South Beach Diet Investigated

By Jim F

south-beach-dietThe South Beach Diet has been one of the best-selling diet books of the last 5 or so years.

What is it about the diet that makes it so compelling to so many?

I purchased the latest edition of the South Beach Diet and read it anew. The most recent edition has updates to the foods, and a number of other fixes.

The South Beach Diet is written by cardiologist Dr. Arthur Agatston. In essence, it’s a reduced carbohydrate diet, that emphasizes the value of whole carbohydrates and the glycemic index.

South Beach On-line

The South Beach Diet has it’s own on-line program with all the tools you would expect (meal/menu planners, forums, weight trackers). The advantage of signing up to the on-line program is that you get:

  • Access to about 800 recipes
  • Access to a complete vegetarian version of the diet.
  • You can ask questions to Dr. Agatston
  • Workout routines 
  • Nutrition support

Quite frankly the extra recipes provide a lot more variation to the diet.

You can see the on-line version here.


South Beach Diet Basics

Some people have misinterpreted the diet has being another “low-carb” diet or another version of Atkins. I believe this is incorrect.

The South Beach Diet has also been derided as just another fad diet. Only time will reveal whether this is true. It may appear to some as being a fad diet, but I think the South Beach has more value than that.

Apart from all our opinions, probably no other book has educated as many people in responsible nutrition. It emphasizes the values of healthy fats, and the blood sugar / insulin response of many of the processed carbohydrate foods that we eat.

The book itself is half filled with recipes and 14 day meal plans for each of the phases. The text is interspersed with testimonies and stories from various people who have used the South Beach Diet.

Phase 1 – Induction

Phase 1 is most definitely a low-carb phase where most carbohydrates (and all starchy carbs) are completely eliminated. Agatston emphasizes that this phase should never go beyond 2-3 weeks. This phase causes the most weight loss (Agatston claims 8-13 pounds).

To be honest, out of all aspects of the South Beach Diet, phase 1 is the only thing that I question. Agatston claims this phase is required in order to “break sugar addiction”. I really wonder whether this is necessary.

Many people find this phase quite hard, and I wonder whether it is a nod to instant gratification. Dropping carbs out of your diet often results in rapid weight loss for a short period, some will be fat, some may be muscle, and a lot will be loss of water.

Phase 2 – Weight Loss

The second phase of the South Beach Diet is excellent. It reintroduces whole carbohydrates along with good fats and lean proteins.

It teaches you how to make good food choices, and how to satisfy your hunger.

Phase 3 – Maintenance

I’m really not quite sure of the need of this phase. The foods appear no different than Phase 2. I’m obviously missing something.

What about Vegetarians?

The South Beach Diet book has very little about vegetarian options, however, the online version of the diet has a complete vegetarian version with meal plans and recipes.

Exercise and Fitness

Agatston devotes a few pages to this, recommending at least 20 minutes per day of cardio activity. He also recommends weight training – particularly for women – not only for it’s metabolism-boosting assistance, but also for building strong bones. But make no mistake – this is a diet book, and the emphasis on exercise is small.

The online version has a pretty extensive exercise component, with routines and advice from personal trainers.


The South Beach Diet is not about calorie-counting – it emphasizes appropriate levels of fiber and fats in order to feel properly satiated. The opposite effect is eating empty calories (such as sugars) that do not satisfy our hunger but will ultimately convert to fat.

Many people argue that to lose weight you must count calories. I believe that calories most definitely count, but not everyone need count them. I for one could not spend the rest of my life monitoring food intake – however calorie counting may be necessary for a short time. It’s a personal thing.

Good for Rebalancing Nutrition

The South Beach Diet has it’s detractors, and no one diet is appropriate for everyone by any means. However the South Beach Diet has brought about a rebalancing in nutrition. We’ve come to realize the not all fats are bad, and not all carbs are good.

I think the South Beach Diet is worthwhile, but I question Phase 1, and don’t necessarily see the need for it.

Does the South Beach Diet Work?
It’s proof is in the fact that has lasted the distance, and has helped many people to eat better and lose the weight. You could do a lot worse.

See the official South Beach program here. They now offer a meal delivery service.


