(March 1) More than one in 10 Americans is on a low-carb diet.

Within the next couple of years, it could be closer to two in 10.

Ho hum, says Bryan Silbermann.

The study that produced those numbers, commissioned and conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corp., Cambridge, Mass., is a mixed bag for growers and marketers of fresh fruits and vegetables.

On the con side, orange juice consumption is down 5%, thanks in large part to low-carb diets that prohibit it, reports study author Larry Shiman, a senior account executive for the company.

About 39% of low-carb dieters either drink less orange juice than they used to or they don’t drink it at all.

Also, low-carb dieters prefer to buy food from the grocery store that comes with a label listing its carb contents. That love of labels could put unpackaged fresh fruits and vegetables at a disadvantage.

And among the carb-rich foods dieters have the most trouble giving up, potatoes, fresh fruits and fruit juices rank low. Bread and pasta were far more difficult for dieters to give up, the study found.

SOME GOOD NEWS

But not all of the news was bad.

When people dine out, the study found, they’re far less likely to follow their low-carb diets to the letter. Just 59% of low-carbers follow their diets religiously when they eat at restaurants; 79% do so when they eat at home.

With foodservice taking an ever-bigger slice of the industry pie, that could be good news for grower-shippers of potatoes and other Atkins-unfriendly produce.

And Silbermann, president of the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del., a once and future client of Opinion Dynamics Corp., doesn’t think the low-carb craze will become a permanent scourge of the fresh produce industry.

“The success of low-carb diets reflects the public’s infatuation with the fad of the day,” Silbermann said. “First it was salt, then cholesterol, then fat. Now it’s carbs.”

COUNTERPUNCH

In the next few months, Silbermann said, articles will be published in several peer-reviewed scientific journals arguing that low-carb diets are not conducive to long-term good health.

In fact, the complex carbohydrates found in potatoes and other produce are “critical to cardiovascular health,” Silbermann said.

And Silbermann points out that in recent months, Atkins Diet officials have backpedalled, admitting that maybe it isn’t such a good idea to continually cram red meat and other fatty foods down one’s gullet.

Furthermore, he adds, low-carb dieters, like all fad dieters, suffer from the misconception that they don’t have to eat less to lose weight.

“Most of us think we lose weight by eating, and that’s a fundamental error,” Silbermann said. “People have been conditioned to eat as much as they want as long as it’s the right thing, and that’s nonsense.”

Silbermann cited a PMA study that found that 33% of Americans say lack of exercise is the main cause of obesity. Another 14% attribute it to poor nutrition. A mere 2% think overeating is the culprit.

PMA is now working with Opinion Dynamics on a schedule of regular surveying of consumers about their produce consumption, Silbermann said. The surveys will not specifically address the influence of low-carb diets.