South Beach Diet

The South Beach Diet was created by Dr. Arthur Agatston, a cardiologist, as a way of helping his own patients in the fight against hearth diseases by maintaining healthy insulin and cholesterol levels.

In the beginning of the century, however, the diet quickly became one of the most popular weight loss plans of all times. Assisted by dietician Marie Almon, Agatston published his best-seller on tasty, doctor-recommended food options that result in healthy weight loss.

The theory behind this diet is that when sugar enters the bloodstream, the pancreas, in trying to deal with its excess amount, produces insulin. The high amounts of insulin could potentially lead to diabetes because the body becomes accustomed and less responsive to it. A second effect are hunger attacks and cravings, leading to higher sugar intake and closing the vicious cycle by triggering weight gain.

Therefore, Agatston based his diet plan on the glycemic index, developed in the early 1980s by David J. Jenkins. The index is based on the body's insulin resistance and ranks foods by their glycemic load.

While developing the plan, Dr. Agatston was familiar with Robert Atkins' popular low-carbohydrate (carb) diet, but was not in full agreement with its principles. He expressed concern that the generous amounts of saturated fat and the few carbs and fiber would lead to heart and kidney disease.

The most common confusion about the South Beach Diet is the belief that it is a low-carb diet, similar to Atkins'. While the plan does indeed prohibit refined sugars, highly processed foods, white bread, white potatoes, and white rice, it focuses on a healthy balance between what Agatston calls "good" carbs and "good" fats (such as unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acid).

The plan aims at stabilizing blood sugar and eliminating food cravings in order to achieve the desired weight loss. Dieters are not required to count calories or measure portions, but to rather learn how to select the right carbs and fats. In addition to a healthy meal plan, Dr. Agatston recommends regular exercise as a part of the South Beach program (with at least 20 minutes of cardio each day).

The South Beach Diet has three phases, which include specific allowable foods and meal plans. The plan also offers recipes as well as prepackaged meals produced by Kraft Foods.

The first phase lasts for two weeks and is the strictest of the three. This phase eliminates all sugars, processed foods, fruits, some vegetables with high glycemic index, and alcohol. People are allowed to eat foods rich in protein, legumes, dairies, soy-based substitutes, and vegetables. Fats and oils, nuts and seeds, and dairy-like products are also allowed. There are some exceptions, however, for example, pumpkin, potatoes, carrots, turnips, and beets. Starches and meats such as pork rinds, bacon, turkey, and beef rib steak are also off-limits. Avoid sauces and condiments such as maple syrup, ketchup, honey mustard, and barbeque sauce. Basically, dieters drastically cut back on carbohydrates, including refined starches and foods high in sugar content. The first phase lasts 14 days, and the goal is to lose weight and eliminate food cravings.

Phase 2 reintroduces most fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and continues until the target weight goal is reached. Foods such as brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, multigrain bread, beans, and barley are allowed. Some foods are off-limits, including breads and starches such as white rice, white potatoes, white flour pasta, and cornflakes. Avoid vegetables such as potatoes and beets and fruits such as watermelon, pineapple, and banana. Basically, dieters consume foods that contain polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and complex carbohydrates and cut foods that are high in saturated fat and refined or simple carbohydrates. The ultimate goal during this phase is long-term weight loss.

Phase 3 aims at teaching to make healthy eating a lifetime habit. The scientific research about the potential benefits and/or harmful effects of the South Beach Diet has been very limited to include just a few studies that revealed favorable conclusions about the plan. All foods are allowed during phase 3 but enjoy in moderation. You can have starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, taro, pumpkin, and butternut squash as well as sweets and beverages such as tea, coffee, and alcohol. People consume a balanced menu of cheese and dairies, protein, legumes, beans, oils, nuts and seeds, and fruits and vegetables. Phase 3 is a life maintenance phase that helps dieters to lower their carbohydrate intake and lose weight in a healthy way.

Health Benefits of the Diet

Proponents claim that there are many health benefits such as long-term weight loss, better health, and balanced blood fat and cholesterol levels. Another benefit is that dieters are less likely to suffer from high blood pressure. The risk of developing diabetes is also lower. The South Beach Diet also emphasizes the importance of a balanced menu for healthy eating - consuming foods rich in vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, and other nutrients. The second and third phases introduce more foods and add variety to your daily menu to avoid diet boredom. People are allowed to consume foods that contain complex or good carbohydrates and avoid simple or bad carbs. Complex carbohydrates offer plenty of health benefits such as improved digestion and brain function. They have a good effect on the nervous system and are a healthy source of energy. Unlike them, simple carbohydrates cause peaks in blood sugar and are associated with different health risks. Low carb diets such as the South Beach Diet replace simple with complex carbs which are found in products such as quinoa, oatmeal, millet, bulgur, and whole-grain sorghum. In addition to the fact that this diet is a lifestyle modification, there are other benefits such as balanced cholesterol levels and reduced risk for developing insulin resistance. Finally, this is a popular low carb diet because it offers flexibility and simplicity and focuses on balanced nutrition.


Critics of the diet claim that much of the initial significant weight loss is water-weight-loss, caused by eliminating carbs. Therefore, pounds would be regained as consumption is reintroduced. Some question the validity of the glycemic index while others say that similarly to the Atkins Diet, the South Beach fails to address the issue of complex carbohydrates and to explain why scores of people outside the Western Civilization, such as the Japanese, live on a diet, composed mostly of carbohydrates, without being overweight. Most criticism of the South Beach Diet, however, comes from the confusion that it is another low-carb, fad diet.