With an estimated 59 million Americans counting their carbs last year, the popularity of low-carb products is at a peak, and new product development in the area has risen to meet the opportunity. Food manufacturers unveiled more than 600 new low-carb products in 2003 alone, and more such items have hit the market this year and are planned for the near future.

Now, the American Culinary Institute (ACI, San Francisco) has offered its opinions on the best-tasting, low-carbohydrate food choices on the market. According to ACI master taster Joey Altman, “Hundreds of low-carbohydrate alternatives for everyday food categories are landing onto grocery store shelves, and our goal at the ACI is to provide guidance for consumers in choosing the best-tasting products in these new low-carb categories. Consumers shouldn't forgo taste when choosing low-carbohydrate versions of everyday food products, but it is important to remember that everything must be eaten in moderation.”

ACI's rotating panel of master chefs “palate-tested” products in a range of popular lower-carb categories. Among the items evaluated were beverages, bread, cereal, chocolate, ice cream and peanut butter, and the results can be seen in the accompanying chart.

The judging process included defining the food and food-related categories using standard industry data that defines categories, procuring products as consumers would in a grocery store, evaluating the products through sensory-certified and blind testing procedures, and determining a winner by identifying a significant statistical difference. A review of all labels assured that each product qualified as a lower-carb product. During testing, the chef's panel had no knowledge of, nor clues as to the identity of, the manufacturer.