Bread rises to the occasion as consumers fall out of love with Dr Atkins' low-carb diet

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Sales of bread have risen for the first time in years because of a backlash against the low-carbohydrate Atkins diet, it has been claimed.

Sales of bread have risen for the first time in years because of a backlash against the low-carbohydrate Atkins diet, it has been claimed.

The Federation of Bakers (FOB) released figures yesterday showing a revival in bread sales - including a 10 per cent increase in sales of brown and wholemeal bread - which it said was partly because of the declining popularity of the "fad" Atkins diet.

These figures follow the announcement earlier this month that the company that sells Atkins' own-brand diet products in the UK was preparing to enter administration because of disappointing sales after only 15 months in business.

The Slough-based Atkins Nutritionals UK, which makes low-carbohydrate snacks and milk shakes, admitted it was making a loss. It blamed increased competition in the sector but said that the Atkins brand in Britain and Europe remained strong and its products would still be available.

Robert Atkins, an American doctor, urged devotees of the diet to replace carbohydrates - such as flour, sugar, rice and potatoes - with foods high in protein and fat. It was claimed that carbohydrates triggered a rise in blood sugar levels and stimulated hunger. If a diet was high in protein and fat, the body would start to consume its own fat in a process known as ketosis, Atkins argued. The diet was invented in the 1970s and revived in the 1990s. But critics claimed that it was little more than a way of cutting down calories and that it could cause long-term health problems, including heart disease and kidney ailments.

Andrew Brown, director of the FOB, said that the industry's 2004 annual sales figures, which cover only the wrapped bread sector that accounts for 80 per cent of the total market, were a victory for a "balanced" diet.

"Consumers are getting wise to faddy diets and are reverting back to their favourite foods," said Mr Brown. "Brown bread has always been popular but this latest surge in sales indicates that [consumers] are now making more of their own decisions and are not waiting for someone else to dictate to them."

Sales of bread grew 0.2 per cent last year compared to a fall of 1.8 per cent the previous year, according to the FOB. The slight increase in 2004 comes after a steady decades-long decline in bread sales after the Second World War.

Julian Hunt, editor of Grocer magazine, predicted that low-carb dieting in the UK would follow the pattern of the United States, where at its peak it was embraced by a host of Hollywood stars.

Indications that Atkins was declining in popularity emerged in a report published last August by the market research company Mintel. Researchers found that while 13 per cent had experience of a low-carb diet, fewer than 3 per cent, or 1.35 million people, were dedicated to such a regime.

The Atkins diet peaked in the UK 18 months ago and now many devotees who had sought to cut out carbohydrates were instead moderating their intake.

Companies have sought to capitalise on this by introducing carbohydrate-controlled lines such as Carb Options, a range of sauces sold by Unilever. "There is now a second wave of products coming onto the market for people who were once the hardcore Atkins followers and who have now decided instead to moderate their intake of carbohydrates," Mr Hunt said. "There is no evidence that Atkins has been hurting the sales of bread, pasta and potatoes because they are largely static markets which are very difficult to grow."

'All the weight I lost I quickly put back on'

FRANCIS MAUDE, MP

I was on Atkins, off and on, for a couple of months and lost three quarters of a stone. I'm probably not the best advertisement for it because I've put it all back on since but it did work for me and I'd cheerfully go on it again. Having said that, it can be difficult because carbohydrates are so addictive - we all have a weakness for sugar. The hardest part for me was not being allowed alcohol for the first few weeks. But, apart from that, it wasn't a problem - even when going out.

MEREDITH ETHERINGTON-SMITH author

I think it is completely out of fashion. I'm back on bread because, quite frankly, although I lost a lot of weight, you really can't cut out carbs. The moment you stop you put it all back on. It's not good for you to do long-term. I'm back with the French bread. It's not a long-term eating plan, it's just another crash diet and they come and go. One minute everyone's eating only grapefruit and then it is protein. The answer is to exercise more and eat less.

TIM LOTT, novelist, and former broadcaster, magazine editor and television producer

I was on it several times. It was vanity. It was very boring and you begin to smell bad, especially your breath. It doesn't work in the long run. It starts off promisingly and you lose lots of weight, but you put it back on. Food is such a pseudo-science. I've welcomed back bread. I couldn't live without it. At first I was living with cooked breakfasts. But I missed the things that you're naturally meant to eat.

THE CARBOHYDRATE REVIVAL

BREAD

According to the Federation of Bakers, the sector has ridden out the low-carb storm, with sales rising at the beginning of this year as the diet started losing favour. At its peak the major bakers released Atkins-friendly ranges such as Best With Less by British Bakeries and a Hovis loaf with 25 per cent fewer calories.

POTATOES

The decline in the sales of fresh potatoes may have been hastened by the popularity of the Atkins diet, according to the Mintel analyst James McCoy. But the main reason for the downturn in potato sales over the past five years is the trend towards processed potato products such as waffles and oven chips.

RICE

Rice was shunned by the strict diet because of its starch content - a rich source of carbohydrate. But the market research company Mintel reckons that sales of rice have risen by around 7 per cent in the past five years. Basmati is the clear market leader and is expected to come soon in Fairtrade form.

PASTA

Despite being an absolute Atkins no-no, sales of carbohydrate-laden pasta have grown significantly in the past five years. Atkins spotted the foodstuff's stubborn popularity and hastily produced low-carb pasta to satisfy its devotees' Italian culinary urges, complete with special Atkins-friendly sauces.

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