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Low carb in the high country

When Lorrie Bennett’s colleague suggested she begin eating a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet, she laughed.”I said, ‘Yeah right, 25 years of training and you’re saying I’m going to eat a high-fat diet?’ You gotta be nuts,” said Bennett, who practices nutrition and alternative medicine in Glenwood Springs. Two years after following a low-carb regimen, Bennett said her cholesterol has plummeted, she’s slimmer than ever, and she owes it all to the low-carb craze that has gripped the nation and not let go. “I’m a walking example that it does work,” she said. A July Gallup Poll indicated the percentage of Americans who “actively try to include” carbohydrates in their diets has fallen from 50 percent in 2002 to 33 percent- which means more people are avoiding carbs. But recent reports have also emerged showing low-carb diets have dropped in popularity: More than half of all consumers who have tried a low-carb diet have given it up, according to a July survey by market research company Insight Express. Although the future of the trend remains uncertain, low-carb hasn’t seemed to slow down in the valley, where many businesses and residents are forgetting the bread and reaching for the steak and eggs.”Everybody seems to want to be on the Atkins diet these days,” said Joe Haas, owner of the Marble Slab Creamery in Glenwood, which will soon offer vanilla and chocolate Atkins low-carb ice cream. “I’m trying to satisfy everybody and do a little bit of everything.”Painted letters on the window of the Daily Bread Café and Bakery in downtown Glenwood shout, “Got Carbs?” Despite the defiant statement, co-owner Nicky Brouillette said her store offers plenty of low-carb items, such as lettuce wraps and a no-flour, low-sugar “chocolate oblivion torte,” which won a blue ribbon at Aspen’s Chocolate Classic this year. Brouillette has seen diet fads come and go, but said they can help people by shaking things up and getting them out of dietary ruts.Ingrid’s Bakery in downtown Glenwood also offers a crustless quiche, low-carb tortillas and a larger selection of salads in response to the low-carb rage.”I think as long as people balance it out, it’s not a bad thing to reduce carbs,” said owner Ingrid Jacobsen. “Anytime anybody’s more conscious of what they’re eating, it’s good.”Since Arby’s introduced low-carb wraps, the Glenwood restaurant can’t keep up with the demand, selling up to 60 a day, said shift manager Crystal Young.”People want to eat healthy, and if we want to have our business, we got to change with the public,” Young said.The low-carb trend has its roots in the Atkins diet, a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet developed by the late cardiologist Robert Atkins, which purportedly reduces risks for diabetes, heart disease and other medical problems.Bennett, who fully supports low-carb diets, said understanding the body’s biochemistry gives the diet credibility. Humans run on two fuel systems: the insulin and the glucagon system, Bennett said. In today’s culture, the refined sugars and white flour Americans consume run the insulin system nonstop, instead of balancing with the glucagon system, which burns fat from foods such as meat to power the body.”If you look at every diet program, you have to exercise to the point that you’re burning fat. With low carb, you’re burning fat all the time,” Bennett said.Europeans 10,000 years ago ate meat during the winter and fruit, vegetables and nuts during the summer, the harvest period, Bennett said. Because of grocery stores, Americans now eat everything, including carbs, year-round, disrupting the natural cycle of their diets.But cutting out fruits and some vegetables, as many extreme low-carb diets suggest, can be detrimental due to the loss of fiber and B-vitamins, said Laurie Osier, R.D., a dietician at Aspen Valley Hospital.”You’ve gotten rid of entire food groups, so you have to take supplements. If they tell you the diet is inadequate, that should be a clue that something’s not right with it,” Osier said.Although low-carb diets cut out vital nutrients, they have encouraged people to make some healthier food choices, said Marble resident Jan Patenaude, director of medical nutrition for Signet Diagnostic Corp. and a practicing nutritionist.”It’s getting people off sugar and white flour and a lot of junk we find in carbs, and that’s good,” she said.But because the brain requires 130 grams of carbohydrates daily to function properly, Nikki Cole of Valley View Hospital in Glenwood said low-carb diets are not healthy solutions.Simple carbs such as those found in soda and sweets are often consumed in excess, Cole said, but complex carbs provide the major fuel source for keeping the mind and body well.Some area residents have tried the diet out for size. Glenwood resident Danielle Castiano-Campbell, who tried a modified low-carb regimen for vegetarians, stopped after gaining weight and feeling listless and rundown. Castiano-Campbell especially missed eating fruit, which provides vitamins and antioxidants, she said.But Glenwood resident Nancy Zelnick has been slicing off carbs for two years and has never felt better, she said. Avoiding refined flours and sugars and eating good carbohydrates in vegetables has ended her pain from arthritis and constant headaches.”At first it was almost like the refined wheat and rice were like an addiction, but now it’s eased off,” she said.Lori Nelson of Glenwood tried the Atkins diet for two weeks, but as an active person, said it didn’t provide her with enough energy.”I decided to try it because everybody and their brother is on Atkins, and I wanted to see what big deal was,” she said. Now Nelson calls herself an “anti-Atkins kind of girl” and says the low-carb diet works for more sedentary people.Osier also referred to Atkins as a “couch potato diet,” explaining it doesn’t provide enough energy for those who exercise regularly.Low-carb items have also infiltrated area grocery stores, filling the shelves with low-carb foods to meet the demands of dieters. “Everybody’s joined the bandwagon from salad dressing, to steak sauce, to bread,” said Bill Walt, manager of the Safeway in Glenwood. “You name it, there’s a low-carb for it.” City Market has also seen a spike in low-carb products, particularly in dietary bars and low-carb entrees, said grocery manager Remy Cross.The low-carb explosion in supermarkets will help food manufacturers head toward cutting sugar in many foods, Bennett said.”As more and more of the population becomes diabetic – and we’re only going to continue seeing significant increases, especially among children – we’re going to need to take an honest look at our food manufacturing,” she said.But the food industry is providing low-carb foods that aren’t necessarily lower in calories, Osier said. Much like the low-fat craze in the 1990s, this will only make America fatter, she said.”There seems to be a misconception if you choose a low-carb product, you are choosing a low-calorie product,” Osier said.Both Bennett and Osier stressed low-carb diets are not for everyone. For example, some diabetics and metabolic syndrome patients must moderately cut their carb intake for health reasons, Osier said. In the long run, it’s cutting calories that really counts, Osier said.”Everyone who is doing low carb is trying to lose weight. That’s hard work that requires a great commitment and a lot of lifestyle change,” she said.Contact Christine Dell’Amore: 945-8515, ext. 535cdellamore@postindependent.com


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