 grams — 7 grams more than the maximum amount of added sugar the American Heart Association recommends kids consume in a day.

Magryta also expressed concern over the fat in Twinkies Cereal. A cup of it contains 7 grams of fat, 6 of which are from saturated fat. A pair of Twinkies cakes, on the other hand, contain 9 grams of total fat, of which 4.5 grams are saturated fat.

“The ingredients in both Twinkies Cereal and cakes are doing absolutely nothing to benefit our health and, if anything, are damaging it,” Magryta said. “We don’t need more products like this on grocery store shelves.”

Twinkies Cereal does have one advantage over the cakes, however: It’s fortified with some vitamins and minerals. A cup of the cereal contains 25 percent of the recommended amount of iron, 60 percent of the recommended amount of thiamin, and 10 percent of the recommended amounts of niacin, vitamin B6, and zinc, among other nutrients.

Despite this benefit, Twinkies Cereal isn’t much better than eating the original sponge cakes for breakfast, according to experts.

“Never feeding them to your children is the better option,” Hes said.

The sugar rush may have worn off since November, when all Hostess factories were shut down following legal engagements with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union. But Twinkies are now set to return to stores by the middle of summer.

“We expect to be making and selling in July,” said Michael Cramer, executive vice president of Hostess Brands LLC on Thursday. “Probably the later half of the month before the product hits the stores.”

Now that Twinkies are back, fans are gearing up to indulge in the airy sugariness of Twinkies once more. Many are wondering, are they really that bad for you?

A single Twinkie, mostly composed of carbohydrate and fat, constitutes 140 calories, and 2.5 grams of saturdated fat, or 13 percent of the recommended daily value.

Perhaps not surprsingly, deep-drying the Twinkie more than doubles its calorie count, to 361.

Although even professors of nutrition will occasionally experiment by making Twinkies a mainstay in their dietary regimen, grades of “F” on various nutrition rating scales tell us that for a healthy lifestyle, the shrink-wrapped pastries are best avoided.

Alternatively, we might simply listen to Cramer. “Everything will be as delicious and fattening as it always was,” he said.

Sept. 30, 2010— — It’s either a kid’s dream or a dietician’s nightmare: nutritionist Mark Haub ate Twinkies and Nutter Butters, steak, milk, and a multivitamin for a month and lost 15 pounds.

Haub, an associate professor of nutrition at Kansas State University, wasn’t indulging in this snack cake binge for kicks. He wanted to open up a debate for his students: as long as basic nutritional needs are met, is it what you eat, or just how much, that counts?

“I knew I could lose weight doing this, but I had no idea what was going to happen to cholesterol. That’s why I made it only four weeks because I had no idea how it would affect my health,” he says.

The thing is, he began to feel healthier. He had more energy, stopped snoring, and not only did he lose enough weight to drive down his overall cholesterol and body mass index (BMI), his good HDL cholesterol crept up two points and his blood glucose — despite all that cream filling — dropped 17 percent.

Haub began the experiment on Aug. 25, restricting his caloric intake to 1800 calories a day and keeping his physical activity the same, but with eating predominantly junk food: four to five processed snack cakes a day along with whole milk, canned or frozen vegetables, a multi-vitamin, protein supplement and things like chips and ribs.

The cholesterol changes were a surprise, he says, and he’s pleased with the weight loss. But Haub is careful to point out that this was an experiment, not an attempt at to create an optimal diet. He wouldn’t advise anyone to try it themselves because the long-term effects of this kind of eating are still unknown.

Nevertheless, he’s extended the diet in a modified version until he loses eight more pounds and reaches his goal BMI. Once the diet has worked, he might cut back on the snack cakes, he says.

Diet experts, however, warn that the initial changes in Haub’s cholesterol and weight could be deceiving. Losing 15 pounds will always make you feel healthier, they note, but over time, a diet rich in processed, sugary food is no way to improve health.

