Review of the South Beach Diet

The South Beach diet was developed by a practicing cardiologist, Dr. Arthur Agatston. Dr Agatston did not initially set out to develop a weight-loss plan. He simply got frustrated when his patients, when following the standard, low-fat American Heart Association diet, failed to lose weight or improve their blood chemistry. He then developed a new diet specifically for his patients, which later became the basis for The South Beach Diet, an international best seller. The South Beach Diet was first published in April 2003 and has been on the New York Times best seller list for more than 96 consecutive weeks, with more than 8.5 million copies in print. It was #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list for 38 weeks.

The diet is formulated on the premise that many of us are addicted to carbohydrate foods. Many experts commented that the South Beach diet is really just a revised version of the Atkins Diet. Both of these diets kick off with a first stage designed to get rid of addiction to high levels of carbohydrate consumption. The South Beach diet varies from Atkins in that it consists of three instead of four phases. While the first and last phases of both diets are very similar, the middle two phases of the Atkins Diet has been replaced by a single stage in the South Beach Diet. As result of this difference the typical rate at which South Beach followers lose weight is lower than that of Atkins followers, but fans claim that the South Beach diet is easier to stick to since it offers greater variety at an earlier stage in the diet.

The South Beach Diet is introduced as a balanced weight-loss and maintenance plan that encourages people to eat a variety of foods, such as lean sources of protein, reduced fat cheeses and dairy products, legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and good fats like olive and canola oil.  Snacking is encouraged along with approved sweet treats and desserts on a daily basis. The glycemic index (is a ranking system for carbohydrates based on their effect on blood sugar) plays a critical role in the diet, as it forms the basis for Agatston’s advice on how to choose the best carbohydrates to accompany a meal. The concept of the glycemic index (considered with the actual glycemic load) is generally accepted as a crucial component of healthy diets nowadays.

The approach of Agatston with regards to fats differs considerably with that of Atkins. On the Atkins plan dieters are encouraged to ingest saturated and unsaturated fats in the first phase, and then gradually reduce the saturated fat content of meals during subsequent phases as more carbohydrates are introduced. Dr. Agatston advocates mostly unsaturated fats, like those found in olive oil, nuts and oily fish like salmon, throughout his diet. Butter is nowhere to be found in the South Beach diet meal plans, nor is bacon or anything fried. The South Beach diet also differs from Atkins in that it allows most carbohydrates — though only those high in fiber, like multi-grain bread and wild rice.

As with most of the diet books on the market, it is often difficult to tell how much of what the author is saying is backed by sound scientific evidence. A scientific review was undertaken on the South Beach Diet by Sarah L Goff, MD et al. The title of this brief report is “Nutrition and Weight Loss Information in a Popular Diet Book: Is It Fact, Fiction, or Something in Between?”, and it was published in 2006 by the Society of General Internal Medicine. To quote from the report : “Obesity is a major public health issue, and consumers are seeking guidance on weight loss from numerous sources. Based on the high number of books sold and American Dietetic Association information, diet books are a popular source of guidance. There is potential for the nutrition information in these books to be misleading if the quality of the information is poor. In this study, we demonstrate that the nutrition facts in a popular, heralded diet book authored by a physician are commonly incorrect or still in evolution.”

Forty-two nutrition facts were extracted from the South Beach Diet book for review. It must be noted that only nutritional facts were included for further investigations. Many of the other scientific claims made by the author were not examined as part of this report. The findings were as follow: Fourteen (33%) facts were supported by peer reviewed scientific studies, while 7 (17%) were not supported, 18 (43%) were the subject of debate still (both supported and not supported), and for 3 (7%) no related papers could be found, including the fact that the diet had been “scientifically studied and proven effective.”

To summarize the findings above….over 67% of nutrition facts in the South Beach diet book are not conclusively supported by peer-reviewed scientific studies. This does not necessarily mean that the majority of the statements made in the book are wrong. What is does mean though, is that when we read these best seller diet books, we have to use common sense and keep an open mind as to the accuracy of statements in these books. It must be noted that the intention of the authors were to comment on potentially misleading information contained in best seller diet books in general, and not necessarily to highlight the shortcomings of the South Beach diet. They simply selected the South Beach Diet due to its best seller status at the time.

One of the benefits of the South Beach Diet over many of its competitors is that Kraft Foods entered into an alliance with Dr Agatston, and launched a whole range of South Beach Diet convenience products. This range varies from breakfast to dinner, dessert and snacks. It includes cereal, meal replacement bars, frozen pizzas and frozen entrees! Dr Agatston once stated “My goal is to help change the way America eats, and these great-tasting, nutrient-rich products from Kraft are convenient, making it easier for people to follow The South Beach Diet – whether for a healthy lifestyle or weight loss.”

As can be expected from such a well-established franchise, the official South Beach website offers just about all of the resources you will need to become a successful South Beach Dieter. Some of these resources include live support, access to online dietitians, recipes, exercise tips, and plenty more. Further support are also available in the form of more books published under The South Beach Diet® franchise, including: The South Beach Diet Cookbook (2004); The South Beach Diet Good Fats Good Carbs Guide (2004); The South Beach Diet Quick & Easy Cookbook (2005); and The South Beach Diet Dining Guide (2005). His latest books are The South Beach Diet Parties & Holidays Cookbook (2006), The South Beach Diet Taste of Summer Cookbook (2007), and the recently re-released South Beach Heart Health Revolution. Many of these books became bestsellers in their own right.

A study funded by Kraft in 2005 named “A randomized, controlled clinical trial to evaluate the efficacy of a modified carbohydrate diet for reducing body weight and fat in overweight and obese men and women” found that overweight and obese adults who followed the principles of The South Beach Diet lost more weight and body fat compared to dieters who adopted a low-fat, portion-controlled plan.

Our take on the South Beach Diet? In an industry where common sense is easily forgotten and so many fad diets are on offer, the South Beach Diet distinguishes itself as a well developed, safe and effective diet program that can be adhered to with great ease thanks to the extensive support mechanisms and availability of convenience foods. The diet also recommends changes for life, which should be the hallmark of any good diet.

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1 Responses to “Review of the South Beach Diet”

  • Individuals on a low glycemic index foods or diets have less dramatic variations in blood sugar levels and relatively less hormone levels which results to fewer food cravings. This means that these individuals are able to maintain their diet without having to snack in between meals and one of the major results is weight loss.

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