The South Beach Diet – A Healthy Option or Just Another fad?

The South Beach Diet is a popular weight loss diet that was created by Dr. Arthur Agatston in the mid 1919s. Made famous by his bestselling book The South Beach Diet ( published in 2003), the diet urged people to cut back on processed carbohydrates and focus on lean proteins, low-fat dairy, and healthy carbs like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. So, is the South Beach Diet just another fad diet, or is there some scientific evidence to support the benefits of this diet? Read on to know more.

What is the South Beach Diet?

Dr. Arthur Agatston, a Florida-based cardiologist, developed the South Beach Diet for overweight, prediabetic, and diabetic patients who wanted to lose weight and reduce the risk of heart disease.


According to Dr. Agatston, the key to losing weight is not to cut out all the carbohydrates and fats but to learn to choose the right carbs and right fats. He believes that the consumption of bad carbohydrates found in foods with a high glycemic index creates an insulin resistance syndrome. Excessive use of bad fats such as trans fats and saturated fats also contributes to cardiovascular disease. Dr. Agatston tried the diet on himself, and after successfully losing weight and belly fat, he started prescribing this diet to his patients.

The phases of the South Beach Diet

Phase 1

The first phase is the most restrictive as it does not allow any fruit, grains, starches, or alcohol. It lasts upto two weeks and helps your body to get used to burning fat instead of carbs for food. The food that you eat during this phase includes low glycemic index foods, and they help you eliminate the craving for starchy carbohydrates and sweets. Cutting out carbs also helps you in losing excess water weight in this phase.

During phase one, you eat three meals, which consist of lean protein, non-starchy vegetables, and a small number of legumes and healthy fat. You also consume two snacks a day that contains lean proteins and vegetables. Foods that are allowed: Lean meats and poultry, eggs and egg whites, soy products, seafood, non-starchy vegetables, some beans, nuts, dairy, and healthy fats

Foods not allowed – Fruits, starchy vegetables, fatty cuts of meat, grains and starches, alcohol, sugar-sweetened beverages, and desserts. Most people lose between 8 to 13 pounds during this phase.

Phase 2

The second phase of the South Beach Diet begins on the 15th day and lasts for up to six weeks. The aim of phase 2 is to find the right carb level for you. You reintroduce healthy carbs like fruit, whole-grains, and starchy vegetables into your diet.

During this phase, weight loss will slow down to one or two pounds per week. Each week of this six-week phase has a different focus.

Week 1

Add one serving of carbohydrate per day. Dr. Agatston recommends that you add a  serving of fruit to lunch or dinner. Avoid having it at breakfast as it may induce cravings. If you choose to have cereal, have a high-bran, extra fiber cereal.

Week 2

During this week, you can add another serving of carbohydrate food.

Weeks 3

Add a third serving of carbohydrate this week. You can eat bread that is high in fiber and low in starch or brown rice.

Week 4

Add another carbohydrate serving to your daily diet. Now you will be reaching the limit of the stage when you can eat carbs and still lose weight.

Week 5

Add another serving of carbohydrate if you can handle it. Your meals will now have two or three servings of fruit, starches, grains, and dairy. Lunch and dinner should have a serving of protein and two cups of vegetables.

Week 6

Add another serving of carbohydrate if your body can handle it. Now you will be eating three servings of fruit and three servings of grains or starches.

At week six, you have completely transitioned into the second phase of the diet. You must continue to eat like this till you reach your goal weight. You can expect to lose around one to two pounds per week in this phase.

Foods that are allowed – Everything in phase one, fruit, starchy vegetables, and whole grains

Foods not allowed – Fatty cuts of meat, alcohol, sugar-sweetened beverages, and desserts

Phase 3

Phase three of this diet is all about maintaining your weight. There is no food list that you have to follow. By now, you have learned how to make healthy food choices and eat appropriate portions. You should stay off desserts, fatty meats, sugary drinks, and alcohol as much as possible.

You know how to get back on track if you overindulge once in a while. If you find you are gaining weight, cut back on carbs, and start the phases once again.

The book South Beach Diet Supercharged (published in 2009) also recommends regular exercise and has a three-phase fitness program to accompany the three phases of the diet.

Sample menu for phase 1

Here’s what you would typically eat in a day during stage 1 of South Beach Diet –


An omelet with salmon or baked eggs with spinach and ham and a cup of decaf tea or coffee.


String cheese with bell pepper slices


Vegetable salad with scallops or shrimp.


Celery stick with a teaspoon of peanut butter.


Grilled tuna with grilled vegetables

Sample menu for phase 2

Here’s what you should typically eat in phase two of the diet. Continue with a similar diet until you reach your goal weight.


A bowl of porridge oats mixed with skimmed milk, few strawberries, and a cup of decaf coffee or tea.


A portion of fat-free yogurt


One slice of Granary bread topped with 3 oz lean roast beef, lettuce, tomato, onion, and mustard.


Cottage cheese with cherry tomatoes.


Pork fajitas with 1/3 cup guacamole

Advantages of the South Beach Diet

1. Simple to follow

The diet is simple to follow. You do not have to do any calorie or fat counting. You can choose from the list of foods that you are allowed to eat and plan your daily diet. There are many recipes available online.

2. Balanced diet

After the first phase, the menu is relatively well-balanced. There are not many restrictions. Adding carbohydrates to the diet gradually in the second phase makes it easier for people to stick to the program.

3. Encourages regular meals

According to this diet plan, you must eat three full meals and two snacks. So, it promotes a healthy eating habit.

4. Improves heart health

The South Beach Diet protects heart health by introducing anti-inflammatory foods like fish, vegetables, and healthy fats in the diet. According to studies, replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats or monounsaturated fats decreases the risk of coronary heart disease (1).

5. Reduces weight

According to a 2007 study from The Pennsylvania State University, when people followed the South Beach Diet for 12 weeks, they lost an average of 11 pounds and two inches of waist circumference (2).

6. Reduces hunger

One of the reasons why the South Beach Diet works is that it does not increase hunger levels. People who follow this diet do not have too many complaints about feeling hungry. This diet limits carbohydrate and helps lower the level of the ghrelin, the hunger hormone. This diet also encourages whole grains and high fiber vegetables, which help to keep you full for longer.

7. Controls blood sugar levels

The second phase of this diet encourages the consumption of whole grains, starches, and fruits. The fiber in these foods helps to slow down the absorption of sugars in the body, and this prevents blood sugar spikes.

Disadvantages of the South Beach Diet

1. Restrictive phase 1

The first phase of the diet is very restrictive, which may be tough to follow. It can be demanding for people who are used to high carb diets.


2. Expensive

If you opt for a paid program and get meals delivered home, this diet can turn out to be quite expensive. Try to follow the principles of this diet on your own.

3. Weight gain

Some people may lapse into their old eating habits at the end of phase 2. You have to follow the same healthy eating habits to maintain your weight loss.

4. May contribute to inflammation

The South Beach Diet encourages the consumption of vegetable oil, which are rich in omega-6 fatty acids. Food that is high in omega-6 fatty acids and low in omega-3 fatty acids can lead to chronic inflammation.

Final thoughts

The South Beach Diet was developed by Dr. Arthur Agatston to aid weight loss and improve heart health. This diet contains three phases, with specific guidelines for each stage. It encourages you to add more high-fiber, low-glycemic index carbohydrates, unsaturated fats, and lean proteins to your diet. It is easy to follow, encourages regular meals, helps in weight loss, improves heart health, and controls blood sugar levels.


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