  1. Rosemarie

    Glad to hear you are getting the medical help you need, BS3.

    With South Beach, it’s not just “a diet” because it works differently. It’s not about counting calories, and after Phase I, it’s not about counting carbs, but on getting moderate amount of quality, low glycemic carbs that won’t raise your blood sugar and make you crave more carbs. And of course, you are also eating low fat foods, olive oil, and lean protein, so it’s not like Atkins, which is very high fat. You can also eat protein and most veggies until you’re full, so you don’t have to do too much portion control. We have made things simple in our house — we’ve banned all “White foods” — white bread, potatos, pasta, etc., as well as cookies, crackers, and the like. There are whole aisles in the grocery store that we don’t even visit anymore; we also eat a lot fewer packaged foods.

    My husband and I have had some good success on this diet. He lost 18 lbs. in the first 2 weeks, although he has not lost much since then, but he is diabetic, and his numbers have been very good since being on this diet. I’ve been on it about 3 months and have lost 15 lbs. I have 5-10 more to go. I must admit that my energy level is the best it has ever been, and even with modest weight loss, the belly fat seems to go first. It is a good lifestyle diet, and I like that you get snacks in the morning and afternoon, so you don’t suffer from hunger.

    I hope the diet works for you!

  2. Jax

    Thanks Rosemarie your comments helped me to understand a little better. It is my first time on a diet so sometimes I get confused! Thanks again! 🙂

  3. BS3

    Hey everyone! Hope everyone is doing well.I am doing as great as I could be i suppose.I went to the neurologist today.He was concerned that after all my headaches and dizziness no one has ever fully evaulated the situation with a MRI or sent me to a cardiologist,anything.So thats where I’m headed.I have like 7 test I have to get done in the next couple of weeks.I’m pretty nervous.But after years of dealing with this I want it to be over with.I am glad that I finally spoke up to my dr and said enough send me where I need to go so i can take care of myself.The rest is in the hand of medicine I suppose

  4. Rosemarie

    I don’t know if South Beach has a “limit” on carbs. If you’re on Phase II, which you should be by Day 16, you are allowed some carbs like fruit and whole grain cereal. It’s the kind of carbs, complex vs. simple that is what is important. A bowl of steel cut oatmeal has more carbs than your sugar free candy bar, but it also has more food value nutritionally.
    Phase II does allow small amounts of dark chocolate, up to 75 calories, as a treat. This would be 2-3 squares of a Hershey’s “dark special” bar (less than 1/2 and ounce). Thi amounts to about 12 carbs and 6 grams of fat. I would rather have a small amount of the “real thing” rather than a larger amount of “sugar free” or “diet” candy to satisfy my urge.

  5. Jax

    Hey everyone! Well today I am on day 16 of the SBD and I had a sugar free chocolate which I thought was very good however when I looked on the pack it said it had 17grams of carbs and 180 calories and 9 grams of saturated fat. You must understand I work in a work place where when we are all having lunch together the girls follow up their huge filled rolls with a chocolate bar or crisps and today i thought hmmmm i’m going to get a sugar free one from the health food store and be one of the gang! haha anyways i just wanted to know (since this is the only constructive forum i have found) is my chocolate bar that bad?? I mean it didnt have sugar in it but how many carbs (grams) are we supposed to have per day??
    Thanks in advance to a response…..

  6. Rosemarie

    I got sick of the eggs very quickly, as well as just protein and veggies for lunch and dinner. Some people will eat cheese and lean meat, such as lean ham slices for breakfast. If you crave something carb-like at night, I enjoy the South Beach mashed potatoes made with pureed cauliflower and lowfat half/half — you can throw some lowfat cheese in, too. I’m also a big fan of the Italian style spaghetti squash. With tomato sauce and cheese, it’s very filling, almost like a pasta. I usually get more than one meal out of it, too,and it’s inexpensive — the spaghetti squash and zucchini are cheap and make a lot of servings. I’m not sure if it’s phase I or II, but it is not super-starchy like a butternut squash, and it doesn’t take much to fill you up.

