Food Fax

March 2004

Manic Aspects of the "Low-Carb" Craze -- Part 1 of 4
By Carol T. Culhane, P.H.Ec. MBA

Mania Defined
mania n. excessive enthusiasm (for thing, for doing); eager pursuit or admiration

Low-Carb Diet Defined
Low-carbohydrate diets designed for weight reduction require the elimination from the diet of all calorie-bearing carbohydrate save for 50 to 100g per day. Put into perspective:*

Serving of Food Net Carb** (g)
White Bread -- slice 14
100% WW Bread -- slice 11
60% WW Bread -- slice 12
Apple -- medium 17
Banana -- 22 cm long 25
Baked potato -- 12 cm long 47
Boiled potato -- 7 cm long 26
*Nutrient Value of Some Common Foods. Health Canada. 1998
** Carbohydrate less dietary fibre

A low-carb diet requires, as do all therapeutic diets, a great amount of determination and discipline. For example, one baked potato approximates the 50g per day allotment; add two slices of whole-wheat bread and a banana, and the upper allowance of 100g is reached. There is no provision for that fresh-picked apple. If consumed, the diet will not result in reduction of body fat and the intended weight loss.

Reconciling Media Reports
Various market research results report that as much as 20% of the American population is on a low-carb diet, as are an undetermined number of Canadians. Given the restrictive requirements of a true weight-reduction, fat-burning, low-carb diet, it is highly unlikely that 20% of the American population is sufficiently disciplined to follow the regime. It is inconceivable that they themselves, their friends and family members tolerate the negative side effects of the diet reference being especially made to the bad breath associated with ketosis, a physiological condition which can easily arise from low-carb intake. Unless, of course, this truly is a mania we are witnessing.

Digging into the Details
It appears that the meaning of a genuine low-carb, weight reduction diet is misunderstood by several stakeholders, particularly market researchers, survey participants, the media, food manufacturers and the public. Yet to be clarified is: how a researcher defined 'low carb' - both food and diet - at the outset of a market survey; in what manner participants themselves identify and classify sources of carbohydrate; if this interpretation is consistent with the definition (if there is one) in use by the researcher; and the amount of carbohydrate participants consume on a daily basis. Without this clarification, survey results cannot be relied upon to reflect consumer attitudes, purchase behaviour and product usage.

The Bigger Question
. yet to asked, heard and addressed is "What is the underlying and desperate need (read: mania) that motivates legions of vulnerable people to defy, attempt to defy or hope to defy, the way human beings have eaten since the dawn of civilization?" FF

Some web-sites
www.google.ca (Enter low-carb)
http://www.consumer.gov/weightloss/ (Partnership for Healthy Weight Management)


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