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Flax fiber is excellent for low-carb foods particularly because of its rich levels of soluble and insoluble fibers. Bioriginal Inc., a Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based flax seed company, applied proprietary technologies to develop FibrOmega. This nutritionally rich natural fiber contains lignans and omega-3 fatty acids and is produced from organic, non-GMO, kosher-certified flaxseeds ,- with great promise for "low-carbing" grain foods.
Dun Gifford, Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust
The low-carb phenomenon has prompted the teaming of the National Pasta Assn., Boston-based Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust and pasta-maker Barilla to educate the masses on the importance and benefits of carbohydrates in the diet. The group is developing a program on carbohydrates and the benefits of grains, and is working on a "methodology and seal of approval" for "wholesome carbohydrates," which they will explain later in the year. They also are staging a conference this month in Rome, "A Global Overview of the Science of Healthful Pasta Meals," to educate food scientists, educators and food processors.
"Americans are eating in a stunning pattern," says Dun Gifford, Oldways founder and president. "Savvy food companies understand the cyclical nature of trends. It is their business responsibility to develop foods to capitalize on what consumers seek. The low-carb trend too shall pass."
Judi Adams, president of the Wheat Foods Council, is rightfully concerned that relevant scientific information is not getting out. "Recent and second-hand reports of selected scientific studies have led the average consumer to believe the Atkins diet has been vindicated," she notes. "While there are many that realize that carbohydrates are essential in a sensible diet and critical to good health, the food industry's message to the public is rather confusing."
Judi Adams, Wheat Foods Council
When all is said and done, one thing is certain. Weight management is (and always has been) a simple mathematical equation: the difference between the consumption and expenditure of calories. Negative balance prompts weight loss while positive balance results in weight gain. No diet can change this.
How big a market, really?
The NPD Group, a Port Washington, N.Y., market research firm that tracks food trends, reports only 1 percent of the total U.S. population is strictly following a low-carbohydrate diet. Atkins Nutritionals Inc., Ronkonkoma, N.Y., however, claims 12% of the U.S. adult population either follows or has tried the Atkins Diet or similar low-carb regimens.
Low CarbBiz, a Denver based low-carb news service, claims Americans spent $15 billion in 2003 on low-carb products. CNN and several newspapers are now using this figure to depict the total size of the U.S. low-carb business.
Market transaction data are limited on low-carb foods. Matthew Wiant, chief marketing officer of Atkins, estimates the current opportunity in retail markets excluding restaurants to be roughly $2 billion. Depending upon your perspective, that's either a hefty number or a minuscule share of America's food budget.
Despite the small number of Americans actually abiding by low-carb diets, interest in this phenomenon among food producers, processors and retailers is growing exponentially. Dedicated fare is cropping up in outlets from health food stores to Wal-Marts. Even natural products giant Hain Celestial Group has joined the scrimmage by launching Carb Fit, a new low-carbohydrate food brand.
More than 1,000 low- or no-carbohydrate food and beverage products were introduced in 2003 in retail and foodservice sectors, according to Marketing Intelligence Service, a Naples, N.Y., new product tracker. A definite frenzy. What remains to be seen is if this is the zenith or just another step up a longer ladder.
The fine print
Currently, nearly any food product can be labeled "low-carb." The various low-carbohydrate labels all have different meanings and methods. The core of this idea is the glycemic-index concept and the belief that the longer it takes the carbohydrates to be digested, the lesser the impact on blood sugar and insulin and the healthier the food.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not defined "low-carb." Any such claims therefore are not approved. The FDA also has not defined "net carbs," "net-impact carbs" or "net-effective carbs." All these are qualifications of carbohydrate content, figured by subtracting the non-glycemic carbohydrates from the total amount of carbohydrates.
FDA definitions of carbohydrates are not based on their metabolic effects, and for good reason: These properties are influenced by what else is in the meal. The current practice of excluding fiber in the calculation of carbohydrates in low-carb foods is questionable. Fiber, according to the FDA is a carbohydrate.
Any benefits that low-carb foods might offer for weight loss or nutrition are arguable. Evidence is rather limited for the claim that some types of carbohydrates are more likely to cause weight gain than others by virtue of how they affect blood sugar. Replacing carbohydrates with protein ,- a strategy employed by most food product developers ,- still yields the same amount of calories.
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