The South Beach Diet

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

The South Beach diet consists of three phases.

For the first two weeks, you are not allowed to eat bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, baked goods, fruit, sugar or consume alcohol. At the next level carbohydrates are added slowly, but it is still important that weight loss continues. In the third phase, when the goal regarding body weight has been reached, carbohydrates are added at the individuals choice.

The South Beach Diet
Author of the South Beach diet is the American cardiologist Arthur Agatston. 

Agatston has acquired a good reputation internationally, particularly for his research in the field of imaging in cardiovascular disease. Dr. Agatston defined the so called Agatston score used in CT scanning of the coronary arteries to describe the amount of calcium in the arterial wall.

The principles of the South Beach are not very different from the ideology of the Atkins diet. Despite that, Dr. Agatston has said that weight loss is not the main objective of the South Beach diet. He underlines that South Beach is meant to improve health by changing the “chemistry” of the blood.

The South Beach diet has benefited from strong marketing.  South Beach in Florida is renowned for beautiful beaches, celebrities, models and good-looking young people. Many famous people have followed the South Beach diet and given it their recommendations, including former U.S. President Bill Clinton. The South Beach diet has also received favorable reviews among professionals; it is convenient and relatively simple to implement.

What Do You Do on the South Beach Diet?

The first two weeks are focused on very small carbohydrate consumption. 

You should not eat bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, baked goods, dairy, fruit, and sugar. Do not consume alcohol. You may eat as many eggs as you want. You may eat most cheese, sugar-free desserts and some types of nuts. You may drink coffee. If you follow this procedure you can expect to lose about two to three kilos (4-6 pounds) in two weeks.

In the second step, you can start eating fruits, some cereals, fiber baked goods, pasta, whole wheat bread and some starch, but in small amounts. The goal is that you continue to lose weight but not more than half to one kilo (1-2 pounds) per week. Once you reach your target weight, you should move to the third step.

In the third step, you define your diet for a longer period, preferably for life. Here you can actually eat what you want. There are no restrictions on what types of carbohydrates you eat. However, it is expected that the amount of carbohydrates will not exceed certain limits and your aim is to not starting to gain weight.

How Does the South Beach Diet Work?

Agatston theories are based on the same ideology as most other low carbohydrate diets. He believes that too much insulin production is an important contributor to obesity. By reducing carbohydrate intake, there will be less fluctuations in blood sugar levels, and insulin production will stabilize.

Agatston believes that the faster sugar and starch are absorbed and the faster they enter the bloodstream, the fatter you will get. He suggests eating foods and combination of foods ( i.e., proteins, fat and small amounts of carbohydrates) that cause gradual rather than a sharp increase in blood sugar. 

Agatston makes distinction between good and bad carbohydrates. This is based on the glycemic index (GI)

GI tells you how fast 50 grams of a particular food turns into sugar. Carbohydrates with a high GI raise blood sugar levels rapidly, while carbohydrates with low GI do it much slower.

Examples of foods with high GI is white wheat bread, potatoes and various kinds of cereals. Green vegetables, whole grains, and beans are examples of foods with low GI.

The Three Stages of the South Beach Diet

The first stage lasts for two weeks and is expected to reduce your desire for sugar and artificial starch and trigger weight loss.  The goal is to reduce fluctuations in blood sugar levels.

Emphasis is placed on the consumption of fiber rich, nutrient-dense food. You may eat meat, fish, chicken, vegetable fiber, lean cheese, eggs, fat-free dairy products, healthy, unsaturated fatty acids that can, for example, be found in avocado, nuts, and seeds. Use oil for cooking, for example, olive oil, which contains high levels polyunsaturated fatty acids.

The second step lasts much longer. Individuals who do not need to lose much weight can skip the first step and go directly to the second level. Here you can eat everything allowed in the first step and “good” carbohydrates like whole grain bread, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, fruits, vegetables, sweet potatoes and green beans. It is emphasized that you eat healthy desserts and snacks of all kinds, even dark chocolate.

The third step. Here South Beach has become a lifestyle. You go to this level when you reach your goal regarding body weight.

What’s the Difference Between South Beach and Atkins?

What Atkins and South Beach have in common is that carbohydrate consumption is kept to a minimum. However, Atkins is much stricter when it comes to quantities of carbohydrates, while South Beach puts more emphasis on choosing “good” carbs with low GI rather than “bad carbs” with a high GI. Both of these diets warn against trans fats.

Although there are many similarities with the philosophy of South Beach and Atkins, the main difference lies in their approach to fats. South Beach warns against consumption of saturated fat, while Atkins explicitly endorses it.

Therefore, the South Beach Diet has been more readily accepted by doctors, dietitians and other specialists as it is more in line with official recommendations on the type of fat you should prefer.