  7. sue

    Hi Everyone,
    I’ve been on South beach for for four full days. I started at 157, and this morning I was 152.
    I lost like 55 lbs last year…but this year I was at a stand still. No nausea or bad side effects so far.
    The calorie counting just is not for me. This seems a lot easier and everyday I weigh a little less.
    I do confess that I will be much happier on Phase Two…I’m running out of things to cook.
    Any meal suggestions for Phase one?

  8. Rosemarie

    At 25, you are mature enough to appreciate the value of your education. Sometimes, wonder whether it is better for some of these young folks to just wait a couple years or go to a community college and live at home until they grow up. One of my best students was a 26-year-old young man who realized when he was 18 that he was not ready for the college experience, but when he entered in his mid 20s, his work ethic and performance were way above the younger students.

    Well, you’re at the quarter century mark, and I’ll be at the half! I don’t know what we’ll do, as I don’t have too much money to spend with two kids of my own in college.

  9. BS3

    I consider myself to be a good student yes.I take pride in my work or else I won’t do it.And I pay for school myself lol so theres no partying on my money!!

    I’m going to be 25.I’m pretty excited.You’re right I should just buy things.I get so worked up about my birthday and I should just be having fun you’re so right!I remember when my mom turned 50.It was the year Disney turned 50.She went to Cali and got the gold ears and everything hehe it was so cute!I hope you get to do something fun and fabulous!! And yes some woman do forget what our mothers had to go through to put us here we are.Its sort of annoying actually!

  10. Rosemarie

    BS3, you must be a great student. So many of mine don’t care, they just want to party on mommy and daddy’s dime.

    I hope you have a wonderful birthday. You don’t have to make everything for the party yourself. Where I live, you can buy wonderful hummus in the supermarkets, some with garlic, eggplant, etc. Remember, you’re supposed to enjoy your own party, not stress!

    Which birthday will you be celebrating? I’ll be doing the big 5-0 in November. I don’t know whether to celebrate that one or mourn. I don’t have any wrinkles yet, anyway, and at 15 lbs. lighter, I guess I don’t look too bad for an old broad.

    I have to go and catch my episode of “Mad Men.” The women in that show sure do look great, but the sexism is enough to make you sick! Good thing those days are past! I think young women today forget what some of us had to put up with!

  11. Crystal

    Ugh. I’m so frustrated with my progress right now. And I was so stressed out tonight – I just ate half a box of Wheat Thins.

    Tomorrow I’ll be good and atone for my transgressions.

  12. BS3

    I could never turn in something late I am so anal about deadlines its not evern funny! If Im behind that means im losing MORE sleep and thats a no no!!

    Yeah I shouldnt compare myself to other people its stupid!I know this but I continue to do it.And Joan is beautiful!Oh my goodness!!

    Im gonna try that.HUmmus and pita chips.Proscuitto wrapped in melon and a veggie platter.Maybe I could do a spinach dip??Maybe I could make a red pepper hummus.I think I need another meat of some kind.

  13. BS3

    Ahh Those are good ideas.I love hummus!! I should totally do all that thank you.I don’t want a bunch of drunk people running around on empty stomachs.I could always lie and say its regular meat hehe.I should throw some tofu in there.

  14. Rosemarie

    BS3, then you’re way ahead of my students, who don’t do the reading and turn all their papers in late. I finished a graduate program last year, and I did learn the fine art of reading selectively, so that I could participate in classroom discussion intelligently, but not be overwhelmed by feeling I had to read everything. As a student who was a parent and a teacher at the same time, I had to use my time very wisely and not burn myself out.

    About feeling fat compared to other people, I have the same feeling with my sister, who has never had children and still has the same body she had as a teen-ager. I have had to accept that I am now a curvier body type and that my body has a history that hers does not have. Would I have not had my children so I could have a perfect size 2 body? Yoga has also taught me not to compete or be judgmental; some women in the class are very thin and fit, some are curvier. Even the teachers are not all the same size and shape. My dad used to say, “Audrey Hepburn’s a nice size, but so is Sophia Loren.” Tune in to “Mad Men” on AMC and watch how the gorgeous and buxom redhead, Joan, commands the office and the screen with her magnificent body, dressed in peacock jewel tones!

