NEW YORK, Apr 14, 2004 -- For years, Atkins experts have advised millions of consumers that lowering carbohydrate consumption is the key to trimming down and staying healthy, but the recent boom in low-carbohydrate food products and restaurant menu options has them concerned.
"We think it's terrific that people have finally embraced controlled-carbohydrate nutrition," says Dr. Stuart Trager, medical director of Atkins Nutritionals, Inc. "But as the pioneer and leader in this field for over 30 years, Atkins has always been and will continue to be committed to the science behind this nutritional strategy. If you're just lowering your carbs with many of the new food products that are now hitting the market without correctly following a healthy low-carb lifestyle, you could easily get in trouble."
Estimates suggest that over 1,000 low-carbohydrate products were launched in 2003 and hundreds more will be launched this year with offerings coming from nearly every major food manufacturer. But exactly what do all of these low-carb labels mean?
"The meaning of the words 'low-carb' on a food label is highly inconsistent," continues Dr. Trager. "In fact, in many cases the words are meaningless from a scientific standpoint. The FDA has not yet defined low carb for the consumer, so just about any food and beverage producer can use the term without qualification. A company may cut the carb content of a traditional product in half and call it low carb but it still may have a net carb count that is significantly higher than what is appropriate for someone following a healthy controlled-carb weight loss or weight maintenance program. Furthermore, a recent independent study of 50 low-carb products found that many manufacturers were under-reporting net carb content in their products. Such mislabeling can very well lead someone to fail to achieve their weight and health goals when doing Atkins. Worse still, improper consumption of low-carb products might even be unhealthy for consumers."
"Besides that, a food can be low in total or net carbs and still be unhealthy. They can include harmful additives and trans fats, even added sugars that offer no nutritional value whatsoever. If a food or beverage maker cuts the carb content of a traditional product in half and calls it low carb, while it may be lower in carbs than the original product, that doesn't mean it's automatically a healthy or effective low-carb product," said Dr. Trager.
Atkins nutrition expert, Colette Heimowitz, vice president of Atkins Health & Information Services, urges consumers to follow some basic rules when planning their daily menu and shopping for food. Most importantly: read the nutrition facts panel and the ingredients list before you purchase any item.
-- Don't sacrifice whole foods for convenience products.
-- Avoid hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils.
-- Look for added sugars like sucrose, honey or corn syrup and avoid
-- Make sure you're not exceeding more than 25 grams of sugar alcohols
such as maltitol per day to avoid GI distress.
-- If you're following a controlled-carbohydrate lifestyle, know your
carb tolerance and don't exceed it. Just buying a product labeled low
carb can be misleading.
Atkins itself has introduced over 100 new products since 2000. Currently, the company plans to maintain that pace through 2004.
"Atkins products are specifically designed to help people succeed as they are doing each of the four phases of Atkins," says Ms. Heimowitz. "We are careful to label our products truthfully and with the consumers' success in doing Atkins in mind. But even our products should be used as part of a dedicated approach to improving one's health and, not as a dietary short cut. Doing Atkins doesn't just mean lowering carbs; it is a new way of eating that brings healthy carbs into a proper balance with proteins and fats. Consumers should not let a fad approach to food marketing sway them from their commitment to doing Atkins for their own well-being."
In the 80s and 90s consumers flocked to their grocery stores and loaded up on products that touted low-fat content, and yet, in the last decade, the incidence of obesity has risen to epidemic proportions in this country. Now, the buzz is around low carb. From salad dressings and condiments to pastas and breads. But will these low-carb products fulfill the promise that low fat didn't?
"The consumer needs to be educated," says Ms. Heimowitz. "Picking up just anything with a low and/or net carb claim on the label isn't enough. Even reading the nutritional information on the back of a box isn't going to tell consumers the whole story. They need to read the ingredients and understand what affect those ingredients have on their blood sugar."
Atkins continues to educate consumers that the best food choices are nutrient-dense whole foods with a healthy balance of proteins, good fats and good carbohydrates.
"It's about doing Atkins right," continues Heimowitz. "Atkins urges consumers to use legitimate low-carb products as part of a comprehensive effort to meet their nutrition and health goals. Some of these new non-Atkins low-carb products are great, but shoppers have to look at these foods with a critical eye."