“He’s not the first person to lose weight on an unhealthy diet. You could eat all chocolate cake and lose weight as long as you didn’t eat too much of it. Staying on this diet forever and he’d have some unpleasant consequences,” says Carla Wolper, a researcher at the St. Luke’s Hospital Obesity Center.

Diet Lessons From Nutrition Prof

Haub’s diet exercise grew out of a discussion among him and his colleagues. They wanted to know, “does it matter where your energy comes from?” he says. There was talk about a honey bun diet, or just butter, sugar and whey protein, but “I didn’t think I could eat that for more than a day,” Haub says.

Though nutritionists have generally supported eating whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and not a lot of processed foods, Haub hopes his experiment pushes the envelope of dieting and has people asking questions.

“I’ve done zone, low-carb, low-fat, and other diets and I still had high cholesterol. My risk for heart attack decreased 1 percent in four weeks on this diet. Is that healthy? That’s the question I want students to ask,” he says.

According to diet experts, Haub’s results are not surprising; he ate fewer calories and he lost weight, and this has always been the case.

“We’ve made altogether too much over fat versus carbs and it’s a huge distraction for the most part. The fundamental truth is that at energy balance, calories in versus calories used, determines weight, and this reinforces that,” says Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center.

And in the short-term, weight loss alone is enough to see other health benefits, such as higher healthy HDL cholesterol, no matter how you achieve it.

“If we have learned anything over the years about nutrition it is that in the short term, your body doesn’t care where the calories come from. The body is an effective furnace and will burn anything you throw into it, as long as it’s not toxic,” says Dr. Darwin Deen, director of the Regional Center for Clinical Nutrition Education at the Montefiore Medical Center.

“This process of living off of your stores is beneficial because it keeps your insulin levels low and after a while you have less body fat which is healthier,” he says.

But over the long haul, less fat does not equal a healthier body, Katz says.

Someone who developed a cocaine habit and stopped eating would see effects similar to those Haub experienced: a lowering of cholesterol and decreased body fat, but no one would say they were healthy, he points out.

Similarly, Haub says that his success with this diet highlights how our society focuses on weight loss to a fault. ” I feel our focus is on the wrong target (obesity) and by focusing on that target, the message of how is lost,” Haub says.

Short-term Gain, Long-term Pain

So when would the snack-cake fest start to weigh a dieter down?

Haub says it’s possible that in moderate quantities, he may be able to keep eating processed foods and experience no detriment.

But given the lower volume of food that Haub is allowed to eat to stay within caloric restrictions while eating these cakes, and the lack of nutrition they provide, diet experts predict that cravings and nutritional deficiencies would start to take their toll in a matter of months.

“The impact of an unhealthy diet is felt in years, not weeks,” says Montefiore’s Deen. “Four weeks … was not enough time to have any health problems resulting from long-term lack of nutrients.”

Antioxidants, phytonutrients, and fiber were all lacking from Haub’s meal plan, experts say, and data connects these things with lower cancer risk, longevity, and overall health.

And while Haub’s blood tests suggest health improvement, that doesn’t mean that his body is healthy or that he’ll feel good over months of eating like this, Katz says.

“Nothing in this blood work tells us what his cancer risk would be in the next 20 years.”

“One of the things I hope people recognize is that the diets we choose need to be more than just losing weight as fast as possible. We also want to find health and it’s combining those two goals that should dictate the kinds of diets we try and the kinds we professionals recommend,” Katz added.

ABC News’ Lee Feran contributed on this report

Twinkies are far from a healthy food, but nutritionists say there are worse things you can consume than the classic cake treat.

Twinkies have certainly garnered a reputation as a stereotypical processed food, an image that likely doesn’t help in an age when consumers favor the “natural” over the “artificial.”

