Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Good carbs, bad carbs

News flash: Oranges are good for you. Potatoes? Health food! Those are messages you don't hear much in these topsy-turvy days of Atkins mania and low-carb living -- when you can have all the sour cream you want as long as you don't put it on a baked potato -- but according to a story from Reuters, carbs are looking to make a comeback. Produce purveyors, faced with flagging sales and stuck with the fact that, unlike the makers of snack foods and beer, they can't make low-carb versions of fruits and veggies, are putting their efforts into the only avenue they have for attracting dieters to their wares: Marketing. So look for campaigns touting the good side of carbohydrates, and positioning citrus fruits and spuds as containing good carbohydrates -- complex carbohydrates your body needs. Really. It does. Put down that protein and step slowly away!

Though it may seem kind of pathetic to have to position regular, wholesome food this way, the genius of the "good carbohydrate" plan is that it will eventually make avoiding carbs so complicated that people will just give up. It could happen. I remember when I started on a low-fat diet to lower my cholesterol, the instructions were simple: No fats. But then, when that didn't get the desired results, the nutritionist started making qualifications -- I needed more of this kind of fat and less of that kind of fat. "No fat" wasn't as good as some of the right fats. And I discovered that a flat-out "no" was a lot easier to work up will-power and stick to than a wobbly maybe. Inject enough confusion about carbs into the low-carb debate, and people may decide to throw it all in and eat like a normal person again. Although I hate to tell the produce pros, I doubt oranges will be the first carb they load up on. The ultimate beneficiary of all this hype may be Hershey.

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