Suffolk eateries feeding into the low-carb craze

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 29, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Imagine a diet that allows you to walk into Burger King. Order as many Whoppers (or even double Whoppers) as you wish, sit down, and chew to your heart’s content.

Well, maybe that’s a stretch.

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It’s all part of the &uot;low-carb&uot; diet trend that is sweeping the nation. A diet that tosses out fruits, bagels, yogurt, and fruit juices and welcomes steak, bacon, butter, eggs and cheese has proven too good to resist for potential weight-losers.

Driving up and down North Main Street, it’s obvious that restaurants throughout downtown Suffolk are trying to help folks get the skinny on dining out, low-carb style.

&uot;Low-Carb Menu,&uot; announces the message below the Burger King sign. Fire Mountain points out that it has several menu items for those of us that are trying to drop weight – and our cholesterol. Even 7-Eleven urges customers to take part in the low-carb revolution.

A low-carb Whopper is served without the bun, mayonnaise and ketchup (but with lettuce and tomato), and a full meal comes with a salad and water or diet soda. Double, Junior and Bacon Whoppers fall under the same format, as does a low-carb Chicken Whopper. Local Hardee’s restaurants also offer similar low-carb burgers.

&uot;We get a crowd that orders pizza, and just eats the toppings,&uot; said Mike Williams, owner of Baron’s restaurant on Main Street. &uot;Some get pizzas without cheese. People order burgers with no buns or mayonnaise – it’s just meat with some toppings. They eat a lot of fish, and they’re big on lite beer.&uot;

Even Subway, which gained national fame when Indianapolis resident Jared Fogle dropped 250 pounds by eating the chain’s

low-fat, low-cal subs and diet soda, has started to adapt to the low-carb craze. The eatery now offers a new Subwrap sandwich, in which turkey or chicken bacon is heated with Swiss cheese and chicken stripes with onions, peppers and olives on soy or wheat bread.

&uot;It has worked beautifully,&uot; said City Councilwoman Linda T. Johnson, who has lost 40 pounds since August by following the famed Atkin’s diet. &uot;I’ve been on diets since I was in my early 20s, but nothing’s ever been really successful until this.&uot;

Johnson began by cutting her starch intake: breads, pasta, potatoes, and refined sugar.

&uot;I ate a lot of meat and cheese,&uot; she said. &uot;I still eat a lot of cheese, but I’ve tried to modify it so that I eat white meat, instead of red.

&uot;We need to stop seeing diets as a temporary thing, and start looking at them as a way of life. Lots of skeptics say that I’ll gain all the weight back if I start eating like I used to, but that’s a choice I’m not going to make.&uot;

At the Flower’s Bakery outlet on Pinner Street, Healthline wheat and fiber bread, which has no sugar and low carbohydrates, flies out the door as soon it arrives, said clerk Margaret Cofield. &uot;It’s been selling very well since we’ve had it, and we’ve had it for about a year.

&uot;People are losing weight on this bread. They seem to prefer it to the white bread, because it’s healthier.

The theory behind low-carb diets lies in what carbohydrates truly do. Essentially starches and sugar, carbs supply energy and play a role in the functioning of the entire body, including the brain. However, carbohydrates not used immediately are stored as fat, which converts to energy. When carbohydrates are severely restricted, more fat turns to energy, causing weight loss, low-carb advocates claim.

Low-carb diets, such as Sugar Busters, The Zone and the enormously popular Dr. Atkins Diet, have soared to national fame in recent years. From the 1970s until his death last April, Dr. Robert Atkins argued that lowering carbohydrate intake could help a body burn fat quickly. Furthermore, he argued, fat intake is good because it clenches hunger.

Though his ideas were often met with scorn by the medical community, more than 15 million copies of his book have sold to date.

Some nutrition experts warn there is a dark side to a low-carb dieting, especially until more research and knowledge becomes available. For example, there is no real definition as to what &uot;low-carb&uot; officially means. That’s not the case with &uot;low fat&uot; and &uot;reduced fat&uot; qualifiers.

&uot;I don’t know that there’s enough long-term research to say whether (low-carb) diets could be a problem,&uot; said Suffolk Health Department dietician Karen Brower, &uot;but the potential for some is there.&uot;

For example, she said, people that don’t eat enough carbs put themselves at risk for heart disease, stroke and especially colon cancer. Though studies have shown that low-carb diets cause speedy weight loss, the jury is still out on whether they actually help a person keep that weight off.

There’s also medical evidence that too much protein and not enough carbohydrates can hurt one’s kidneys or cause calcium loss. Not getting enough nutrients can cause headaches, dizziness, and/or dehydration.

Low-carb diets often rely on the glycemic index, which measures how fast and how much a fixed quantity of food will increase blood sugar.

&uot;The problem with the glycemic index is that it doesn’t say how a food was processed, how it was stored, how it was cut, or how ripe it is,&uot; said Brower, naming factors that could call the index’s reliability into question.

Often, as was the case with Johnson, low-carb diets ask users to nearly cut out entire food groups for weeks or months at a time.

&uot;Any diet that is going to cut out whole food groups is something I wouldn’t recommend to anyone,&uot; Brower said. &uot;People miss out on a lot of nutrients that they may not realize they need.&uot;