Atkins in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Atkins in Aspen

T.G.I. Friday’s is serving up a complete Atkins-approved menu.

Burger King has a low-carb version of its signature Whopper.

Condiment king H.J. Heinz’s One Carb Ketchup will soon be on supermarket shelves.

Even beer has fallen prey to the buzz: Michelob Ultra is the fastest-growing brand in Anheuser-Busch history, selling 400,000 barrels in its first quarter, and both Rolling Rock and Coors have recently entered the low-carb market.

The “Atkins-ization” of the American diet is under way. Local restaurateurs are adapting to the trend, but with a pinch of skepticism.

“You have to give people what they want, so we do have a few dishes on the menu that are no-starch, no-carb. But we’re always updating our menu, creating new items … Changing with the times is nothing new,” said chef Adam Ort of Range.

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David K. Gibson, an instructor at The Cooking School of Aspen, offers a similar take: “We’re not doing any low-carb classes in particular, but we have noticed our clientele asking questions like: ‘How can I make this low-carb? Or, how can I take this or that out of the recipe?’ And we try to accommodate them.”

Still others in Aspen’s decidedly upscale restaurant business argue that good food has always been, and will always be, good for you ” “Atkins-friendly” or not.

“Those diets never came into play when were creating our menu,” said Craig Cordts-Pearce, owner of The Wild Fig, a relative newcomer to the local scene. “We make what we like to eat … in fact, our No. 1 seller is pork chops with sweet potatoes.”

The Atkins diet ” and similar programs like South Beach and Sugar Busters ” advises people to limit carbohydrate intake, rather than fat. This means protein-rich foods, like beef and bacon, are staples rather than sins.

“We’re a steakhouse, so our menu is definitely high-protein, low-carb … it always has been,” said Steak Pit owner Bob Glowacki. “Whether business has increased because of the Atkins diet, that’s hard to say. But it has been busy.”

With a half-dozen cuts of meat on the menu, The Steak Pit is indeed a low-carb dieter’s dream, as long as you bypass the baked potato. The same can’t be said for the bins at Bagel Bites, because when it comes to low-carb living, bread and pasta are the forbidden fruit.

“I’d say business has decreased in general over the past few years, but not because people aren’t eating bagels,” said store owner Matt Haag. “Maybe that’s because we’ve always offered options like wraps, naked sandwiches and scoops [where the bread is scooped out of the inside of the bagel]. Plus, all the diets that seem to pass through are usually just fads.”

Nevertheless, times are changing. According to a study by the National Bread Leadership Council, as many as 40 percent of Americans eat less bread than they did a year ago; pasta sales are expected to suffer a similar slide.

Haag’s plan for stopping low-carb defectors in their tracks: “We’re working on a low-carb bagel right now, and we’re planning out a six-item Atkins-approved menu to debut at the same time.”

Even the local City Market is getting in the groove, with a healthy portion of aisle three dedicated to Atkins brand foods and other low-carb items.

Food isn’t the only fodder for carb counters, though. Alcohol ” beer and wine in particular ” is a bastion of badness. A 3.5-ounce glass of red wine contains 1.8 grams of carbohydrates; the same size glass of sherry contains 1.4 grams. A 12-ounce beer may contain up to 12.5 grams, while a low-carb beer like Michelob Ultra has only 2.6 grams of carbohydrates per bottle.

“There’s a small group of people who drink it sporadically,” said Michael “Toast” Puariea, a bartender at Bentley’s and the Cooper Street Pier, which both have Michelob Ultra on their libations list. “But I’d say it’s one of those one-hit wonders.”

Still, it’s a trend that local businesses can’t ignore. According to Low Carb Living News, Americans spent approximately $1.4 billion on low-carb products in 2003, and an estimated 35 million American adults are currently following some kind of low-carb diet.

The trend is so sweeping, in fact, that just last month some 400 manufacturers, retailers, distributors and health professionals from across the globe gathered in Denver for the first-ever LowCarbiz Summit. They presented their low-carb products, explored emerging trends and networked ” all in the name of good health, which in Aspen can have a variety of definitions.

“We haven’t had one person complain about our menu,” said The Wild Fig’s Cordts-Pearce, referencing the restaurant’s selection of potato side dishes and french fries. “I’d say it’s because people here just like good food.”

Jeanne McGovern’s e-mail address is jmcgovern@aspentimes.com

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