South Beach Diet

The South Beach Diet has been one of the best-selling diet books of the last 5 or so years.

What is it about the diet that makes it so compelling to so many?

I purchased the latest edition of the South Beach Diet and read it anew. The most recent edition has updates to the foods, and a number of other fixes.

The South Beach Diet is written by cardiologist Dr. Arthur Agatston. In essence, it’s a reduced carbohydrate diet, that emphasizes the value of whole carbohydrates and the glycemic index.

South Beach On-line

The South Beach Diet has it’s own on-line program with all the tools you would expect (meal/menu planners, forums, weight trackers). The advantage of signing up to the on-line program is that you get:

  • Access to about 800 recipes
  • Access to a complete vegetarian version of the diet.
  • You can ask questions to Dr. Agatston
  • Workout routines
  • Nutrition support

Quite frankly the extra recipes provide a lot more variation to the diet.


South Beach Diet Basics

Some people have mis-interpreted the diet has being another “low-carb” diet or another version of Atkins. I believe this is incorrect.

The South Beach Diet has also been derided as just another fad diet. Only time will reveal whether this is true. It may appear to some as being a fad diet, but I think the South Beach has more value than that.

Apart from all our opinions, probably no other book has educated as many people in responsible nutrition. It emphasizes the values of healthy fats, and the blood sugar / insulin response of many of the processed carbohydrate foods that we eat.

The book itself is half filled with recipes and 14 day meal plans for each of the phases. The text is interspersed with testimonies and stories from various people who have used the South Beach Diet.

Phase 1 – Induction

Phase 1 is most definitely a low-carb phase where most carbohydrates (and all starchy carbs) are completely eliminated. Agatston emphasizes that this phase should never go beyond 2-3 weeks. This phase causes the most weight loss (Agatston claims 8-13 pounds).

To be honest, out of all aspects of the South Beach Diet, phase 1 is the only thing that I question. Agatston claims this phase is required in order to “break sugar addiction”. I really wonder whether this is necessary.

Many people find this phase quite hard, and I wonder whether it is a nod to instant gratification. Dropping carbs out of your diet often results in rapid weight loss for a short period, some will be fat, some may be muscle, and a lot will be loss of water.

Phase 2 – Weight Loss

The second phase of the South Beach Diet is excellent. It reintroduces whole carbohydrates along with good fats and lean proteins.

It teaches you how to make good food choices, and how to satisfy your hunger.

Phase 3 – Maintenance

I’m really not quite sure of the need of this phase. The foods appear no different than Phase 2. I’m obviously missing something.

What about Vegetarians?

The South Beach Diet book has very little about vegetarian options, however, the online version of the diet has a complete vegetarian version with meal plans and recipes.

Exercise and Fitness

Agatston devotes a few pages to this, recommending at least 20 minutes per day of cardio activity. He also recommends weight training – particularly for women – not only for it’s metabolism-boosting assistance, but also for building strong bones. But make no mistake – this is a diet book, and the emphasis on exercise is small.

The online version has a pretty extensive exercise component, with routines and advice from personal trainers.


The South Beach Diet is not about calorie-counting – it emphasizes appropriate levels of fiber and fats in order to feel properly satiated. The opposite effect is eating empty calories (such as sugars) that do not satisfy our hunger but will ultimately convert to fat.

Many people argue that to lose weight you must count calories. I believe that calories most definitely count, but not everyone need count them. I for one could not spend the rest of my life monitoring food intake – however calorie counting may be necessary for a short time. It’s a personal thing.

Good for Rebalancing Nutrition

The South Beach Diet has it’s detractors, and no one diet is appropriate for everyone by any means. However the South Beach Diet has brought about a rebalancing in nutrition. We’ve come to realize the not all fats are bad, and not all carbs are good.

I think the South Beach Diet is worthwhile, but I question Phase 1, and don’t necessarily see the need for it.

Does the South Beach Diet Work?
It’s proof is in the fact that has lasted the distance, and has helped many people to eat better and lose the weight. You could do a lot worse.

How does South Beach Diet work?

The diet unfolds in three “phases,” but if you have less than 10 pounds to lose, you can start with phase 2. Each phase becomes progressively less restrictive. The focus is on replacing bad carbs with good carbs and bad fats with good fats. There’s no counting calories, fat grams, carbohydrates, or anything else. You’ll eat three meals a day, plus two snacks, and one high-protein dessert (such as maple-almond flan or creamy chocolate mousse). The diet lasts as long as you want – it depends on your weight-loss goal.

