Columbia burgers shed the bread

Restaurants are ditching the buns
for low-carbohydrate dieters.
Thursday, January 8, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:36 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

It isn’t quite like Jimmy Buffett’s cheeseburger in paradise, but it could be heaven for an Atkins dieter.

With low-carb diets sweeping the nation, fast-food chains are tinkering with that great American tradition, the hamburger.

Hardee’s, citing statistics that found that nearly 32 million Americans are on some sort of low-carbohydrate diet, last week began offering a bunless burger wrapped in lettuce. Yanking the bread and making other adjustments — fewer condiments and dill instead of sweet pickles — adds up to 55 fewer grams of carbohydrates, the company says.

“We noticed customers and employees ordering our burgers without the bun and then eating them with a knife and fork,” said Christie Cooney, corporate communications manager for Carl’s Jr. Restaurants, which also operates the Hardee’s chain. “So we decided to re-engineer our burgers to make them truly low-carb.”

What would Jimmy Buffett think?

Two days before Hardee’s began selling bunless hamburgers in Columbia, local Subway restaurants introduced low-carb sandwiches that are endorsed by the popular Atkins diet. Subway is marketing two “Atkins-friendly” wraps made from soy and wheat that comply with the high-protein, low-carbohydrate recommendations of the Atkins diet.

Subway says its sandwich wraps top out at 11 grams of carbs.

Jimmy John’s, another sandwich chain, is also catering to the low-carb craze with a sandwich wrapped in lettuce. An e-mail from the corporate office in Elgin, Ill., said Jimmy John’s was the first restaurant in its market segment to offer the low-carb option.

Other local restaurants are also seeing evidence of low-carb diets.

Ryan King, a bartender at Murry’s, said he has seen an increase in orders for meals without bread, as well as soups and salads without crackers. King said there has also been an increased demand for low-carb beer, in part, he thinks, because of New Year’s resolutions to lose weight.

Likewise, Adam Dushoff at Addison’s has seen a slight increase in carb-conscious customers. “We have had a few people request that we put Atkins items on the menu,” he said.

Although the Atkins system and other low-carb diets are popular, one local nutritionist questions their long-term effectiveness.

“The concern is that many of these diets end up being low-calorie and low in necessary nutrients, so although you lose weight — which is mainly water weight at first — you also lose electrolytes and muscle mass,” said registered dietician Julie Tobias of the Wellness Resource Center. “The other problem is that it is so restrictive ... that many people end up ‘cheating’ and gaining the weight back.”

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