What is the South Beach Diet?

Originally created to help prevent heart disease by lowering the fat in people’s diets, the South Beach diet evolved into an eating plan that recommends eating healthier fats and carbohydrates. Unlike low-carbohydrate or high-protein diets, the South Beach diet focuses on eating carbohydrates better suited to heart health and weight loss, rather than the elimination or drastic reduction of all carbohydrates. While the wildly popular high-protein/low-carb diets of the 1990s have declined in popularity, the South Beach diet remains one of the less-controversial eating health plans.

South Beach Diet History

Cardiologist Arthur Agatston and dietician Marie Almon created the diet to help prevent coronary disease in Agatston’s patients. Agatston investigated the contemporary recommendations prevalent during the 1980s for reducing fat in diets to lower cholesterol and otherwise prevent poor heart health. His research led him to believe that replacing proteins high in saturated fats with more carbohydrates led to an insulin reaction that created a hunger response which led to overeating.

Reduces “Bad” Carbs

The South Beach diet focuses on eliminating or reducing carbohydrates in the diet, which cause the insulin response that produces low blood sugar levels and hunger signals. These include foods like potatoes, pasta, baked goods, white rice and white bread.

Emphasizes “Good” Carbs

Replacing the “bad” carbohydrates with those that do not cause quick spikes in blood sugar levels is key to the South Beach diet. These foods include non-processed foods like fresh vegetables, beans and whole grains.

Emphasizes “Good” Fats

The South Beach diet reduces the amount of saturated and trans fats consumed, replacing them with unsaturated fats and foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids. These fats not only reduce risks for heart disease, but help raise high-density lipids (HDL) in the blood, or the so-called “good” cholesterol. The diet recommends foods such as high-fat fish, like salmon, nuts and olive oil.

South Beach Diet Phases

The South Beach diet is divided into three phases to ease users into the new eating system. The first phase eliminates all processed carbohydrates, fruits and sugars to help change blood sugar levels. Phase two is an optional continuation of the first phase if the dieter wishes to continue the accelerated weight loss that typically occurs in phase one. Phase three is the diet’s long-term eating regimen of targeted fats, carbohydrates and proteins.

Comparison to Atkins

Due to its emphasis on reducing certain types of carbohydrates, the South Beach diet is frequently and incorrectly categorized as a low-carb diet, such as Dr. Robert Atkins’ high-protein diet. The South Beach diet is neither low-carbohydrate or high-protein; it includes both, but simply replaces high-fat proteins with leaner meats, and exchanges high-sugar carbohydrates with those with lower sugar levels. The vegetarian version of the South Beach diet could be viewed as a comparatively high-carbohydrate diet because of its percentage reliance on vegetables compared to animal protein.

Additional Resources

 Weight Loss Resources: South Beach Under the Spotlight

Mayo Clinic: South Beach Diet 

 Mercola: 12 Reasons to Avoid the South Beach Diet 

U.S. News: South Beach Diet Overview