The Twinkie: 1933-2012


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twinkie 1.jpgOn Novemeber 21, 2012 the infamous Hostess Company officially declared bankruptcy and began to liquidate its assets due to a Bakers Union strike.  A sad day for Ho Ho lovers, Ding Dong lovers, Wonder Bread lovers, Donette lovers, Devil Dog lovers, Yodel lovers, and of course: Twinkie lovers.  I am proud to say that I haven't had more than five Hostess products in my entire life.  However, what is the appeal to some people? Why did people rush to the stores to buy their last boxes of Twinkies though? What makes them so popular?

According to a study published in the Nature Neuroscience Journal, researchers of the Scripps Research Institute in Florida tested whether rats would prefer to eat high calorie, junk food or healthy food.   The researchers split the rats into three groups; the first group was fed only healthy food, the second group was fed healthy food but had access to the junk food for one hour during the day, and the third group was given healthy food but had access to junk food around the clock.  The rats, like many humans, more often than not chose to eat the junk food in excess amounts and the rats in the third group demonstrated addictive behavior when choosing which food they were going to consume.  The researchers found that the more junk food that the rats ate; the more they wanted because their stomachs and brains weren't satisfied.  The levels of the dopamine receptor, in the brains of the rats in the third group, that allows for reward significantly decreased as the study progressed, much like the chemicals in a human brain do with the continued addiction to drugs.  Another interesting fact about this study is that the rats in the third group were trained ahead of time to be afraid of bright light exposure.  However, when the rats were eating the junk food and a flash of bright light occurred, the rats did not care.  They just kept eating the junk food and showed no reaction to the flash of light.

Dr. Eric Stice, a neuroscientist from the Oregon Research Institute, was featured on CBS's 60 Minutes and reported similar findings.  After reviewing MRI brain scans, sugar activates the same region of the brain that is activated when addicts are using their drug of choice.  He also reported that "heavy users of sugar develop a tolerance to sugar." (Stice)  The fact that people can build up a tolerance to sugar, sugar activates the same region of the brain as drugs, and the levels of the dopamine receptors greatly decreased as the study went on are very convincing findings that sugar can be addictive.  Due to the high sugar content in Twinkies, people who are addicted to sugar may use Twinkies as their 'source.'

The nutritional value of Twinkies is pathetic and would certainly fall under the researchers' classification of 'junk food.'  One Twinkie has 2.5 grams of saturated fats, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 220 milligrams of sodium, 27 grams of carbohydrates, and 19 grams of sugar!! The nutritional facts are just the beginning of it, the shelf life is centuries.  A Twinkie will never go bad; it will never get moldy, and it will never taste different.  This is because of all of the preservatives in them that are chemically made and injected into the batter and the cream filling.

Even though rats were used for the first study, the rats were very well controlled.  By splitting the rats into three different groups and setting the first group as a very clear control group, the researchers were able to take out extraneous variables.  However, they used rats, not humans.  Even though rats are commonly used in studies to prove or disprove effects that certain foods or drugs have on humans, they are still rats.  I don't think that either of the studies presented were due to chance because they prove each other and there are countless other studies out there that prove sugar is addictive and can be harmful to our systems in excess.   So, from the research presented about the addictive qualities about junk food and sugar, I am inclined to conclude that people who are (were) addicted to Twinkies were addicted to their high sugar content and Twinkies were their outlet.  People are paying over $50 for a box of Twinkies off of eBay!  In the long run, maybe the bankruptcy of the Hostess Company will be good for America and our problem with obesity by eliminating some of the worst snack foods on the shelves.  What are your opinions? Do you think that people can actually be addicted to sugar (i.e. Twinkies)?  Or is it more of just a correlation between the brain activity and sugar consumption?  Why does the same part of the brain light up when sugar is consumed as when drugs are consumed by someone who is addicted to them?


