As millions of Americans are following diets such as Atkins and South Beach, the bread industry is fighting back with the help of a marketing campaign by the American Bakers Association and American Millers' Association called "Grains for Life." It's designed to persuade Americans it's OK to resume their love affair with bread.
"The message," says Millers' Association President Betsy Faga, "is that grains are healthy for you -- breads, cereals, pastas, all grain foods are healthy for you."
That's a tough sell to a country so obsessed recently with getting carbs out of its kitchens.
The ads argue bread isn't just healthy; it's essential.
"It has been for 2000 years, it has been over the course of history, and continues to be," insists Bakers Association President Paul Abenante.
And that argument is backed by a leading nutritionist, Dr. Xavier Pi-Sunyer of the Obesity Research Center at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Medical Center in New York. He says, "Grains, from which bread is made, are good for you, in terms of decreasing the risk for diabetes, for heart disease, and for certain kinds of cancer, particularly colon cancer."
The industry hopes to revive businesses hurt by low-carb diets, companies such as Interstate Bakeries, maker of Wonder Bread, which has filed for bankruptcy protection.
Analyst Gary Hindes of Deltec Asset Management says the bread and other industries have had trouble adapting to a low-carb world. "I think," he says, "the sugar companies, as I call them, the soft drink companies, the people that make stuff with white flour -- I think they're all -- the party's over."
Hindes offered a laundry list of companies impacted by the low-carb craze: "You want the laundry list? Open up the pantry at your house. Go into any convenience store and stake out the refrigerated and frozen food section and produce sections. That's the laundry list."
Colette Heimowitz, of Atkins Nutritionals says, don't blame us: "It's unreasonable to blame low carbohydrates for the demise of some bread companies because it -- the low-carbohydrate approach -- incorporates whole grains. What I think is more responsible is the attempt of the consumers to make healthier choices as far as carbohydrates are concerned."
As it turns out, McGinnis points out, the grain industry may soon have little to worry about.
She sampled the opinions of some New Yorkers and found, for many, bread isn't the enemy anymore: "Certain types of bread -- yeah, I think, are more healthy, obviously, than others. But, I eat bread," says one.
"I do eat some bread," says another. "I try not to overdo it. I love pasta. I love bread."
A third opines: "People have been eating bread for thousands of years. So, it can't be bad for you."
Also, notes McGinnis, research shows fewer people are sticking to low-carb diets. Only 4.4 percent of Americans, half as many as last year, say they are currently on a low-carb diet.
Being off low-carb diets has actually helped some people lose weight, McGinnis observes.
One of them, Jason Polk, told her he's lost 57 pounds, and counting, since putting bread back in his diet: "I still have watch my portions -- how much I can have -- but it feels great to be able to have some of the things I used to love."
Parade magazine's annual survey of America's eating habits tracks the "carb-craze" as having morphed into more of a "carb consciousness." And many Americans are coming to realize moderation is the key, good news for the makers and consumers of breads.