In fact, sales of Twinkies declined by 2 percent between 2010 and 2011, according to the Wall Street Journal. And Hostess, the company that makes Twinkies, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Wednesday, citing debt and rising production costs as sources of its financial woes. But perhaps Twinkies have been unfairly singled out as a junk food. According to Katherine Tallmadge, a registered dietitian, there are a wide variety of horrible choices out there for Americans to indulge in, some of which are even marketed as healthy. Here are four foods that could be considered worse for you than a Twinkie, or just as bad:

Soda:

As you probably are aware, soda is not good for you. But the calories in a can of soda are more insidious than the calories in, say, a Twinkie, because the soda calories may be invisible to your brain, said Tallmadge, author of “Diet Simple” (LifeLine Press, 2011). Research suggests “liquid calories aren’t registered in the brain as food calories are,” Tallmadge said.

“People who drink too many sweetened beverages end up eating more overall calories, become more overweight, and are more susceptible to diabetes,” Tallmadge said.

At least when you eat a Twinkie, your brain gets the message that your body has eaten.

Fruit flavored drinks:

Sweetened beverages, such as ice tea and lemonade, have little nutritional value and are often just as bad for you as soda. And like soda, the calories in these beverages may not be registered by your brain.

But the labels on bottles of fruit flavored beverages and sweetened green tea may lead us to believe we’re consuming something that’s good for us.

“It tricks us into thinking it’s healthy,” said Andrea Giancoli, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.Giancoli was specifically referring to fruit flavored drinks that do not contain 100 percent juice. A drink cannot be labeled “fruit juice” unless it contains 100 percent juice, Giancoli said

In addition, bottles of fruit flavored drink and tea can hold 16 or 20 ounces, and contain more calories than a 150-calorie Twinkie, Giancoli said.

“You’re not breaking your calorie bank if you indulge in a Twinkie,” Giancoli said.

In fact, you’re craving something sweet and given a choice between a 16-ounce bottle of lemonade and a Twinkie, “go with the Twinkie,” Giancoli said.

“The drink is most likely not going to satisfy your sweet tooth, whereas a Twinkie might,” Giancoli said.

Cereal bars made with refined flour

Some cereal bars are covered with labels of “high fiber” and “low fat.” But Tallmadge said it’s important to pay attention to their ingredients to know if what you’re eating is really good for you.

“It may be low in fat, and high in fiber, but also be pure junk,” Tallmadge said.

If the first ingredient is sugar, and if they are made with a refined grain, cereal bars are no better than a Twinkie, Tallmadge said.

Consumers should check nutrition labels to see that their cereal bars are made from a whole grain, and not a refrained grain, such as wheat flour or rice flour Tallmadge said.

In addition, consumers should eat foods that have fiber from natural sources, such as whole grains. There is no evidence that processed foods fortified with fiber, such as foods that list chicory root or inulin as sources of fiber, provide the same benefits as the natural kind, Tallmadge said.

“They add fiber to so many things now so they can say ‘high fiber,'” Tallmadge said.

“The next think you know they’re going to add fiber to Twinkies,” she said.

Margarine made with hydrogenated fats

Deborah Enos, a certified nutritionist and a health coach in the Seattle area, nominates margarine as the worse food ever. Some margarines are “chock-full of hydrogenated fats,” also known as trans fats, Enos said. These fats are not found in nature, and “your body doesn’t know what to do with them,” Enos said.

“Your body processes them like a saturated fat; so margarine becomes an artery clogging mess,” said Enos, author of the MyHealthNewsDaily column “Healthy Bites.”

Even margarines that are labels “trans fat free” may contain these fats, Enos said. Products that have less than 0.5 grams of trans fat can be labeled as having zero grams of trans fat, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Instead, Enos recommends using butter. To be fair, butter also contains saturated fat. But butter has a strong flavor, and you may not need to use as much of it to get the flavor you want on your food, Enos said.

Pass it on: There are worse foods than a Twinkie, including some that are labeled as healthy.

Follow MyHealthNewsDaily staff writer Rachael Rettner on Twitter @RachaelRettner. Find us on Facebook.

