updated 4/14/2004 3:03:54 PM ET 2004-04-14T19:03:54

The low-carbohydrate dieting trend may have peaked, but consumers continue to watch their carbohydrate intake after going off the diets, according to a study published Wednesday.

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The survey by Morgan Stanley analysts estimated that 13 percent of the U.S. population was on the Atkins, South Beach, or other low-carb diet in January. Participation has since trailed off to 11 percent.

The study surveyed 2,500 adults in late March and questioned focus groups. Its findings suggest the low-carb phenomenon could have lasting implications for food and beverage companies.

“Consumers’ inclination to limit carb consumption persists even after they’re no longer on the diet and many consumers continue to be interested in the potential health benefits of a low-carb lifestyle,” the analysts said.

Changes in self-discipline
Experience with a low-carb diet appears to radically change many consumers’ self-discipline, awareness of nutrition issues, and even taste preferences, according to the survey. This may mean high-carb categories with some nutritional value such as oatmeal or yogurt may recover as the number of active dieters decline, according to the analysts. However, other categories such as carbonated soft drinks and candy could remain hurt by the trend.

Food and beverage companies have rushed to market with reduced-carb versions of their products, but these companies may have to rethink some of these items, since some of them are seen as unhealthy by carb-watchers.

“Our consumer research indicates that new low-carb product introductions that have legitimate nutritional credentials may have staying power, whereas those in inherently indulgent categories are more likely to fail,” said food analyst David Adelman.

Morgan Stanley beverage analyst William Pecoriello expects both regular and carbonated soft drinks could lose out to water as consumers lose their taste for sweet drinks. He expects the mid-calorie and reduced carb options that are on the way from beverage companies are unlikely to alter this shift.

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