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Dr. Kim Mulvihill Reporting There's one main reason America has a childhood obesity problem: we're a Twinkie nation. Americans eat more than half a billion Twinkies--that's right, 500 million--every year, but take a look inside Twinkies and you'll find they're not so American.
Consider the Twinkie: A tiny golden cake created during the great depression and worshiped today on the World Wide Web.
Twinkies are comfort food, the All-American guilty pleasure. There's the Twinkie defense, deep-fried Twinkies, even Twinkies on the big screen. But what's really in Twinkie?
Packed into this tiny cake are 39 ingredients. Some, like the flour and eggs, are expected, but others are much more surprising. For example, cellulose gum, calcium sulfate, and Polysorbate 60. Those ingredients are also used in Sheetrock, shampoo, laundry detergent, even rocket fuel.
The raw materials come from all over; the Far East, Africa, India, Europe, the Middle East and the United States. "You're biting into the Twinkie industrial complex. You are really biting into a worldwide network. I call it the ‘Twinkie Nexus,'" explained food writer Steve Ettlinger.
Ettlinger is the author of "Twinkie Deconstructed." He spent five years tracking down the source of every ingredient found in a Twinkie. "I was surprised that most, so many, not only came from petroleum, but at least five came from rocks," he said.
The vitamins, artificial flavors and colorings come from petroleum. Phosphates from limestone make Twinkies light and airy. Only one preservative is used. "Sorbic acid ... is made from natural gas. That really blew my mind," Ettlinger said.
As for the best part of the Twinkie, the creamy middle, Ettinger says there's no cream in the cream at all. "It's mostly Crisco. It's mostly shortening," he explained.
The makers of Twinkies issued a statement saying, "Deconstructing the Twinkie is like trying to deconstruct the universe. We think the millions of people would agree that Twinkies just taste great."
Eating a Twinkie won't hurt you, but how we make and consume processed foods may come at a cost. "It is what it is. If you want healthy, if you want something good for you, eat your broccoli," Ettlinger said.
Once again, everything in moderation; and that goes for Twinkies too.