By Craig Giammona
Bloomberg

Healthy eating has become an obsession. Soft-drink sales are slumping, salt is getting tossed from food, and kale is on the menu at McDonald’s.

And yet the Twinkie, that icon of indulgence, is on a tear.

For many otherwise healthy-eating American millennials, Twinkies have become food nostalgia. Nine months of forced disappearance from store shelves sharpened appetites for the golden sponge cake filled with fluffy cream, and after two bankruptcies, the 2013 acquisition of the Hostess Brands Inc. snack-cake business by a pair of private equity firms put the company back on the road to solvency.

”For as much as millennials bring us challenges, they also have a belief that you only live once and you should enjoy yourself,” Bill Toler, chief executive officer of the Kansas City, Missouri-based Hostess, said in an interview. “They believe in a license to indulge.”

In opinion surveys, Americans rank stealthy eating right up there with healthy. While 75 percent told NPR last year they were eating wholesome food, another report, from the Boston Consulting Group and IRI, found that indulgence was a top food trend, alongside nutrition. Hostess was ranked second among growth leaders for midsize companies, behind Greek yogurt company Chobani.

“Unhealthy products remain popular,” said Krishnakumar Davey, president of strategic analytics at IRI. “The popularity of nutritious snacks is surging, but so are sales of ice cream or salty snacks.”

A big beneficiary is Twinkies, Hostess’ golden child. One cake is 130 calories and 14.5 grams of sugar, compared with a Coke that has 140 calories and 39 grams of sugar. Apollo Global Management LLC and C. Dean Metropoulos & Co. bought Hostess for $410 million and hopped on the wave of Twinkie-love at just the right moment. Being without Twinkies and other Hostess products like Ho Hos and Ding Dongs in 2012 and 2013 unleashed a wave of sentimentality, driving fans a little bit mad.

“My wife ran out and bought eight boxes of Twinkies,” said John Stanton, a professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “Hostess got a shot in the arm by not being there.”

Twinkies’ new popularity came at a cost. The Hostess bankruptcy enabled the private equity buyers to start over with a fraction of a workforce that once numbered about 8,000 at several bakeries across the country. Their reconstituted company now has 1,350 employees and three baking facilities. Twinkies had been made at several bakeries across the country. Now, one automated production line staffed by 10 employees in Emporia, Kansas, can produce 95 percent of the iconic cakes. Apollo declined to comment.

The changes have helped produce some of the best profit margins in the food industry, just shy of what the ruthless cost-cutters of 3G Capital Inc. have posted since taking over Kraft Heinz Foods Co. with the help of Warren Buffett in 2015.

Sales surged 13 percent last year. The company has carved out 12 percent of the market for packaged cakes, cutting into the sales of industry leader McKee Foods Corp., the maker of Little Debbie products, according to Euromonitor data.

A photo of a twin pack of Hostess Twinkies and CupCakes taken January 11, 2012, made by Interstate Brands, which asked courts to liquidate its assets on Nov. 16.Paul J. Richards / AFP – Getty Images / Today

Ok, admit it. With the imminent threat that Hostess Brands could really go out of business, you are seriously considering a run to the grocery store to stock up on Twinkies. And yes, everyone jokes that you can really stock up because they’ll last forever.

The maker of Twinkies, Ho-Hos, the iconic Hostess Cupcakes with exactly seven white loops on the icing and every first-grader’s favorite, Wonder Bread, has asked a court to help it liquidate its assets and close its plants.

It’s a brand that has touched every living generation of Americans. The first Hostess brands hit the shelves in the 1930s and kids have been carrying them in lunch boxes ever since. The memories are so sweet that even top nutritionists defend our right to eat them.

“There is a lot of emotional happiness tied up with something like Twinkies or Sno Balls or Yodels or whatever it is that you like,” says Madelyn Fernstrom, diet and nutrition Editor for TODAY and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “It can bring you back to the innocent days of childhood,” she added.

