- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2003

PORTLAND, Maine - A sign in Stephen Lanzalotta’s bakery reads, “Senza il pane tutto diventa orfano.” Translated from Italian, it means, “Without bread, everyone’s an orphan.”

But fewer customers are buying his European-style breads and pastries these days. Thanks to the Atkins diet, many regulars are cutting back on carbohydrates. Mr. Lanzalotta says the low-carb diet has contributed to an estimated 40 percent drop in business at his shop, Sophia’s.

Some customers have even stopped by to apologize.

“They’ll say, ‘I’m sorry. I haven’t been in for six months because I’m on the Atkins diet,’” said Mr. Lanzalotta, whose muscular arms are a testament to long hours spent kneading dough.

Other bakers around the country are seeing a similar drop in business. With millions of people trying the diet created by the late low-carb guru Dr. Robert Atkins, overall bread sales are flat or down slightly, while bread-bashing seems to be at an all-time high.

The National Bread Leadership Council, which says 40 percent of Americans are eating less bread than a year ago, held what it called a summit Friday in Rhode Island focusing in part on low-carb diets and how to educate the public that breaking bread is still part of a healthy lifestyle.

“It’s too bad that we just can’t eat all foods in moderation. But no, we have to do something dramatic all the time,” said Judi Adams, president of the Wheat Foods Council and a registered dietitian, referring to the Atkins diet. “We have to look for this magic bullet.”

Estimates of the number of Americans on low-carb diets vary widely, from 5 million to 50 million. Their boycott of bread has exacerbated a sluggish sales trend, said John McMillin, a food-industry analyst with Prudential Equity Group Inc. in New York.

When Mr. Lanzalotta opened his bakery, bread accounted for 75 percent of sales. Now it accounts for just 15 percent. He boosted his dessert offerings and began offering sandwiches to try to make up the difference. He also adapted by selling artwork, including his own paintings.

At Standard Baking, co-owner Alison Pray said sales are nearly flat after previously growing 10 percent to 15 percent a year.

Miss Pray sees plenty of couples stopping by, but often only one partner is eating. The other is cutting carbs.

She’s a bit incredulous when customers ask if she produces anything consistent with the Atkins diet. “This one person asked me, ‘Can you make a low-carbohydrate bread?’ I said, ‘I wouldn’t know how to do it.’”

On Atkins, people can eat cheese, eggs and meat as long as they strictly limit carbohydrates and avoid refined carbs like white flour. White bread, pasta, potatoes and other carbo-loaded foods are blacklisted. The diet was once scorned by the medical establishment, but recent studies have shown that people lose weight without compromising their health.

The Wheat Food Council’s Miss Adams, who is based in Colorado, believes low-carb diets are just another fad. And she wonders if they’re really helping.

Noting that the nation’s obesity rate has continued to grow as flour consumption has declined, she called Americans’ tendency to eat too much of everything the real problem.

“We eat 300 more calories a day than we did in 1985,” Miss Adams said. “We supersize everything. We eat constantly.”

Bread bakers aren’t the only ones hurting. The pasta industry, the tortilla industry, bagel makers and even brewers of beer have taken their lumps for having too many carbohydrates.

Joshua Sosland, executive editor of Milling and Baking News in St. Louis, said it’s difficult for consumers to find good information amidst all of the hype. Often overlooked is the fact that bread and grains remain an important part of the federal government’s diet guidelines.

“Here we have about the most healthy thing in the diet,” Mr. Sosland said, “and it’s being treated like it’s poison.”

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