The low-carb mania that has transformed the look of America's lunch and dinner tables suddenly is infiltrating the breakfast nook.
Or, at least, how breakfast in America is being marketed.
Today, Holiday Inn -- which serves more than 25 million breakfasts a year -- will announce plans for a low-carb breakfast menu. And this spring, breakfast giant Denny's will reconfigure its menu to promote its low-carb items -- about half of which are served at breakfast.
These moves come a day after 7-Eleven introduced its own line of Atkins products -- complete with low-carb breakfast bars.
While January is always a boom time for the diet world, few nutritionists can recall a diet boom with as wide-ranging a grip on American culture as the low-carb craze unleashed by the Atkins diet. About one in four Americans has tried a low-carb diet. Sales of low-carb products are expected to pass $15 billion this year.
Some doubt that's money well spent. ''Americans continue to look for the magic bullet -- but it's not there,'' warns Hope Warshaw, a dietician and author of Eat Out, Eat Right. ''Low-carb diets only work very, very short-term.''
But consumers are embracing them -- even at breakfast. And breakfast specialists are responding:
* Holiday Inn. On Monday, all 1,000 Holiday Inns nationwide will roll out a ''Low-Carb Inspirations'' breakfast menu. While the menu is still being developed, two initial items will be a South of the Border skillet with 8 grams of carbohydrates and a Complete Omelet with 7 grams.
The motivation for the menu was that guests kept ordering breakfast items with low-carb substitutions. ''We're convinced that Atkins isn't a fad,'' says Mark Snyder, Holiday Inn senior vice president of brand management.
Next month, all 1,300 Holiday Inn Express motels will begin promoting carrot-walnut muffins with 9 carb grams at their breakfast bars, says Jenifer Ziegler, senior vice president of Holiday Inn Express.
* Denny's. In mid-April, all 1,645 domestic Denny's restaurants will add special menu sections denoting low-carb items. ''Consumer demand is clear,'' says Margaret Jenkins, chief marketing officer at Denny's.
Such familiar breakfast items as eggs, ham, bacon and sausage will be highlighted in the section.
But the chain's menu planners are still wrestling with what -- if anything -- to offer as a low-carb substitute for pancakes or toast, Jenkins says.
* 7-Eleven. The convenience store chain, with 5,800 U.S. locations, this week began selling 50 Atkins products, including Atkins Morning Start Bars ($1.59) and Atkins' multigrain bread ($4.69).
''Everyone knows we sell jerky,'' says Kenneth Fries, 7-Eleven category manager for snacks. ''What they might not know is that we also sell low-carb bread.''
To all this low-carb marketing, Warshaw, the dietician, says: think. ''Dieting is really about doing the hard work, day after day,'' she says. ''It's about counting calories. It's about eating healthy. And it's about doing physical activity.''
It's not -- she believes -- about the latest low-carb wonder.
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