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French Diet May Energize Low-Carb Food Trend

Here we go again.

Low-carb foods may get a new boost from a French diet about to land in the U.S.

The Dukan Diet, created by Dr. Pierre Dukan, will gain exposure here with the expected launch of a related book next week. The diet was introduced in France more than 10 years ago, and has already gained a big following there and in the United Kingdom, among other places. In fact, among the reported high-profile followers is the mother of future British Royal Kate Middleton.

U.S. consumers have already been introduced to low-carb eating, largely through the work of the late Dr. Robert Atkins, whose diet became a phenomenon.

Yet America's obesity epidemic continues and millions of consumers still seek help in reducing weight.

Most of the food industry isn't yet aware of the Dukan program despite some limited media attention, so it's a good time to put this on our radar.

It focuses on high-protein, low-fat eating through a four-phase program. Those phases are Attack, Cruise, Consolidation and Stabilization. Fruits and breads are among foods that get less emphasis, which is typical of many low-carb diets.

How does it differ from the Atkins program? For one, it focuses on low-fat protein, compared to the higher-fat variety in the Atkins diet, said Judi Adams, a dietitian who is president of the Grain Foods Foundation and the Wheat Foods Council. She made a brief presentation about the Dukan program during the recent American Bakers Association Convention in San Antonio. Adams said the Atkins approach may appeal more to men because of the inclusion of higher-fat meats, whereas Dukan may attract more women.

Low-carb diets tend to get the attention of groups like ABA, which represents an industry segment known for its carbs. GFF is gearing up to disseminate scientific information to help balance the expected low-carb publicity.

“In the long term, extreme diets aren't successful and could be harmful,” Adams contended.

That comment echoes the remarks of some other nutritional experts. However, the Atkins Diet also attracted plenty of critics, but still struck a chord with many American consumers.

The debate will be about more than the number of carbs. There will likely be a contest between Atkins, Dukan and other low-carb contenders. In fact, when I Googled Dukan Diet, the first entry I retrieved was a paid ad that reads, “Atkins Diet vs. Dukan — Why is Atkins Right for You?”

This is a good time for the food industry to watch developments and track the impact from Dukan. If it begins to catch on here, retailers, suppliers and others will need to consider their participation levels.

If nothing else, retailers will be faced with new rounds of questions from consumers trying to rectify what may seem like conflicting dietary messages over time. Perhaps the best role retailers can play is to educate shoppers so they feel less confused.