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Second, there is the confusing notion of net carbs. Some manufacturers subtract the good carbs from the bad ones and advertise the difference. This is a slippery slope because the FDA insists that a carb is a carb is a carb. So net carbs are not the same as fewer carbs.
Third, some low-carb products are so loaded with extra calories that they pose an unnecessary hurdle to weight loss. Take Subway's traditional 280-calorie 6-in. sandwich, the one that helped Jared slim down and find a gig as Subway's pitchman. That's about half the calories of the Atkins-friendly Subway chicken bacon ranch wrap. Want real results? Order the traditional sandwich on the tortilla wrap for fewer carbs and fewer calories.
Finally, some low-carb products never had many carbs to begin with. Wish-Bone Carb Options ranch dressing has zero carbs, but the regular version has just 1 g per 2tbsp. serving. Unless you're knocking the stuff back like beer at a frat party, the difference is a joke. And speaking of beer, Miller Lite now markets itself as a low-carb brew though it never changed the recipe. It just happened to be low carb all along (3.2 g per 12 oz., vs. 12 g for the typical beer).
No matter where you stand on the carb issue, what should be clear by now is the staying power of a trend that is sending tremors through the economic food chain. Not even December's mad-cow scare has put a dent in beef consumption. Pork bellies, which give us bacon, are trading at record high prices. Egg prices have hit a 20-year high. The stock price of Cal-Maine Foods, a leading fresh-egg producer, has soared nearly sevenfold in 12 months. Some economists go so far as to credit the low-carb culture as a chief force in revitalizing our farm-belt economy.
Here is how a diet revolution is rippling through the economy:
--THE FOOD GIANTS WEIGH IN
The low-carb craze is also roiling the world's biggest food-manufacturing companies. H.J. Heinz Co., whose frozen entrees have been hammered by the low-carb lifestyle, is taking carbs out of its Smart Ones lineup; Nestle is doing the same with Lean Cuisine. Heinz pulled 75% of the carbs out of its flagship ketchup for a One Carb version that hit stores last week. Hershey has introduced 1 gram Sugar Carb chocolate bars.
Meanwhile, General Mills has acknowledged that higher egg demand suggests that many consumers are eating omelets instead of cereal. The company, which partly attributed poor financial results last quarter to carb counting, is responding with a higher-protein/lower-carb version of Total cereal. It will unveil 40 new products in May, including low-carb Hamburger Helper. Kraft is working on a CarbWell line of salad dressings and barbecue sauces, and is recasting its marketing to feature the meager carb content of sugar-free Jell-O. Breyers is rolling out CarbSmart Klondike bars.