Diets' popularity means more choices, fewer carbs

By Clay Wilson

Stockbridge resident Dee Fowler went on a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet six years ago, before it became popular.

Fowler remembers those days, but not so fondly.

"It's a lot easier to maintain now," she said n now that Atkins, South Beach and other low-carbohydrate regimens have become the hottest dieting trends in the nation.

"Just about everything that's out there, there's a low-carb version," said Wanda Hughes.

She ought to know, since she's surrounded by many of those products on a daily basis. Hughes manages Low Carb Mart on Jonesboro Road just outside McDonough. Opened by Hughes and owner Diann Harvey of Hampton, the store has been "catering to the low-carb lifestyle" since April.

According to Hughes, she and Harvey went on low-carbohydrate diets around the same time about a year-and-a-half ago. Hughes lost 45 lbs. on the Atkins Diet, while Harvey lost 40 lbs. on the South Beach regimen.

But, Hughes noted, "It was hard to find any items to make the book (?Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution') work. I had to be real inventive."

The women decided to open a store specializing in low-carb products n the only one of its kind, they say, on the south side of Atlanta.

"We thought it would do really well, since there are so many people on the diet," Hughes said.

According to the Atkins Internet site, the Atkins diet book has sold more than 10 million copies and has been on the New York Times bestseller list for five years. The site says there have been more than 2.5 billion media mentions of Atkins in the last three years.

The popularity of the diets has resulted in an explosion of low-carb products. A July 6 Detroit News article cites an industry publication's assertion that some 1,500 low-carb products have come out in the last two years.

Low Carb Mart buys products from 10 distributors, and now sells items ranging from pasta to drinks to candy. Hughes said the top sellers include cheesecake, pizza, waffles, coconut macaroons, and, of course, candy bars.

Fowler, a regular Low Carb Mart customer, said she especially enjoys the items that appeal to her sweet tooth.

"I can go over there and get something that tastes very good, and it's not bad for me," she said. "You can't ask for anything better than that."

Since she lost 61 lbs. in six months, Fowler said she has maintained her weight within 10 pounds n for about five-and-a-half years now.

"It's a lifestyle change. It's not something you can just do," she said.

Hughes agrees. Although recently concerns have surfaced over the safety of high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets, Hughes said she thinks any adverse results people have experienced have come from abusing the diets.

"My recommendation to anyone who is dieting is to read the book, whether it's Atkins, South Beach or whatever," she said. "You can't just step into it without understanding it."

She also said that dieters can't throw out the common sense with the carbohydrates.

"You still limit yourself. Just because you can have sausage doesn't mean you can have four patties," she said.

And despite the incredible popularity of low-carb regimens n which have led some to label them as fads n Hughes is confident that the low-carb lifestyle will be around for a long time.

"This is here to stay," she said.