    Food suggestions: my husband’s grandmother used to put out proscuitto, or some other nice thin ham, wrapped around honeydew melon. Hummus is a great choice, too, as is taboule. Serve both pita and veggies with it. And of course, nuts are a great party finger food.

  15. Crystal

    *Snack-sized lean deli meat & cheese roll-ups with a festive “party” toothpick through the center to hold them all together

    *Reduced-fat Triscuits and hummus

    *Veggie tray with light sour cream-based dip

    *Olives & dill pickles

  16. Crystal

    I have tried a couple of the new line of soups out for the Weight-Watchers crowd. They are based on their “points” system and they’re very low in points and also very SBD friendly – for Phase 2 folks, especially (like, they may have 5 kernels of corn in the whole can or something.) They’re very tasty.

    Also, chili (I get a small Wendy’s take-out chili sometimes – it’s good, cheap, and filling.)

    If you make it at home, you can make it super-lean and SBD friendly. It REALLY fills you up well, and you can load it with all kinds of stuff you’re allowed to eat on the plan. I always make a huge pot and freeze leftovers in single-serving sizes in zip-top bags for convenient work lunches later. In order to sneak in more fiber and green vegetables, I always add a LOT of green beans to my chili. It doesn’t affect the taste really, and it counts toward my daily goal of eating as many green vegetables as I can possibly stand.

  17. BS3

    Thank you! And you’re right I should do one at a time.But Im such a nerd.I always feel like I have to finish everything.Mind you i go to class and like 2 other people have done the assignment ha. Then I feel so silly! My birthday dress is way to big I imagine 3 weeks from now im going to have to fix it which is SO excited :).My friend is doing wayy better than me.Shes super skinny!Im so not.Now I feel fat next to her lol.But thats okay Im still doing pretty good I think.I guess now my worry is I dont know what appetizers to have at my party.I want to make things I can eat but things normal people would eat too and not feel like they are eating ‘diet’ food.Any suggestions?

  18. Rosemarie

    Hi BS3,

    So glad to hear you’re doing better. What you have sounds a lot like what my stuent descibed.

    Yeah, sleeping 3 hours a night is pretty bad. I know people who get by on 5 hours, but anything less than that can really mess you up.

    Congratulations on your weight loss!

    As a college teacher, I advise my students that you have a lot of projects and papers, but you can only do one at a time, so don’t stress, and just take each day at a time.

  19. BS3

    Hey everyone! I’m alive lol. And I don’t post my health issues on myspace b/c there are people on there who I would rather not know my business.If you know what I mean.I’m feeling pretty good.I’m almost at a loss of 50 pounds which is fabulous.I go to the neurologist on Wednesday so we will see what is going on then.I hate MRIs and all that.I am claustrophobic like no other.Thanks for your concern.

    I haven’t been exercising as much and getting more sleep and altho I feel sort of lazy I feel better.I think with work and school I was overdoing it.The medication they gave me really helps with the dizziness. Construction is almost over.They are doing less things but I still feel really sick when im there.I have to stop overdoing it.I only sleep about 3 hours a night.But im working on it.I feel much much better than I did last week.As soon I know whats going on I think I can get back to my routine.:0)

  20. Rosemarie

    Thanks. I don’t do MySpace. I guess I’m still a dionsaur in that regard. I’m glad to hear she’s doing OK.

    Here’s a question for folks — it’s fall and getting cooler and I want soup. I’m getting sick of salads and this type of produce is getting expensive and of lower quaity because it’s not in season anymore. Any folks have recommendations for SBD friendly soup?

  21. Crystal

    BS3 is on my MySpace friends list and she’s been posting over there, though not specifically about her health issues. I assume since she hasn’t mentioned it, she is probably doing ok.

  22. Rosemarie

    Hi all, it’s been a while since I posted.

    Heather, I had that nausea early on, but it passed. Eating a little and drinking more wateractually helped it pass. Something with a protein and bit of carb, like dairy, really helped.

    I’m wondering what happened to BS3, who had health problems? I was concerned about her.

    I teach college and just had a student who had unexplained illnesses during the last year of high school, actualy losing vision and passing out, and it turned out the high school was undergoing construction, and she had “toxic building syndrome.” She’s a healthy girl and an athlete, so it really threw her. Wonder if this is what is going on with BS3.

