The South Beach Diet was created in the mid-1990s by Dr. Arthur Agatston, a Florida-based cardiologist.
His work in heart disease research led to the development of the Agatston score, which measures the amount of calcium in the coronary arteries.
According to published interviews, Dr. Agatston observed that patients on the Atkins Diet were losing weight and belly fat, while those on low-fat, high-carb diets were struggling to achieve results.
However, he was uncomfortable with the high amount of saturated fat allowed on the Atkins Diet, especially for people with heart disease.
In addition, he didn’t believe in restricting high-fiber foods with “good carbs,” like fruit and whole grains.
Dr. Agatston wanted to create a diet that allowed overweight, diabetic and prediabetic individuals to easily lose weight and reduce their risk of heart disease.
Therefore, he developed the South Beach Diet, which is rich in low-glycemic-index carbs, lean proteins and unsaturated fats.
How Does the South Beach Diet Work?
The South Beach Diet consists of three phases: a low-carb phase for rapid weight loss, a less restrictive phase for more gradual weight loss and a third phase for weight maintenance.
Phase 1 lasts 14 days.
It’s considered the strictest phase because it limits fruit, grains and other higher-carb foods in order to decrease blood sugar and insulin levels, stabilize hunger and reduce cravings.
Most people can expect to lose 8–13 pounds (3.5–6 kg) of body weight during this phase.
During phase 1, you consume three meals per day composed of lean protein, non-starchy vegetables and small amounts of healthy fat and legumes.
In addition, you consume two mandatory snacks per day, preferably a combination of lean protein and vegetables.
A Sample Menu of Phase 1 of the South Beach Diet
- Breakfast: South Beach Complete shake
- Snack: Plain Greek yogurt with fresh dill and lemon juice, along with celery sticks and cherry tomatoes
- Lunch: Grilled chicken, ½ an avocado, and cooked broccoli
- Snack: South Beach Diet Peanut Chocolate Bar
- Dinner: Baked salmon, white beans, sautéed cabbage and garlic
- Evening Snack: Almonds
This phase begins on day 15 and should be maintained for as many weeks as necessary to achieve your goal weight.
You can expect to lose 1–2 pounds (0.5–1 kg) per week during this phase, on average.
During phase 2, all foods from phase 1 are allowed, plus limited portions of fruit and “good carbs,” such as whole grains and certain types of alcohol.
A Sample Menu of Phase 2 of the South Beach Diet
- Breakfast: Breakfast pita with spinach, eggs, and feta cheese, vegetable juice, and tea or coffee
- Snack: Assorted vegetables with a cilantro and pesto dip
- Lunch: Curried turkey and greens salad
- Snack: Apple and peanut butter sandwiches
- Dinner: Edamame appetizer, Louisiana-style shrimp and rice, baked tomatoes topped with Parmesan cheese
- Dessert: South Beach Diet–style tiramisu
Once you achieve your target weight, you advance to phase three.
In this stage, although the phase-2 guidelines should be the basis for your lifestyle, occasional treats are allowed and no foods are truly off limits.
However, if you overindulge and start putting on weight, Dr. Agatston recommends returning to phase 1 for one to two weeks before returning to phase three.
A Sample Menu of Phase 3 of the South Beach Diet
- Breakfast: Mini crustless quiches (eggs with peppers, onions, and cheese baked in a muffin tin) with a slice of whole-grain toast like Ezekiel bread, a cup of berries, and a cup of black coffee or tea
- Lunch: Salad greens with salmon or chicken and olive oil and vinegar dressing
- Snack: Greek yogurt with berries
- Dinner: A plate filled with half-roasted vegetables (zucchini, squash, red onion), a small, 4-ounce portion of lean meat (such as salmon, chicken, or beef tenderloin), and 1/3 cup of a hearty grain (farro, quinoa, barley)
- Dessert: Mascarpone cheese or Greek yogurt with peaches, topped with slivered almonds and cocoa powder
Why you might follow the South Beach Diet
You might choose to follow the South Beach Diet because you:
- Enjoy the types and amounts of food featured in the diet
- Want a diet that restricts certain carbs and fats to help you lose weight
- Want to change your overall eating habits
- Want a diet you can stick with for life
- Like the related South Beach Diet products, such as cookbooks and diet foods
Check with your doctor or health care provider before starting any weight-loss diet, especially if you have any health concerns.
The South Beach Diet says that you’ll lose 8 to 13 pounds (3.6 to 5.9 kilograms) in the two-week period that you’re in phase 1.
It also says that most of the weight will be shed from your midsection. In phase 2, it says that you’ll likely lose 1 to 2 pounds (0.5 to 1 kilogram) a week.
Most people can lose weight on almost any diet, especially in the short term.
Most important to weight loss is how many calories you take in and how many calories you burn off.
A weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds a week is the typical recommendation.
Although it may seem slow, it’s a pace that’s more likely to help you maintain your weight loss permanently.
Losing a large amount of weight rapidly could indicate that you’re losing water weight or lean tissue, rather than fat.
In some situations, however, faster weight loss can be safe if it’s done in a healthy way.
For example, some diets include an initiation phase to help you jump-start your weight loss, including the South Beach Diet and the Mayo Clinic Diet.
The South Beach Diet, while mainly directed at weight loss, may promote certain healthy changes.
Research shows that following a long-term eating plan that’s rich in healthy carbohydrates and dietary fats, such as whole grains, unsaturated fats, vegetables and fruits, can improve your health.
For example, lower carbohydrate diets with healthy fats may improve your blood cholesterol levels.
The South Beach Diet is generally safe if you follow it as outlined in official South Beach Diet books and websites.
However, if you severely restrict your carbohydrates, you may experience problems from ketosis.
Ketosis occurs when you don’t have enough sugar (glucose) for energy, so your body breaks down stored fat, causing ketones to build up in your body.
Side effects from ketosis can include nausea, headache, mental fatigue and bad breath, and sometimes dehydration and dizziness.
The Pros of the South Beach Diet
This plan is presented very simply, no measuring for many of the foods is necessary, especially at the beginning.
Due to the strictness of phase 1, some people could have a significant amount of weight loss in the first two weeks, 8 to 12 pounds.
Phase 1 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 type 2 diabetes if you already have it.
The Cons of the South Beach Diet
The South Beach Diet might represent the ultimate eating plan for some, but it may not be perfect for everyone.
For one thing, the diet doesn’t provide enough calcium, which is especially important for women because they are more prone to osteoporosis, or bone loss.
Getting a sufficient amount of calcium in your diet can help build and maintain strong bones and ward off the bone disease.
The real truth with respect to diets is that most people are not successful in the long term. Any doctor could tell you that.
Therefore, it makes sense to pick a diet plan based on what is the most sustainable option for you.
While there is some science to back up the fact that diets that are high in carbs are not good for you, the simple truth remains that the diet that you will be successful on is the one that you can keep to.
That being said, the South Beach diet seems to put a lot of effort into being a diet that can be sustainable.
The maintenance phase allows enough flexibility that you won’t feel totally deprived of the foods that you love.
It allows you to have the occasional “cheat” meal that you crave.
The South Beach Diet runs its own website where you can learn even more about their plan.
You can also purchase there the meal delivery plans.
When you sign up for one of their plans, you get online support as well.
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This information is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.