Groups prepare attack on low-carb diet health claims

BOSTON: The low-carb diet movement may be about to have a PR battle on its plate.

BOSTON: The low-carb diet movement may be about to have a PR battle on its plate.

Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust, a food think tank that promotes the Mediterranean diet, is planning a major international conference next year to answer low-carb dieting claims. It's also looking for partners willing to help it push the message that low-carb diets aren't the best for people. Already, Italian pasta maker Barilla has signed as a cosponsor for the planned conference of food experts in Rome next February.

"Obviously, Barilla is also a very big advocate of the Mediterranean style of eating," said Sergio Pereira, VP of marketing for Barilla America in Bannockburn, IL. "We are very much in agreement with the message that Oldways has always communicated."

Oldways isn't the only group planning to use PR to fight the Atkins forces. The National Bread Leadership Council, a baking-industry education and research group, held a meeting on November 21 in Rhode Island "to create meaningful discussion around key nutrition issues involving bread," according to its website.

PRWeek also reported in August that the US Potato Board is gearing up for an image push in 2004, in the face of the popularity of the low-carb diets.

Peter Reinhart, author of Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, and a keynote speaker for the National Bread Summit, said recently, "It is critical that the nation's bread leaders create the first strong agenda to change the dialogue and correct the misinformation."

The council said 40% of Americans are eating less bread than they did a year ago.

US pasta sales are down $20-$30 million in the past year, a decline Pereira said can be partly attributed to the low-carb movement.

"The [2004 international] conference is definitely a first step," said Chris Speed, manager of food and nutrition strategies at Oldways. In March, the think tank plans a Houston celebration of the Latin American diet, which also includes carbohydrate-loaded foods.

The group is also developing a whole-grains council of growers, bread makers, and others who can get PR messages to consumers. "We are in the first stages of a campaign to challenge poor science," he said.

Oldways said it is also talking to olive-oil makers and others to become additional sponsors for its February meeting, called the Pasta Meal Conference.

Speed said he hopes future conferences will be held in the US to capture more media attention. He's also looking at creation of a US road show with the backing of US medical colleges to discuss dieting options, as well as the Mediterranean diet.

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