Thursday, January 26, 2012

Low-Carb Dilemma #2: Follow the Money

REMEMBER WHAT I said about why the low-carb diet appears to
work? Because it cuts out a majority of foods that people love to eat,
and because it makes eating on the run difficult. Those two factors
conspire to restrict calories, and fewer calories mean less weight.
Now, here’s an easy question: How do food manufacturers
make money? By selling you food. So what happens when 60 million
Americans decide they’re going to stop buying all the candy
bars, loaves of bread, boxes of pasta, and jars of sugary spreads
that manufacturers have obligingly loaded with carbohydrates
over the past half century?
Food manufacturers are going to have to come up with something
else to sell. Something they can tout as low-carb, to appeal
to Atkins-oriented dieters, but something that’s familiar, easy to
find, and even easier to consume. And so begins the next phase in
the American obesity epidemic.
In February 2004, the New York Times reported on the growing
trend toward low-carb marketing among restaurants and grocery
stores. Retailers are being counseled by their business
advisors to open up “low-carb” aisles; restaurants are vying for the
coveted “Atkins approved” label to hang in their windows. And in
the past 5 years, an estimated 728 new food products claiming to
be low in carbohydrates have hit the shelves. Today, you can
snack on low-carb candy, low-carb cake, and low-carb brownies,
washing it all down with a couple bottles of low-carb beer.
To get a sneak preview of where all this is going, let’s hop back
into that time travel machine. This time, we’re not going to the
storied Middle Ages or the dawn of man . . . we’re just going back
about 10 years or so, to the beginnings of the last diet craze that
swept the nation: the low-fat craze.
It’s the early 1990s. The low-carb craze hasn’t yet begun to
blossom. (For better or worse, neither has Britney Spears.) But
S H O C K E R : H OW L OW- C A R B D I E TS M A K E YO U FA T 89
another mantra has begun to take hold in American society: EAT
This directive comes not from a book-peddling diet doc but from
the U.S. government, in the form of a revised food pyramid designed
by the Food and Drug Administration. Fat has been fingered as the
root of all dietary evils: Simply put, fatty foods translate into fatty
people. Diet experts race to defend this idea, which on the face of
it sounds pretty logical: Dietary fat is more easily transformed into
body fat, whereas carbohydrates are preferentially burned off for
energy. Hence, swap your fat calories for carb calories, and voilĂ ,
you’ve entered into the magical weight loss zone.
Quickly, food manufacturers move to capitalize on these exciting
developments. As sales of fat-free milk rise, packages of
reduced-fat, low-fat, and fat-free cheeses, spreads, yogurts, ice
creams, cakes, and cookies begin to fill the supermarket shelves.
Some taste okay. Some taste like sugar-crusted cardboard. But
what the hell—no fat, no foul. Carbo-loading becomes a byword of
amateur athletes all across the country.
However, this whole low-fat theory comes with one big but.
(Actually, it comes with millions of big butts, as the obesity rate

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