Phase 1, the shortest and most restrictive, lasts two weeks and is intended to stabilize blood sugar and eliminate cravings. You’ll eat generous portions of lean protein (fish, shellfish, chicken, turkey and soy); lots of vegetables, salads, beans, eggs, and low-fat dairy; and up to 2 tablespoons a day of healthy fats, such as nuts and extra-virgin olive oil. You won’t touch fruit, fruit juice, starches (including pasta, rice and bread), whole grains, sugary foods or alcohol. “The South Beach Diet Supercharged,” by South Beach creator and cardiologist Arthur Agatston, provides a detailed list of what you can and cannot eat. Among the guidelines: Eat 4½ cups of vegetables and 2 cups of milk or dairy each day. Start with a small portion of protein (2 oz for breakfast and 3 oz for lunch and dinner), eat slowly and return for seconds if you’re still hungry. Even though phase 1 may melt off pounds, dieters are advised not to stay on it more than two weeks because it’s so restrictive.

In phase 2, you’ll reintroduce “good carbs,” like whole-grain bread, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta and fruit. You’ll have three servings of fruit and three servings of starches a day. The two daily snacks required in phase 1 are now optional, but encouraged; a glass of red or white wine with dinner is OK. You’ll stick with this phase until you reach your weight goal.

Phase 3, the maintenance phase, is your lifelong healthy way to eat. No food is off-limits. Guidelines advise eating 3 pieces of fruit a day, 3 to 4 servings of starches and no more than 2 tablespoons of good fats, such as olive oil or canola oil.

How much does it cost?

“The South Beach Diet Supercharged: Faster Weight Loss and Better Health for Life,” an essential manual, costs $24.95 for a hardcover edition. Optional online membership is $5 a week (the first seven days are free). You’ll get customized tools like a weight-loss tracker, a printable shopping list generator, daily newsletter, and access to community message boards and hundreds of recipes.

Following the program’s recommended meal plans to a T could break the bank, with skillet pork chops on the menu one day and spicy shrimp stir-fry the next. You can make the diet more affordable with an online tool that helps customize meal plans to conform to your budget.

Will you lose weight?

What little research there is on South Beach does suggest it’s an effective way to lose weight, at least in the short term. But whether it keeps the weight off long-term is unproven.

  • In one study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2004, researchers compared South Beach with the government’s National Cholesterol Education Plan diet. South Beach dieters lost an average of about 13½ pounds over 12 weeks vs. 7½ pounds for those on the NCEP plan. Though the study wasn’t sponsored by South Beach, Agatston was one of the authors.
  • In a study published in November 2014 in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, researchers analyzed existing research on Atkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers and the Zone diets to find out which was most effective. Their findings suggested that none of the four diet plans led to significant weight loss, and none was starkly better than the others when it came to keeping weight off for a year or more. Each of the four plans helped dieters shed about the same number of pounds in the short term: around 5 percent of their starting body weight. After two years, however, some of the lost weight was regained by those on the Atkins or Weight Watchers plans. Since the diets produce similar results, the study authors concluded that dieters should choose the one that beast adheres to their lifestyle – for example, Weight Watchers involved a group-based, behavior-modification approach, and Atkins focuses on lowering carbs.

Because South Beach incorporates the glycemic index, encouraging only “good” carbs when they’re allowed back in – it’s worth considering research that suggests low-GI plans yield short-term weight loss (though not much more effectively than other approaches). In 2009, the independent, nonprofit Cochrane Collaboration reviewed six small, randomized controlled trials of low-GI diets. Overall low-GI dieters fared slightly better than comparison dieters, losing an average of about 2 pounds more. That was a statistically significant difference, however.

Here’s a closer look at a few of the trials Cochrane analyzed:

  • In a 2006 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 129 overweight or obese adults were assigned to one of four diets: high-carb/high-GI, high-carb/low-GI, high-protein/high-GI, and high-protein/low-GI. All were reduced-fat, moderate-fiber diets providing 1,400 to 1,900 calories a day. When the study ended after 12 weeks, no group had lost significantly more weight than another. The low-GI groups had lost an average of 10 and 11 pounds, while high-GI groups had lost 8 and 12 pounds.
  • A study of 45 overweight women assigned to either a low- or high-GI diet found a slight weight-loss edge for low-GI dieters – too small to mean much.
  • In an even smaller study that tracked 23 obese young adults for one year, low-GI dieters also lost a little more weight on average than did those on a low-fat diet—8 percent of initial body weight compared with 6 percent—but again, the difference wasn’t statistically significant. (Still, if you’re overweight, losing just 5 to 10 percent of your current weight can help stave off some diseases.)

