The South Beach Diet
In the 1990s, Florida based cardiologist Arthur Agatston, MD, set out to change the way his patients ate by creating his own healthy diet to protect against serious medical conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Dr. Agatston’s weight-loss plan was published in 2003 as The South Beach Diet, and millions of copies were sold.
The South Beach Diet: Getting Back to Basics
The South Beach Diet is based on eliminating refined carbohydrates — white flour and sugar are the top culprits. People on the plan are urged to cut out carbs and focus on lean protein, low-fat dairy, and good carbs — whole grains, vegetables, and fruit — as a way to lose weight, get healthy, and actually reduce the cravings that put you in the typical hunger-overeat-gain weight cycle.
An important emphasis is on controlling hunger by eating before it strikes. You get three meals, one dessert, and two snacks every day, even during Phase one, the most restrictive of the diet’s three phases. Phase one is only two weeks long and is the most limited in terms of food choices: lean sources of protein, high-fiber vegetables and legumes, nuts, low-fat dairy including certain cheeses, and good-for-you unsaturated oils like olive oil. The goals are to wean you off all the junk food you’ve been eating, limit choices so you don’t have to overthink the diet, and stop cravings by getting blood sugar under control.
“The way to control overeating is to control blood sugar and your insulin response by eating every three to four hours, and eating a high-fiber diet, with whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and heart-healthy fats,” says Barbara Schmidt, MS, RD, lifestyle specialist at Norwalk Hospital and a nutritionist in private practice in New Canaan, Conn. Carbs affect blood sugar control. Have too many carbs at any one time — a big bagel, for instance — and you’ll be hungry again sooner, and more apt to eat something you shouldn’t be eating, explains Schmidt, adding that the South Beach Diet restricts those starchy carbs better than other diets.
In Phase two, whole grains and fruits are added, and you will stay on this phase of the weight-loss plan until you reach your goal. “These carbohydrate-rich foods are high in fiber and have a low glycemic index — these good-carb choices have more staying power, take a long period to be processed and absorbed by the body, and prevent the purported fluctuations in blood glucose and quick secretions of insulin,” explains Susan Kraus, MS, RD, registered dietitian at the Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.
The South Beach Diet is a plan for life: Phase three lasts indefinitely. You learn how to eat other foods in moderation to keep from regaining lost weight and having to go on another diet.
The latest version, The South Beach Diet Supercharged, includes information on additional foods and recipes, as well as as workouts to complement the diet.You can follow the South Beach Diet online and have access to all of its tools through your computer. These include support groups, hundreds of recipes, a program that will create your food shopping list for you, and the South Beach Fitness Club, a multi-part exercise program with videos on cardio, flexibility, and strength training; the online program costs $5 per week. (SouthBeachDiet.com, the only official and authorized Web site for the South Beach Diet, is part of the Everyday Health network.)
The South Beach Diet: Sample Menu
A sample day on Phase two of the South Beach Diet might include:
- Breakfast pita with spinach, eggs and feta cheese, vegetable juice, and tea or coffee
- Assorted vegetables with a cilantro and pesto dip
- Curried turkey and greens salad
- Apple and peanut butter sandwiches
- Edamame appetizer
- Louisiana-style shrimp and rice
- Baked tomatoes topped with Parmesan cheese
- South Beach Diet-style tiramisu
The South Beach Diet: Pros and Cons
The South Beach Diet might represent the ultimate eating plan for some, but it may not be perfect for everyone.
“This plan is presented very simply, no measuring for many of the foods is necessary, especially at the beginning,” says Kraus. “Due to the strictness of Phase one, some people could have a significant amount of weight loss in the first two weeks, 8 to 12 pounds. Phase one could help stop cravings for highly refined carbs, and the foods recommended throughout the plan are heart healthy.” Blood sugar control has the added bonus of helping control diabetes if you already have it.
Schmidt likes that “the South Beach Diet tells you what to have and when to have it. Also, it was always about fiber,” a definite plus.
According to Schmidt, the diet doesn’t provide enough calcium, which is especially important for women. Even though guidelines include some low-fat cheese, this isn’t enough. “You absolutely need a calcium supplement, 500 mg with vitamin D, in the morning and in the evening. I also don’t like the idea that there’s no fruit and no starch during Phase one,” says Schmidt, though this is less of a problem if you’re only on it for the two weeks.
Phase one is stringent and, because of the limited nature of certain foods, some people might have a challenge following it, especially when they’re away from home, says Kraus. “There are no specific recommendations for portions for many of the food groups.” This could lead to overeating or even undereating.
The South Beach Diet: Short- and Long-Term Effects
“People will see immediate results due to the strictness of the first phase. Adding back food might slow down weight loss a bit, but it should continue as long as the dieter follows the plan as recommended,” says Kraus.
The South Beach Diet is really a lifelong eating plan that you adapt when you reach maintenance, Phase three. By this point you have learned how to eat in a healthy way, meaning you can have occasional treats, like a slice of cake, but by using what you learned in Phases one and two, you keep yourself from veering too far off the plan.
Says Schmidt, “It has all the right kinds of foods you should be eating. In the long term, if you follow it Monday through Friday, and on the weekend give yourself a little leeway, then you’ll maintain. It is more restrictive, but there are fabulous recipes and tons of them.”
As Agatston outlines in his book the long-term effects of following the South Beach Diet, beyond just losing weight, including lowering your cholesterol, along with your risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and even some cancers. Those are long-term effects that most diets don’t offer simply because they aren’t set up for you to stick with them indefinitely.