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Spud industry sees low-carb diets fading

JACKPOT, Nev. — The U.S. potato industry may soon be able to say good riddance to the low-carb diet phenomenon.

Low-carb diets such as Atkins and the South Beach Diet appear to have peaked in popularity, a potato industry representative told Idaho growers last week.

“We’re going to see these in the rear-view mirror after awhile,” Linda McCashion, vice president for public relations for the U.S. Potato Board, assured Potato Growers of Idaho at the group’s summer meeting.

Estimates vary as to how long the low-carb diet craze might last. Some trend watchers have estimated that the phenomenon is in the second year of a four-year cycle.

“I think we’re past the peak,” McCashion told Idaho growers.

People have been drawn to low-carb diets because they’re looking for “a quick fix,” she said.

The truth about carbohydrates and nutrition may appear boring compared with the excitement generated by the low-carb diets, McCashion said.

Industry officials don’t deny that there’s an obesity crisis, but they vigorously deny that spuds are a major contributor.

The industry has aligned itself with more traditional diet approaches such as Weight Watchers, which emphasize a balanced diet, smaller serving sizes and exercise.

The national board launched a “Healthy Potato” campaign earlier this year in an effort to set consumers straight.

The campaign points out that a 5-ounce potato contains just 100 calories and 9 percent of the total recommended daily value of carbohydrates.

The industry is also trying to get out the message that spuds are a good source of vitamin C, potassium and dietary fiber.

A 5-ounce potato provides 45 percent of the total recommended daily value of Vitamin C and 21 percent of the daily value of potassium.

The board has recommended that shippers double the size of the nutrition label on bagged potatoes to emphasis those and other key nutritional points.

“We still feel that we need to keep that nutritional label in front of people,” McCashion said.

An estimated 10 million to 24 million Americans are following some type of low-carb diet.

That may seem like a lot of people, but low-fat diets of the past have actually drawn a much bigger following, McCashion said.

Low-carb diets differ from each other slightly, but they all have some things in common, she said.

“They all claim that carbohydrates put the weight on, and they provide quick weight loss,” McCashion said.

What the low-carb advocates aren’t saying is that dieters tend to put much of that weight back on after a year, she said.

Over the long term, reducing fat rather than carbs is much superior for weight loss maintenance, McCashion said.

By DAVE WILKINS Idaho Staff Writer

Dave Wilkins is based in Twin Falls, Idaho. His e-mail address is cappress@cableone.net.

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