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Is the Low-Carb Craze Waning?

Survey Suggests Americans Tiring of Low-Carb Diets

WebMD Health News

July 15, 2004 -- How low-carb can you go? Not much further, a new marketing survey suggests.

Every day seems to bring another low-carb product to grocery shelves. Low-carb beer is old hat. Low-carb colas fight for our soft drink dollars. And who hasn't yet tried a low-carb candy bar?

More low-carb products are waiting in the wings. But their makers may have missed the boat, says Lee Smith, president of InsightExpress, an online research firm. A new study by InsightExpress shows that half of Americans who've tried low-carb diets have given them up. Only one in 10 of us are on low-carb diets, the survey shows. And the trend is down, not up.

"The peak of the low-carb trend may have happened," Smith tells WebMD. "The trend is for people to think they don't want to go on a low-carb diet. They are starting not to purchase the low-carb products that are entering the marketplace."

The low-carb craze has gone on for an unusually long time, says Don Montuori, editor for Packaged Fact Reports at MarketResearch.com, a market analysis company.

"Personally, I am shocked that the low-carb craze had such legs," Montuori tells WebMD. "On the one hand, the idea you can eat all the meat and eggs and cheese you want -- that is hard not to like. But no cookies or bread? We are a wheat-loving country. Processed wheats are the carbs we like to eat."

Carbs Fading From Consumer Radar?

The InsightExpress survey included a random sample of 500 people recruited over the Internet in a 48-hour period during early July 2004. The survey has an error range of plus or minus 4%.

Which nutritional traits do consumers think is important? According to the survey:

  • 40% consider a food's total calorie content.
  • 37% consider a food's total fat content.
  • 32% consider a food's calories from fat.
  • 31% consider a food's cholesterol content.
  • 30% consider a food's total carbohydrate content.
  • 29% consider a food's sodium content.
  • 19% consider a food's protein content.

Four out of five Americans have never been on a low-carb diet, the survey shows. Only one in five say they'd think about buying a low-carb product. And fewer than a third of survey respondents say they'd be more likely to buy a low-carb version of their favorite food.

"People have the perception that low-carb diets are not healthy, or that these diets may not help them control their weight," Smith says.

Exercise, Energy Gaining Ground

Of all the most popular diet approaches, the one consumers seem to like best is Weight Watchers, the survey suggests.

But when it comes to losing weight, only 25% said diets were the way to go. More than 60% of survey respondents endorsed exercise as the best thing to try. Nearly as many endorsed a change in eating habits, and half said eating healthier, more nutritious foods would do the trick.

"The best news is that most people know that the best way to control their weight is to exercise more," Smith says.

If Smith is right, and the carb craze is ending, what's next?

"Trans fats will be the next big thing," Montuori predicts.

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