With memories of Atkins' rapid rise and fall still fresh in many minds, the food industry is undoubtedly curious about how the latest low-carb craze will unfold.
The Dukan Diet, named after the French doctor who developed the plan and wrote the corresponding book, has attracted more than a million followers — or “Dukannistes” — in Europe, including celebrities like Kate Middleton's mom, Carol. Like Atkins, the Dukan Diet strictly limits intake of carbohydrates. Users are led through four stages of dieting, starting with only water and lean protein, then gradually adding in vegetables, fruit and even a slice of bread or two.
Bread and pasta makers, who took the hardest hit during the Atkins years, are going on the offensive. The same week “The Dukan Diet” hit U.S. bookshelves, the National Pasta Association announced a promotional campaign to counter the low-carb message. Called “Pasta Fits,” the program offers recipes, success stories, dieting advice and other materials aimed at reminding consumers that carbs are, in fact, part of a healthy diet.
“A lot of Americans are still carb-phobic,” said Sarah Wally, registered dietitian and consultant to the NPA. “We're trying to reassure them that eating pasta won't make you fat.”
A vigorous defense may not be necessary. The past several years have seen whole grains, bolstered by revisions to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, incorporated into everything from cookies to cereal to potato chips. Recent research has also taken the air out of diets that focus on one specific nutrient. A study commissioned by the National Institutes of Health and carried out at Harvard University pitted four popular diets against each other and found that, when it comes to losing weight, the most important factor is calorie consumption.
The scientific community's reaction to Dukan has not been kind. The British Dietetic Association is already calling it one of the five worst diets of 2011. France's national food safety agency, meanwhile, calls it “risky” and “imbalanced.”
“We haven't seen the nutrition community embracing this diet,” said Wally. “I think people recognize that this is a quick-fix fad diet.”