Pigging Out on Pork Rinds?

Is it possible to pig out and still lose weight? Some dieters think so, hoping to shed their porker images by munching on pork rinds.

Pork rinds, crispy chips made from slices of pig skin deep-fried in lard, may be a scrumptious snack to some Southerners, but they sure don’t sound like a dieter’s delight.

But weight-conscious fans of faddish “high-protein, low-carbohydrate” diets are using them to carve off pounds, in the process driving a surge in pork-rind sales nationwide.

The Snack Food Association, an industry group in Alexandria, Va., reports that sales of pork rinds this year are up 18 percent, three times as much as snack foods overall.

This Little Piggy Went to Market

In fact, starting in 1997, sales of pork rinds have risen from around $300 million to $400 million, increasing 15 percent or more every year — the same year that Dr. Robert Atkins’ New Diet Revolution hit the best-seller lists, advocating that dieters swap protein for carbs.

Coincidence? Many think not.

“We have seen sales go up year after year,” says Lynn Markley, a spokeswoman for Frito-Lay Company of Plano, Texas, which sells $100 million of “Baken-ets” pork rinds annually. “We attribute that to these high-protein diets.”

“The trend of watching carbs in the diet, that has helped drive a lot of the consumer trials,” agrees Richard Rudolph, vice president of sales and marketing at Lima, Ohio-based Rudolph Foods, the largest pork rind manufacturer in the world. “We’ve seen sales increases in the high double digits.”

And Chicago-based Evans Food Products, which sells $50 million worth of pork rinds annually, recently changed its label to advertise “0” carbohydrates, according to national sales manager Mark Costello.

Pork rinds are 70 percent protein and contain no carbohydrates, unlike other snacks with a crunch, like potato chips and pretzels.

That makes them a perfect fit for Atkins’s plan and other like it, such as Barry Sears’ “The Zone,” which advises trading in carbs for protein, allowing dieters to gobble up eggs, bacon and steak — but cut out bread, pasta and potatoes. The theory is that without carbohydrates, the body won’t produce as much insulin, resulting in less fat storage and fewer food cravings.

Pig Out at Your Own Risk But nutritionists warn these dieters may be sending their long-term health to the slaughterhouse.

These diets, high in fat and calories, can increase the risk of heart and kidney disease, gout and osteoporosis, says the International Food Information Council in Washington.

For example, a half-ounce serving of Rudolph Food’s pork rinds — equivalent to a cup of chips — may have no carbohydrates, but it contains 5 grams of fat, 9 grams of protein and 80 calories.

“These diets aren’t palatable over the long term,” says Jeanne Goldberg, director of the Center on Nutrition Communications at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. “People eventually get tired of [them]. When they return to their old diet, they gain more weight than when they started.”

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