Its creator made millions of dollars , and its followers - who have included Jennifer Aniston, Renee Zellweger and Geri Halliwell - lost thousands of pounds. But now the Atkins diet - the regime that took a revolutionary low-carbohydrate, high-fat approach to slimming - has a new rival for the hearts, minds and waistlines of the weight-conscious.

Its creator made millions of dollars , and its followers - who have included Jennifer Aniston, Renee Zellweger and Geri Halliwell - lost thousands of pounds. But now the Atkins diet - the regime that took a revolutionary low-carbohydrate, high-fat approach to slimming - has a new rival for the hearts, minds and waistlines of the weight-conscious.

British bakers have started a counter-offensive in the battle for the diet pound. Their "Vitality" eating system allows - even encourages - people to eat bread, potatoes and the other foods with a high carbohydrate content.

The Federation of Bakers, the Grain Information Service and the Flour Advisory Service, which developed it, say the "Vitality" is healthier than "faddy diets" such as the Atkins because it promotes a more balanced intake of the main food groups. "Atkins and other low-carb diets have succeeded while the more orthodox dieting message has failed to get through, and that is down simply to the marketing," Dr Tamara de Grassi, head of communications at the Flour Advisory Bureau, said.

"These diets are all image-driven, helped by celebrity endorsements and a false promise of sustainable weight-loss. The diet industry has become big business and it has a lot to lose if consumers lose interest."

Under the slogan "Diets don't work", promoters of the Vitality regime, which comes with its own celebrity endorsement from the television presenter Cat Deeley, are putting pizza, pitta and panini back on the menu - in moderation. Complex carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, cereals, rice and potatoes should make up 50 per cent of our daily food intake, they say.

They scoff at claims that the Atkins is a healthy way to lose weight, pointing to a recent survey in which they found that 97 per cent of dietitians believed that low-carb diets were based on "bad dietary advice".

Some nutritionalists have questioned the emphasis of the Atkins on one food group at the expense of others, and have highlighted health risks associated with the diet such as osteoporosis and kidney problems. The backers of the Vitality, which is based on research by the Medical Research Council, also dismiss other popular weight-loss solutions such as the Blood Type Diet, food combining and detox, as unsustainable.

The Atkins diet, created by the late Dr Robert Atkins 10 years ago, has become a worldwide phenomenon, with some 3 million devotees in the UK alone. Its advocates say it works because after cutting out carbohydrates the body's metabolism increases because it has to work harder to process proteins that make up more of the food intake, resulting in weight loss.

The promoters of the Vitality diet say that, despite its popularity, the Atkins diet has had a negligible effect on bread sales, which have gone down by just 1.5 per cent by volume in the past three years, while rising in value over the same period. Instead, they say that they have been prompted to act by concerns over the long-term health effects of what they call "quick-fix diets".

"Atkins has not had a big impact on bread sales," Dr de Grassi said. "But the effect of the low-carb message on which it is based could be dangerous in the long term, if nobody counters it."

The Vitality recommends proportionately higher consumption of wholegrain and high-fibre carbohydrates and less fat. It also encourages followers to increase their level of exercise and sets a limit to daily calorie intake, neither of which are required under the Atkins regime.

The differences between the two diets could not be more marked. At breakfast, while acolytes of Atkins are tucking into as much bacon and eggs as they like (but no fried bread), Vitality dieters are told to start the day with a bagel and cheese. Publicity for the Vitality will be distributed to doctors' surgeries and branches of Sainsbury's supermarkets later this month.

The diet's promoters are convinced of its benefits. "There is no long-term research to back up the claims of low-carb diets," Dr de Grassi said. "They are simply a way of making money, persuading consumers to buy into a very expensive range of products in order to lose weight. Quick-fix diets like this allow the consumer to see things in terms of black and white.

"But dieting is not that easy: it has to be slow and steady to lose weight and then keep it off. Simply cutting out one part of the diet is not only ineffective for weight loss in the long term, it is also highly dangerous, since our bodies need all of these food types in moderation."

HOW THE DIETS COMPARE

Vitality" eating system
BREAD Lots of it. The Vitality diet advocates its adherents eat toast, bagels or muffins for breakfast and sandwiches and pizza for lunch.
MEAT: Permissible as long as bread is in the meal, say, beef, beer and vegetable pie with a crusty bread-roll, and bread-and-butter pudding.
FRUIT: An important part of the Vitality diet, which encourages nutritional balance and an intake of 1,250 calories a day. Is also used in range of puddings and cakes
DAIRY PRODUCTS: OK in moderation. Cheese is an essential component of the diet in sandwiches and soufflés, and milk is allowed in home baking.

Atkins diet
BREAD: As a major source of carbohydrate, brown and white breads are banned by the Atkins diet. Wholegrain bread is allowed and low-carb bread is now made and allowed.
MEAT: The essential item of the Atkins diet. Fry-ups without toast and steak without fries are encouraged: carnivores have no cause for complaint on the Atkins diet.
FRUIT: Fruit is allowed only in moderation. Some fruit has more carbohydrate than a Milky Way bar. On level 1, fruit is forbidden but for an occasional small apple or pear.
DAIRY PRODUCTS: All varieties of cheese are allowed. Cream is in but milk is out, as the carbohydrate level is judged too high. Small amounts of yoghurt are allowed.

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