“I am mourning the death of Twinkies,” says Marion Nestle, the New York University nutritionist who wrote “What to Eat”, among other books.

“I would say Twinkies are an enormously important cultural icon. It is the epitome of American processed food, made from ingredients lasting forever, chemically based.”

Every Hostess snack, from Ding Dongs to Sno Balls, has its own fierce fan base, but Twinkies rise above them all. The sponge-cake fingers filled with a cream-like ingredient gave rise to the Twinkie Defense, the Twinkie Diet and a book about Twinkies that sources their 39 ingredients – many of them not normally recognized as food.

“The real food in there is pretty hard to find,” said Nestle, who once sat down with writer Steve Ettlinger to eat a Twinkie and chat about how it’s evolved.

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Ettlinger tracked down the ingredients in Twinkies for his book, ”Twinkie, Deconstructed”. “I was so amazed that these little delicate snack cakes were part of an industrial chemical complex. I call it the Twinkie Nexus,” Ettlinger said.

More than anything, Twinkies symbolize junk food to Americans — the junk food that is at least partly blamed for helping make more than 60 percent of us overweight or obese and for driving epidemic rates of diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

And there’s an even darker side to Twinkies. In 1979, Dan White invoked what became widely known as the “Twinkie defense”. The former city district official was on trial for killing San Francisco mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk when his lawyer brought a psychiatrist to the stand who testified that White was clinically depressed, marked by a junk food binge. White was convicted of voluntary manslaughter.

But can Twinkies alter your brain? Emmanuel Pothos of Tufts University in Boston says there is a lot of evidence that they can.

)A view of a box of 10 Hostess Twinkies is seen in this photo taken January 11, 2012. Hostess Brands, the baker of Twinkie cakes and other iconic American foods announced November 16, 2012 that it is going out of business, closing plants, laying off its 18,500 workers and putting its brands up for sale.Paul J. Richards / AFP – Getty Images / Today

He studies the hedonic aspects of eating. “That’s eating just because we like to eat, because we like the taste,” says Pothos, an associate professor of Molecular Physiology & Pharmacology. Sweet, fat-laden processed foods such as Twinkies act on the brain just like addictive drugs do, he’s found.

“The brain is affected significantly by junk food,” Pothos says.

Tasty, high-energy foods affect the message-carrying chemical dopamine, a key brain neurotransmitter. Just as with heroin or cocaine, it gradually takes more and more tasty food to get the same pleasure, Pothos has found. “Neurotransmitters are released less and less and therefore more and more high-energy food, junk food, is needed to get the same neurotransmitter effect,” he said.

“That’s a defect an individual could try to overcome for life and they would never actually be able to. So they compensate by overeating.” And, he adds, it can result in feelings of depression.

Worse, it appears that the effect can actually be passed from one generation to the next, Pothos and other researchers are finding. “Everybody is bewildered right now. It appears that within one or two generations, exposure to junk food can leave a permanent trait on our brains, a permanent change that is actually passed on to our offspring,” he said. “They will pass it, amplified, to the next generation.”

Fernstrom isn’t convinced Twinkies are evil. “Something I always liked about Twinkies and Sno Balls is that there are two in a pack. It is the perfect sharing item,” she said. ”This is one thing that hasn’t been supersized. They seem puny in comparison to the size of cookies and other treats you see now.”

Nestle mentions Mark Haub, a professor of nutrition at Kansas State University who went on a “convenience store” diet in 2010 consisting mainly of Twinkies, Oreos and chips and lost 27 pounds in two months. “You can eat anything and lose weight if you don’t eat too much of it,” Nestle says.

As for the legend that Twinkies will last forever, the myth-busting website, snopes.com, says it’s not entirely true. According to Snopes, Twinkies do last longer than many other baked goods because they contain no dairy products, but they are only formulated to stay fresh for 25 days.

Related links:

  • Hostess says it’s going out of business
  • Reflections of an ex-Twinkie tester
  • What’s in a Twinkie?

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