The Flour Advisory Bureau, the Federation of Bakers and the Grain Information Service have given their backing to the Vitality Eating System, a diet which they claim is healthier than Atkins and other low-carb regimes in that it advocates a balanced diet.
"Almost two thirds of consumers are putting their health at risk by a simple lack of understanding of what constitutes a healthy diet," the associations said in a statement, citing the results of a survey carried out in May. "Over 97 per cent of dieticians surveyed condemned low-carb diets as providing 'bad dietary advice'."
The Vitality diet advocates a low fat balanced diet, which the three organisations said offered a safer alternative to 'quick-fix' low-carb diets and a long-term solution to yo-yo dieting. Most diets reduce energy intake by either eliminating a food group or by simply providing too few calories, the organisations said, and as a result can rarely be maintained for any length of time - hence the vicious cycle of 'yo-yo' dieting of rapid weight loss and gain.
The Vitality system promotes weight loss which is slow and steady but which, the organisations backing it claim, is more likely to be maintained than a 'quick-fix' diet. It is based on research carried out by the Medical Research Council (MRC) which recommends that consumers eat proportionally more wholegrain and high fibre carbohydrate foods, eat less fat and increase exercise levels to avoid obesity.
Low-carb diets such as Atkins have pointed the finger at products such as bread which are high in carbohydrates, and while this may have begun to sow the seeds of doubt in consumers' minds - despite being based on "pseudo-science", according to the Federation of Bakers - it also appears to have had little or no impact on actual sales, at least so far.
Research by the Federation found that while the traditional retail sliced and wrapped bread market had declined by around 1.5 per cent in volume over the last three years, this was caused mainly by changing eating habits, with consumers eating more pre-packed food, including ready-to-eat sandwiches, and a move towards more speciality breads.
Furthermore, the bread market has grown in value terms, with sales rising by approximately 13 per cent or £130 million in the same three year period, as consumers traded up to more premium breads.
This, the Federation suggests, reinforces the fact that consumers continue to see bread as an integral part of the British diet. "Our research suggests that bread still provides one of the mainstays of the British diet, used in 99 per cent of households," said John White, director of the Federation of Bakers.
White also stressed the healthiness of bread in a bid to counter the negative publicity generated by the low-carb diets. "Penny for penny, bread is the most nutritionally rich food available," he said. "Six slices of wholemeal would provide around 70 per cent of the RDA (recommended daily allowance) of fibre, while six slices of white would give more than 30 per cent of the RDA of calcium."
He also stressed the positive benefits of carbohydrates - increasingly forgotten among the publicity surrounding Atkins. Starchy carbohydrates, of which bread is an excellent source, should account for around a third of a healthy diet according to nutritionists, he claimed.