Essential Facts About the South Beach Diet

Medically reviewed in December 2020

Weight loss diets abound. So do the reasons most people say the diets don't work. Usually it's because they are too complicated, don't provide enough food variety or flavor, leave you feeling hungry, or don't produce results fast enough. The South Beach Diet, developed by cardiologist Arthur Agatston, tries to address all of these factors while training you to make nutritious food choices that will get you to a healthy weight you can sustain.

So, can this plan do all that it promises?

Slow and Steady Weight Loss Is Key
Adopting a diverse diet that maximizes nutrients and minimizes certain fats and sugars is the first step toward permanently losing excess pounds that can make you look and feel older. Overall, the South Beach Diet does a good job of teaching how to plan such healthy meals.

But RealAge believes the dietary recommendations for the first 2 weeks are too restrictive, particularly for carbohydrate intake. Although this phase is designed to motivate with immediate results, omitting food groups to lose weight fast is not advised.

Go for Long-Term Goals
Because weight problems are often the result of years of bad eating and less-than-enthusiastic exercise habits, repairing the damage requires a long-term commitment to a healthier lifestyle. By beginning with the second phase of the South Beach Diet, which offers a greater variety of food, you are more likely to develop realistic, lifelong habits that will benefit your weight and overall health well into the future.

Lose Weight by Eating the Right Carbs and Fats
The South Beach Diet claims not to be low-carbohydrate, like the Atkins approach or the Zone Diet, or low-fat, like Dr. Ornish's plan, but the South Beach Diet points to certain "bad types" of carbs and fats you do have to cut out. The good news is that reducing your intake of these foods has many other health benefits.

Cutting back on highly processed, high-glycemic-index carbohydrates such as those found in white breads and rice, and adding more low-glycemic-index, fiber-rich carbs like vegetables, fruit, and whole grains will help reduce aging, especially of the arteries. However, not all the high-glycemic index foods that appear on the South Beach Diet's list of foods to avoid are bad. For instance, don't eliminate carrots and watermelon; they are rich in antioxidants that help keep your immune system healthy.

Substituting trans and saturated fats with unsaturated fats such as olive and fish oils will help both your waistline and your heart. It's also good advice to grab a handful of nuts at snack time; this habit will help control your cholesterol levels and weight. We suggest taking the South Beach Diet a step further by using egg whites or substitutes rather than whole eggs and limiting red meat to once a week. This may help improve your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of certain cancers.

Never Underestimate the Power of Exercise
The creator of the South Beach Diet asserts that the plan will work regardless of your exercise habits. But regular exercise is an essential part of any weight management plan. It boosts your metabolism and contributes to overall health, especially that of your heart, by lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking and jogging, strengthen your bones and help prevent osteoporosis. Strength-training exercises increase your muscle mass, leading to a leaner body that burns more calories. Try these free workout videos.

Avoid Dangerous Yo-Yo Dieting
The South Beach Diet advises that you simply return to the first phase of the plan anytime your weight begins to creep back up. But the truth is, repeatedly losing and gaining back large amounts of weight, or yo-yo dieting, is simply not healthy. It stresses, and ultimately ages, your body. If you find yourself slipping into bad eating habits, try to steer back on the healthy track, avoiding high-fat, nutrient-poor foods and exercising daily.

Choose a Diet You Can Grow Young With
Every day you face choices about what to eat. By choosing to eat a sensible diet that includes a mix of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean meats, and fish, you can control your weight. Controlling your weight will give you more control over your health, which can ultimately add more years to your life.

If your daily patterns have led to extra pounds or a more worrisome weight problem, a slightly modified version of the South Beach Diet along with regular exercise can help you adopt healthy habits and achieve a healthy weight.


Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution (by R. Atkins, M.D.)

  • Drastically reduces intake of dietary carbohydrates, in favor of proteins
  • No restrictions on meat, eggs, and dairy; may raise LDL cholesterol and heart disease risks due to excess saturated fats
  • Insufficient evidence to make recommendations for or against this diet as a long-term strategy

The Anti-Aging Zone (by B. Sears, Ph.D.)

  • Requires eating set combinations of foods -- 40% carbohydrates, 30% proteins, and 30% fats -- at set times
  • Typically contains less than 1,000 calories per day, which may result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • No scientific reason for eating set combinations of foods at set times

Lifestyle Program (by D. Ornish, M.D.)

  • Combines vegetarian and low-fat diets; encourages high-fiber foods and discourages processed foods
  • Many have trouble sticking with the proposed dietary restrictions long-term
  • Some evidence that it may decrease LDL cholesterol and weight

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