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Many people who might think they're eating a diet low in carbohydrates actually are consuming twice as many carbs as the popular Atkins diet recommends.
The NPD Group, a market research company, examined the food-intake records of 11,000 people over three years and found that the 5% with the lowest intake of carbs consumed an average of 128 grams of net carbs (total minus fiber) a day.
That's far more than the 20 grams of net carbs recommended for the induction phase of the Atkins diet, and more than the 40 to 60 grams recommended on the ongoing weight-loss phase.
Low-carb dieters usually beef up fat and protein intake while cutting back on foods like bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, beans, many fruits and some vegetables. Millions of people have either been on this kind of diet or are now on one.
''There are a lot of people who are trying these diets and saying they are on them, but not many people are getting down to 50 grams of carbs a day,'' says Harry Balzer, NPD Group vice president.
The 128-gram average is OK for a young, active person on the maintenance phase of the program, says Colette Heimowitz, a nutritionist with the Atkins companies. The range after weight loss is about 60 to 125 grams.
It could be that dieters don't really understand the details. ''Because low-carb eating has become trendy, a lot of people say they are doing Atkins but haven't read the book. They're just not eating bread and pasta,'' says Andrea Mondello, editor of lowcarbeating.com. She has lost 100 pounds on the diet since 1999 and limits herself to 20 to 40 grams of carbs a day.
''The biggest thing I hear people say is they are on modified Atkins, which means they've decided to do their own thing,'' she says.
Another possibility for the higher-than-expected carb intake: Dieters are cheating with too many low-carb products. More than 600 of these foods, including bread, pasta and brownie mixes, were introduced last year, according to Productscan Online, a market research company in Naples, N.Y.
''I'm very glad we have these products, but they need to be used with thought,'' Mondello says. ''I don't think you should make most of them the staple of your diet.
''If you buy a low-carb cookie or candy bar, it's still a treat, and you should use it as a treat. If a candy bar has two carbs, that doesn't mean you can have 10 a day.''
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