Atkins books--his latest, \"Atkins for Life,\" was published this year--routinely top best-seller lists. Atkins companies have racked up millions of dollars in sales of specialty low-carb food products and carb-counting scales.
But the popularity of Atkins' eating advice, now appealing to another generation, is upsetting some food companies that rely on the consumer appetite for carbohydrate-laden foods, such as pastas and pizzas, cakes, cookies and cereals, to add heft to their own bottom lines. They claim Atkins is falsely disparaging food groups that serve as a foundation for North American eating. And that by teaching people to severely limit the use of flour-based products, Atkins is eating into sales of some bread and cereal products in the United States (and Canada).
\"Our industry has to do something, and soon. It is starting to become a mainstream belief that carbohydrates are bad,\" said Judi Adams, director of the Wheat Foods Council, a consortium of industry players that includes ConAgra, General Mills and Kellogg�s. Part of the consortium's push will be in Washington, where federal health officials are starting talks on revisions to the nation's 11-year-old Food Guide Pyramid. Wheat Foods will be actively involved in defending the grains.
Currently, the food pyramid puts bread, cereals, rice and pasta as the foundation for healthy eating, recommending six to 11 servings a day. But some are pushing for changes that would move grains off the foundation, and cut back servings.
There is limited funding for the anti-Atkins campaign, as most food companies spend their advertising dollars on product-specific programs to tout such things as new Berry-Burst Cheerios, recently released by General Mills. So, with only a slender budget to try to counter the Atkins phenomenon, the Wheat Foods Council is aiming its \"educational campaign\" at nutritionists and the medical community.
The strategy is a direct attack on Atkins: Americans who follow the Atkins diet increase their risk of health problems that include cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, kidney damage and some cancers, the Wheat Foods Council says. It claims that Atkins followers can also suffer headaches, constipation and bad breath.
The council says obesity is not specifically tied to carbohydrates but is caused by laziness and overeating.
According to a recent U.S. government survey, consumer spending in 2001 for ready-to-eat and cooked cereals, pasta, flour, flour mixes and bakery products dropped from the previous year even as consumer spending for meat, poultry, fish and eggs and other similar products increased for the third year in a row.
Moreover, the 0.2% decrease in spending came as the consumer price index for those foods grew 2.9%. And wheat consumption in the United States dropped 4 percent from 1997 to 2001, according to industry research.
Among Atkins' claims: the elimination of \"white flour-laden junk food\" from kitchen cabinets, and research that Atkins says shows carbohydrates work to slow the body's burning of fat and make people feel hungrier faster. And after decades of rejecting Atkins' theories, some new research, including work by Harvard University, has started lending credence to Atkins' ideas.
Researchers say that over-consumption of bread, cereal and baked products is partly to blame for obesity in North America. Products made with white flour, sugars and hydrogenated oils are the worst.
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