Since Cochrane’s report, a few more GI studies have appeared:

  • A study in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2010 examined weight-loss maintenance of 773 overweight adults on high- and low-GI diets. After 26 weeks, weight regain was 2 pounds less on average for low-GI dieters compared with their high-GI counterparts.
  • A study published in 2010 in Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases compared a low-GI diet with a low-fat regimen in 202 overweight and obese adults, about half of whom had metabolic syndrome, which increases the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. While weight loss at three months was greater on average for low-GI dieters – 11 pounds vs. 8 pounds – low-fat dieters lost more on average after a year – 9½ pounds vs. 9 pounds.
  • In another study published in 2007 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers assigned 203 normal to overweight Brazilian women to either a low- or high-GI diet. After 18 months, low-GI dieters weighed, on average, just 1 pound lighter; high-GI dieters lost just half a pound.

How easy is it to follow?

Although South Beach’s most restrictive phase lasts only two weeks, even phase 2 calls for avoiding (or strongly limiting) foods like bagels, white bread, potatoes, cookies, ice cream, honey, and jam. Same goes for pineapple, watermelon and raisins, permitted only once in a while. (These fruits are high in sugar.) You may need to muster up willpower to stick to the program.

Convenience. Alcohol is prohibited during phase 1 and limited during phase 2. Restaurant meals are doable, provided you stick to the rules. The company’s online resources may be helpful.

Recipes. South Beach provides meal plans and hundreds of recipes with ingredient lists, calorie counts, and nutritional facts like grams of saturated fat, protein, and carbohydrates. They’re available online and in print. “The South Beach Diet Super Quick Cookbook” ($28.99), one of six cookbooks, was published in 2010. “The South Beach Diet Gluten Solution Cookbook” ($27.99) was published in 2013.

Eating out. Restaurants and dinners with friends are doable, even in phase 1 – if you can stick to the guidelines. Skip the bread during phase 1, for example, but enjoy a whole-grain roll in later phases. An all-phase-friendly tip: Order soup as a first course, then have a salad, and choose lean protein for your entrée. That way you’ll already be feeling full by the time your main dish arrives, making you less likely to splurge on dessert. Grilled fish, turkey and filet mignon are all smart choices.

Alcohol. If you like to kick back with a beer or a glass of wine, you might be a little cranky the first two weeks, when alcohol is forbidden. (Beer and wine contain carbs, and all alcoholic beverages add calories.) You can work a little back in during phase 2 – one drink a day for women, no more than two for men. A glass of red wine with dinner is your smartest bet, since it contains a bit of resveratrol, an antioxidant thought to reduce heart risk. If you have to have beer, choose “light” brews.

Timesavers. South Beach has a line of snack and meal bars. Options include cereal bars, 100-calorie snack bars, snack-sized smoothies, high-protein and meal bars and gluten-free bars. All are free of artificial sweeteners and flavors, as well as sugar alcohols.

Extras. Online members can track meals, weight, and diet goals on the company’s website. You can forge relationships with other South Beach dieters via discussion boards and stay abreast of health tips and new recipes with a daily newsletter.

Fullness. Nutrition experts emphasize the importance of satiety, the satisfied feeling that you’ve had enough. Hunger shouldn’t be a problem on this diet. South Beach encourages strategic snacking – in fact, two are required each day during phase 1 to stamp out hunger before it strikes. You’ll also be eating foods that are fiber-packed, which promote fullness.

Taste. Tasty, despite limits on treats like cookies and ice cream (if you must indulge, do so rarely). Even in phase 1 there’s room for buffalo chicken bites, vegetarian chili with avocado salsa, and sugar-free candies and Fudgsicles. As the diet becomes less rigid, you’ll move on to waffles, breakfast pizza, baked sweet potato fries and penne with eggplant and ricotta.

Health & Nutrition

Experts had enough reservations to send South Beach to the lower end this list, but most didn’t consider it extremely nutrient-deficient or unsafe. It’s a little heavy on fat at the start in phase 1, short on carbs during phases 1 and 2, and low in potassium throughout. Some experts were concerned it might be too high in protein for those with kidney problems.

What is the role of exercise?

South Beach’s fitness component merges two parts: interval walking – alternating between a very fast and slower pace – and a total body workout (including squats and leg kicks) designed to strengthen your core. You’ll spend 20 minutes exercising seven days a week, rotating between the two components. “The South Beach Diet Supercharged” offers tips on customizing the plan to your fitness level, whether you’re an exercise newbie or a longtime fitness buff.