The South Beach Diet
This diet is part of a three-phased approach. You begin phase one by cutting out unhealthy fats and sugar rich carbs. The first phase lasts two weeks. You don't have to count calories but you do have to restrict your eating to portions that are smaller than many Americans are accustomed to.
In the second phase, healthy carbs and other low-fat foods are re-introduced. Phase two is the real fat loss stage of the diet.
The final phase is reached once you've achieved your goal weight. On phase three you learn weight maintenance strategies. If you start putting weight back on, you simply repeat the phases.
Lean bacon and eggs. Grilled chicken, turkey, fish, salad and dry roasted nuts. Vegetables and low-fat yogurt. These are all foods approved on the South Beach diet.
You can't eat things like sugar, cookies, bread, cake or ice cream. No alcohol or fruit in the first 2 weeks at all. After the first two weeks fruit and some breads are put back on the acceptable list.
How it Works
Dr. Agatston makes the claim that bad carbs spike insulin levels. As your body processes the carbs, the higher insulin levels make you crave more food. Then you eat more carbs, which spike your insulin levels again...and you continue to eat. It becomes a viscous cycle.
The South Beach diet works with you to curb your carb cravings. By restricting carbs in the first two weeks you supposedly help eliminate those cravings. When you do have a food craving, you are encouraged not to deny it, but substitute a healthier food choice.
Pros and Cons
Unlike most low-carb diets, the South Beach diet makes distinctions between good and bad fats. This is very important because the American Heart Association and United States Department of Agriculture both point to long term studies that show no more than 30 percent of your total calories should come from fat. This diet suggests people cut out excess fats, bad (or sugar loaded) carbs and restrict calories.
Snacking is also encouraged on the South Beach diet. This is important because healthy snacking can lessen food cravings and reduce binge eating.
The major criticism of this diet is what happens in the first two weeks, during which Dr. Agatston claims you can lose up to a pound a day. What most people don't realize is that the first pounds lost are typically from water in your tissues, not fat. In addition, if you lose more than 1 or 2 pounds a week you are putting a potentially dangerous strain on your body.
In the long run, if you stick to the healthy eating habits suggested in this diet you will lose fat, but if you want to keep it off, don't try to lose more than 1 or 2 pounds a week.
The Bottom Line
This diet is the most sensible of the low-carb diets we have yet reviewed. It suggests you reduce excess sugar and other carbs, while still giving a lower fat message. Also, by making more restrictions in the first two weeks, it may help reduce cravings and give people encouragement to continue making healthier eating choices long term. The South Beach diet is a viable choice for people serious about losing weight.
A word of caution. Make sure to talk to your doctor or nutritionist BEFORE you start on this diet so you have a medical professional monitoring any potentially harmful side effects of the initial weight loss.
Low-carb diets are currently being studied by the National Institutes of Health and as with any diet should NEVER be attempted without the supervision of a Medical Doctor or licensed Nutritionist.
General Reference Links
American Heart Association
Center for Science in the Public Interest
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Institutes of Health
United States Department of Agriculture