"Even if you're on the right track,
you'll get run over if you just sit there."
— Will Rogers
The end of the first quarter has a lot of people wondering: Whatever became of
Atkins and South Beach — the diets that helped many lose weight easily and gain good
health? Their dietary recommendations, based on medical principles intended to
prevent and treat identifiable illnesses, had become mainstream labels for the last
two years, largely due to the successful experiences of people everywhere.
In addition to losing weight, consumers had become conscious of what their foods
contained. Searching labels for carb counts became as routine as looking for its price.
According to global market researcher ACNielsen, the sales of "low carb" foods
have declined (LabelTrends). Both unit and dollar volume were down by more
than 10% in the 4th quarter of 2004. Key consumer insight gleaned — consumers
found it difficult to follow the diet with manufactured "low carb" products.
"Low Carb diets," as designed by Dr. Atkins and Dr. Agatston, were never meant to
be wholly and exclusively for weight loss. They were meant to be a way of selecting food choices
to impact overall health and well-being. The underlying principle was
to remove simple carbohydrates from one's diet and to develop a conscious way
to select foods on the basis of their nutrient content and their impact on
According to NPD's 2004 Carbohydrate Consumption study, people who report
health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol
at above average rates, are consuming fewer carbohydrates. These consumers
are obviously driven by their health problems to select the diet. And they
stay on when they see results.
At the other end of the spectrum, blood sugar spikes from high carbohydrate consumption can cause surges of insulin,
which could encourage the growth of tumors, according to the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (2004).
Enter Glycemic Index (GI) — the concept was originally conceived to help
diabetics regulate their blood sugar levels. It helps them understand the
impact of carbohydrates from individual foods on their blood sugar, as
compared to the impact of digesting pure glucose (which enters our blood
stream almost instantly) or white bread (which produces glucose surges in
our blood equally instantly).
Europe — whom we often regard as superior in culinary and nutrition
sophistication — has already embraced the concept of GI and allows for the
index to be posted alongside the nutritional information on processed food
packaging. American food companies are waking up and discussing GI as the
next big trend for the masses in their boardrooms and product development
Scientific research from Harvard School of Public Health indicates that the
GI of the overall diet is strongly related to risks of Type 2 diabetes and
coronary heart disease. The evidence was strong enough for World Health
Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to recommend
that people in industrialized countries base their diets on low-GI foods in
order to prevent coronary heart disease, diabetes and obesity — the most
common diseases of affluence.
Here's how the Glycemic Index works:
Carbohydrates are ranked — on a scale from zero to 100 — based on their
immediate effect on blood glucose levels. High levels of sugar in the blood
lead to the production of insulin, a hormone that causes the body to store
excess carbohydrates as fat. One downside to using GI — the GI of a food
is not a calculated number — it has to be measured in a laboratory. Also,
consumers don't eat foods individually and this raises the second
difficulty — of calculating food combinations since GI can be affected by
what else is being consumed and a whole number of other factors. Portion
size affects the amount of glucose produced in the body.
The GI concept has gotten people to understand that foods are multi-faceted
and food selection requires conscious decision making and more effort than
the mere straightforward sum that they had been misled into believing. To
adopt the GI system consumers have to learn about Glycemic Load (GL) — a
concept that provides a measure of total glycemic response to a food or meal
and takes the quantity of "available carbohydrates" into account.
In food, available carbohydrates, i.e. starch and sugar, provide energy;
components such as fiber do not. A typical American diet contains about
100 GL units per day. This concept becomes clearer when one considers the
GI and the GL of some of the common foods — as shown in the grid published
in the July 2002 issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The
table "Revised International Table of Glycemic Index (GI) and Glycemic Load
(GL)," lists GL first and then, the GI. For example, (8,42) for Kellogg's All-Bran
cereal means a glycemic load of eight and a glycemic index of 42.
What matters most is that people who follow a low GI diet tend to lose
weight and researchers are discovering that lowering the GI of a diet can
reduce the amount of LDL, or "bad" cholesterol.
The FDA never authorized the use of the term "low-carb" and is now immersed
in an engaged conversation with the public and private sectors to define
"carbohydrates." Like its northern counterpart, Health Canada, the FDA
still does not recognize GI ratings of foods. Further, they don't acknowledge that the
GI concept is actually proven to help those with diabetes select foods that are best
for their day-to-day health, and that it can serve as a tool to help
mainstream shoppers in their fight to lose or maintain ideal weight
and improve heart health.
So, while the FDA works to find the "meaning of carbohydrates," savvy
food companies are forging ahead to demystify the GI concept for consumers.
Expect to see packaged food which lists GI numbers, support services on
the Internet, and even on cell phone services on GI matters.
Stay tuned next month for a look at manufacturers of tasty healthful foods that
are also good for your health!
Kantha Shelke, Ph.D.
Consumer Insights & Ingredients R&D Editor
Food Processing magazine (www.foodprocessing.com)
Wellness Food magazine (www.wellnessfoodnet.com)
Kantha Shelke is a principal at Corvus Blue LLC, a Chicago-based firm that specializes in competitive
intelligence and expert witness services. The firm helps businesses and professional organizations in
the health and wellness sector to focus on what matters most. Kantha also serves as the Consumer Insights
and Ingredient R&D editor for Food Processing, Wellness Foods, and Food Creations magazines. For additional
insights write firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © May 2005 Kantha Shelke and Low Carb Luxury
Photography copyright © 2005 Neil Beaty.