Low-Carb Burgers To Hit The Grill

This photo provided by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement shows the 2-foot by 3-foot cedar box that law enforcement authorities found seven-month-old Shannon Dedrick in, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2009.
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Hardee's and Carl's Jr. fast-food chains consider it thinking outside the bun — capitalizing on America's low-carbohydrate craze, they're launching a bun-less, lettuce-wrapped burger with just a handful of carbs.

CKE Restaurants Inc., the chains' parent, has unveiled the new menu item as Americans look to lop off carbs, in everything from beer to ketchup. Not coincidentally, the rollout precedes Americans' traditional New Year effort to lose weight.

But dietitians are weighing in, warning that whether it's the Hardee's low-carb Thickburger, with a third of a pound of beef, or its Carl's Jr. low-carb, half-pound Six Dollar Burger cousin, consumers should chew on this: It's still high in fat and calories.

"We know health-wise a certain amount of fat is essential, but consuming a greater percentage of your calories from fat is not a healthy approach," said Connie Diekman, chief of university nutrition at St. Louis' Washington University. "Just culling out some calories and putting in more fat isn't going to get you there. In terms of healthy eating, this is not a healthy direction."

The low-carb burger, she said, "is a great gimmick but not a great change in eating behavior."

Caroline Leakan, a spokeswoman for Carpinteria, Calif.-based CKE, suggested the low-carb burgers have their place in a lifestyle that also includes regular exercise and a balanced diet.

"In many respects, our food is an indulgence," she said. "For some, a low-carb plan is just what they need to kick-start their diet. We're offering them a choice."

For the record, the low-carb Thickburger has about 420 calories, 32 grams of fat and 5 grams of carbs, compared with its original's 850 calories and 57 fat grams. The low-carb Six Dollar Burger has 490 calories, 37 grams of fat and 6 grams of carbs. The regular? About 960 calories, 62 fat grams and 61 carbohydrate grams.

Low-carb, high-protein diets have enjoyed a resurgence, with books such as "Atkins for Life" reversing decades of dietary advice and saying the way to lose weight is to cut out carbs in favor of high-protein diets.

Prices of both burgers will be identical to their conventional, same-sized mates.