April 23, 2008

The King of Snacks Takes On David A. Levitsky, Professor of Nutrition

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After much hullabaloo, I finally sat down and interviewed professor David A. Levitsky, nutrition and psychology. You might know him as the professor of NS 115: Nutrition, Healthy and Society, where he teaches about healthy eating and portion control. You might know me as the guy who ate four Pines burgers in 49 minutes for a low quality T-shirt. I’m going to ask him about artificial sweeteners, and how long I could live if I only ate pizza. This is going to be interesting.

Charlie Niesenbaum (King of Snacks): What are your opinions on snacking?
David A. Levitsky (Professor): Snack­ing is unnecessary. You can get all your nutrients at meals. If you look at nutrient content, the way we get most of our nutrients is from meals. Foods that we eat as snacks are foods that can be gotten from a vending machine.
C.N. (Face Stuffer): You never snack?
D.L. (Overall Nice Guy): I very rarely snack.
(This interview is going great!)
C.N. (Eats Butter Plain): Speaking of vending machines, if you had to eat from one, what would you get?
D.L. (Eats Two Meals a Day): My choice would be not to waste my money, but if I had to get something, I would search for low caloric density. A cake would be better than a candy bar, pretzels are good but they are high in salt.
C.N. (Learning More Than He Expected to): Changing gears, is it true you put maple syrup in your chili? I’ve eaten maple syrup from a spoon.
D.L. (A Very Patient Man): One great flavor combination, in my opinion, is the mixture of hot and sweet. For the sweet, table sugar has very little taste, so I prefer to use maple syrup or honey.
C.N.: I’ve read about the “What the hell” effect, where people can eat unhealthy things even though they know they are unhealthy. Is this a real effect? Is that the real name?
D.L. (I Guess We Dropped the Funny Titles): The real scientific name is stimulus specific satiety, meaning that even if you are stuffed with one food (C.N.: hamburgers), if you offer someone a new food, they will have room for it. This is why you always have room for dessert.
D.L. (Semi-unprompted Side Comment): In the ’50s, there were a lot of fad diets where you would only eat one favorite food. The body doesn’t want the same food all the time; the body wants variety. The body wants to minimize the effect of any specific deficiency with a varied diet.
C.N.: Is the grape fruit diet an example of this?
D.L.: Yes.
C.N.: OK, I’m not lost anymore. Let’s get silly again.
C.N. (Delivering on a Past Promise): How long could I live if I ate only pizza?
D.L. (Being a Very Good Sport): Well, if you ate nothing you could live for about a month. If you ate only pizza, you would get some protein and a lot of fat. Two months. Pizza is devoid of many nutrients, but dying of chronic deficiencies would often take years.
C.N.: Follow up question: what would I die from?
D.L.: (laughing) You would die from a desire for other foods. This is called the monotony effect. You know, you can put lots of things on pizza to keep it interesting; you could have lots of healthy recipes
for pizza.
C.N.: Like Domino’s Oreo pizza?
D.L.: I don’t know what that is.
C.N. (Getting Bored of his Own Interview): OK, final question, and one that is very close to my heart. The Sun always has articles from the AP about how bad diet soda is for you: what is true and what is scare-science? Are my bones really going to become hollow like a bird’s? Will I definitely get bladder cancer?
D.L. (Already Expressed a Desire to Leave Town as Early as Possible): What you are talking about is artificially sweeteners. (C.N.: He’s right, that’s what I meant!) It’s interesting because the sweeteners in diet soda are the most studied chemical in food history and the evidence still suggests that they are highly safe. They are very effective in helping you curb calories. I don’t get paid by food companies to say that.
C.N.: I would believe you even if you did; I’m unlikely to stop drinking diet soda.
Mackenzie Snyder ’08 (Wasn’t Present at the Interview): I heard that if you have artificial sweeteners you have a decreased desire for natural sweets like fruits.
C.N. (Upset About the Interruption): Get out of here! This is my interview.

Well, that’s all for my second to last column. I certainly learned a lot. Please join me next week when I will attempt to break a Sun record set by Justin Weitz ’07 for the most shout outs in one column.