**All sources used are in the links within the blog.

twinkie 2.jpg


6 Comments

I've always heard crazy things like a Twinkie could survive a nuclear holocaust because of all of the preservatives and stuff like that but this article got me thinking. What if the preservatives are what makes "junky" foods so appealing. As we know, sometimes humans develop a taste for weird things that are bad for them, such as all of the ingredients that are so unnatural that go into Twinkies. This might sound really farfetched but here's my reasoning: a lot of healthy and nutritious foods also contain high levels of sugar and calories, but the sugar and calories in nutritious food is natural and therefore, generally healthy. However, these junk food also have these calories and sugars, but in an unnatural ay, making me think that somehow humans acquire a strange taste for things that aren't natural and generally bad for them. What does anyone else think?

It is definitely hard to control yourself when choosing food. I think it is just as much of a physical addiction as it is a mental addiction. In the experiment rats were used. Nothing can be proven, because rats aren't humans. Rats cant think rationally and cant think about if the food they're eating is affecting there health. MOST humans have a rational sense of limiting and controlling there intake of junk food. Clearly, there are examples of people who cant control and limit there eating, but i would vow to say that most people can make smart decisions. The test is interesting, but another flaw is that the rats may just think the junk food tastes better. They dont know what is good and bad or them so you can't state that sugar is an addiction (although there is a strong possibility that it is addictive)

I've never really had a thing for Twinkies or any Hostess products, but I did some research and realized that it was probably more of a geographical problem. Tastykakes are much more popular in South Jersey, where I am from, as opposed to Hostess products. They are basically the same, but it is more of a familiarity problem. For example, ask anyone from New Jersey and they will tell you, undoubtedly, that Wawa is better than Sheetz, but most Pennsylvanians would disagree. They're basically the same, but there is a geographical preference that people are unable to let go of. This topic has always fascinated me: if two things are the same, but one is more prominent, we tend to lead toward the familiar instead of the unknown. I wonder if there is any scientific research on this topic.

Michael makes a really good point that food can be just as much as a physical addiction as it is a mental addiction. I think that a lot of why people eat is to keep themselves busy. Put more simply, they eat when their bored or they eat to keep their hands busy. One thing that Michael mentioned that I have to disagree with though, is that humans have a rational sense of limiting and controlling their intake of junk food. Because such a large percentage of American's are obsese, it's pretty clear that we have some limitation issues in our country. I think it's a very far stretch to go as far as saying that most people can make smart decisions when it comes to food. If most people were really making smart decisions about food, chains like McDonalds, Burger King, and Taco Bell wouldn't be in business still. While the rat study is flawed in some aspects, I think its important not to neglect the simple facts that can be taken away from the results. One important idea to take away from this study is that sugar can be addictive.

According to a group of researchers from the independent not-for-profit Scripps Research Institute: the brain responds to junk food the same way it does to heroin. Junk food elicits addictive behavior in rats similar to the behaviors of rats addicted to heroin, a new study finds. Pleasure centers in the brains of rats addicted to high-fat, high-calorie diets became less responsive as the binging wore on, making the rats consume more and more food. The results, presented October 20 at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting, may help explain the changes in the brain that lead people to overeat. Supposedly, it the most complete evidence to date that suggests obesity and drug addiction have common neurobiological underpinnings. This shocked me: To see how strong the drive to eat junk food was, the researchers exposed the rats to a foot shock when they ate the high-fat food. Rats that had not been constantly exposed to the junk food quickly stopped eating. But the foot shock didn’t faze rats accustomed to the junk food — they continued to eat, even though they knew the shock was coming. Read the study if you're interested in the details of the study. It's pretty interesting.

When I first heard twinkies were no longer being made all I could think about was what I was supposed to eat when the zombie apocalypse came.

Food addiction, to me, is a cop out for people with little to no self-control. Please go try some heroine and then eat a hostess cupcake and argue they are on the same level. I assure you that the physical addiction of heroine is much more significant than eating a sugary snack. I'll accept that they affect the same areas of the brain. I even agree that these terrible foods are great comfort foods for when you need a boost. However, I will not be on the street corner doing questionable things after losing my entire life savings for a twinkie.

This new kick where we look for reasons why people have no self-control is pathetic.

Heroine addiction

Twinkie addiction (this does not actually exist)

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