July 27, 2003
Cashing in on low-carb diets
As popularity of Atkins diet grows, more menus offer fare that helps dieters stick to plan
By Arnold Lindsay alindsay~clarionledger.com
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The popularity of weight loss and the role of the Atkins diet are becoming increasingly visible in the Jackson area.
From Michelob Ultra low-carbohydrate beer to menus at local restaurants, the diet that stresses weight loss and maintenance through a high-protein and low-carbohydrate diet, is becoming mainstream.
"We can hardly keep (Michelob Ultra) on the shelves, especially in the draft," said Justin Carter, operations supervisor for Southern Beverage Co. Inc., the local distributor for Anheuser-Busch.
"It's hard to keep it in stock, especially since Atkins OK'd it for his diet," he said. "It's on every truck that goes out."
The low-carbohydrate beer has been a top-seller in the Brandon and Madison, topped only by Bud Light, Carter said.
CS's restaurant, near downtown Jackson, has successfully implemented an Atkins diet lunch menu, said owner Pat Boland. He said former waitress Malisa Stack put the low-carbohydrate menu together.
"It's doing real well," Boland said. "I've never seen a diet catch on, or as many people on it, as that one."
It's the same thing across town at Broad Street Baking Company and Cafe in Banner Hall, where a menu containing a "Lo Carb" corner featuring dishes that fit into the growing trend will soon be in use.
"Atkins just really caught on by name," said Jeff Good managing partner of Mangia Bene Inc., which owns Broad Street. "We started hearing people talk about it about a year ago."
Colette Heimowitz, of Atkins Health and Medical Information Services in New York, issued a statement saying that after years of being misunderstood, the Atkins diet is "moving into the mainstream as a healthy lifestyle choice for all kinds of people."
"As the Atkins nutritional approach gains wider acceptance in the scientific community and among consumers, we are delighted to see increasing numbers of restaurants around the country accommodating Atkins diners, making it easier to follow the controlled carbohydrate lifestyle," the statement said.
Dr. Robert C. Atkins, who died earlier this year of complications from a fall, authored 13 books, including Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution, the first edition of which was published 1985 and sells locally for around $14. Atkins was 72.
Even restaurants that don't feature the Atkins diet by name have grown adept at recommending and putting together meals for customers who seek it.
And it's easy to understand why, as according to the Wellness Center at Santa Clara University, in Santa Clara, Calif., Americans spend more than $40 billion dollars a year on dieting and diet-related products.
At Amerigo Restaurant, the wait staff is skilled at pushing items that comply with the recommendations of the Atkins diet, said manager Brandon Styll. Complying with those demands has kept the customers coming back.
Even so, Amerigo is preparing to print a menu that designates items specifically for the Atkins diet.
"We have an incredible amount of people who like to eat that way," Styll said. "We try to cater to everybody's needs that we can. It's a very, very popular trend these days, and if you didn't get involved with it and start catering to it, you'd be an idiot."
Recent Atkins diet convert Ricky Thigpen of Jackson said most restaurants where he dines are familiar with the concept and readily accommodate customers. The motivation for Thigpen's use of the diet is weight loss.
Standing 6'3'' tall, Thigpen has lost 15 of the nearly 300 pounds he weighed four weeks ago when he started the diet.
"I'm trying to do at least 50 pounds," Thigpen said. "You cut the sugar and carbs out of your diet."
Thigpen said on a recent visit to a Moe's Southwest Grill, he asked a server to alter a dish to comply with the Atkins diet.
"He said I was the fifth person to come in that day to ask for that," Thigpen said.
But not everyone is ready to jump on the low-carbohydrate bandwagon.
Melissa Bagwell, owner of Blue Country Cooking in Pearl, said most of her customers come for the home-cooked meals, complete with an ample serving of bread.
The meal offers three vegetables, one meat, choice of bread and iced tea, and very few customers ask to change it, she said.
"I have a few folks who do get a few vegetables," Bagwell said. "But what I have coming through here are working guys and they get the full meal."
LeRoy Walker Jr., co-owner of 22 McDonald's franchises, said the company has not targeted followers of the Atkins diet but has seen health-conscious consumers go wild about the newest offerings, including the California cob salad and the Caesar salad.
"It's going very, very well. They're some of our top producers," Walker said. "The sales are exceeding the targets and we're very, very proud."