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WASHINGTON - Low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets adopted by millions of people hoping to lose weight have contributed to sharply rising egg prices, according to industry experts.
Egg prices have spiked across the nation in recent weeks, reaching 20-year highs. Although holiday baking and thinning chicken flocks are partly responsible, protein-conscious dieters, including those on the Atkins diet, have created new demand.
"Proteins have gone through the roof, and eggs have gone along for the ride," said Tom Kruchten, a spokesman at the National Agricultural Statistics Service. "Eggs are a cheaper protein than beef."
In the past two months, egg prices have climbed to as much as $1.40 a dozen, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures. That price may be cheap compared with most grocery items, but some say the demand reflects a broader shift in thinking.
With high cholesterol and fat-filled yolks, eggs once suffered from a reputation as artery cloggers. But recent reports have shown they're healthier than previously thought.
Research published this year in the New England Journal of Medicine and elsewhere found that people on the high-protein, low-carbohydrate Atkins diet lost twice as much weight over six months as those on standard low-fat diets.
In Indiana, the fourth-largest egg-producing state behind Iowa, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, October production was down about 1 percent from last year. Industry specialists agree that may contribute to rising costs. Others have suggested the price increase may be linked to the holiday season, as family kitchens turn out extra pies, cookies, and cakes. But some experts say the record prices show eggs are acceptable again and not limited to the breakfast table.