    Well, I’m down to 125 and am pulling stuff out of the back of my closet that I haven’t worn in 2 years, so I’m a happy camper.

    I’m not too happy about “Body fat percentage” though. I got an inexpensive meter after my meeting with my personal trainer, and that even shows very high body fat — around 38%! How can I be losing weight and be almost 40% body fat! How thin do I need to be to be at the right body fat percentage? I’m around 5’1″ and postmenopausal female. It seems as if I could get to my goal weight and still be too fat! I do work out, walking 1 1/2 mile a day. I haven’t been too good with the weights lately, though, because with fall and teaching, I’ve been too busy to hit the gym. If I have to choose exercise, I always do my walk because I always thought cardio was more important and it’s easy to do, especially in the autumn weather.

  23. Tommy

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  24. Crystal

    Welcome to group – things have been kind of quiet here for a couple of days.

    Have some beans or lowfat/fatfree dairy. They have enough natural sugars in them to give you a boost.

  25. Heather

    Hi ya’ll Im new here. But I have been on the SBD for 3 days and Im so sick and nausiated. Can anyone tell me what causes this?

  26. Heather

    Hey ya’ll Ive been on the SBD for 2 days and I am so sick…… has anyone else experienced this and do you know the cause of this. I tried the Atkins diet a few years ago and I sailed through induction but this time I feel like I have morning sickness.

  27. Crystal

    I haven’t had popcorn in ages. It’s a scary food for me. Something I could easily binge on and overdo it. Like chips.

    I try to just avoid things I know will be triggers for me.

    I think, technically, you can eat popcorn on P2, though.

  28. Crystal

    Tonight’s spiffy totally-spur-of-the-moment Fall-Themed Phase 2 dessert:

    2 packs vanilla sugar free instant pudding
    3 1/2 cups skim milk
    1 can of plain pumpkin (not canned pie filling)
    ground nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice (I’d have added ground cloves if I’d had them)

    Whisk the milk & pudding mix together until they start to thicken. Whisk in the pumpkin & spices to taste.

    Makes a bunch of servings. I’d guess 6-8.


  29. Toya

    Thanks Crystal! Yeah I have about 14-20 lbs. to lose. So, I’m just going to stick w/ it.

  30. Crystal

    I’m not sure about “normal,” but I wouldn’t worry about it yet.

    People who don’t have much to lose (20 pounds or less) tend not to have big, dramatic results in Phase 1 like bigger folks. I’m not sure which category you’re in, but regardless, you should see SOME progress if you go the full 2 weeks.

    Welcome to the group!

  31. Toya

    I have been in Phase 1 for 6 days and I haven’t seen any weight loss yet…is this normal?

  32. Crystal

    Oh dear – I do hope you’re feeling better today!

  33. Dr. J

    Consider the possibility of ketosis:

  34. Rosemarie

    BS3, I am so glad that you did get medical attention. I hope you get to the root of your health problems. How sleep deprived can one be to become so ill? Or how dehydrated? If you are drinking normally, how can you become dehydrated? Believe, me I teach college kids, and with partying and staying up all night, one wonders how they can even stand up, but they are not ill the way you are. I hope that someone finds the cause of your malaise. Having an undiagnosed condition can be tough. My mom went through a spell like this in her early 40s, and it was very difficult. She went to doctors, chiropractors, etc. I hope you find your answer. Rest, drink water, eat fruit, and be kind to yourself.

  35. BS3

    So I was in the hospital last night.I passed out a couple times and I was so dizzy I couldn’t walk.I was alone and I didn’t know what to do.My sugar was fine and so was my pressure.My vertigo has gotten worse.I was suffering from sleep deprivation,dehydration,and exhaustion.But they want me to go to a neurologist.I guess I feel like wow I thought I wouldn’t feel the way I felt if I lost alot wieght but now I know it has to be something bigger than that.I guess now Im scared b/c at least if they were like you’re diabetic I wouldve felt better.But now I don’t know.All this is just depressing me more and more.I can’t do this.Im by myself and I don’t know what to do.I just want to curl up in a ball and cry right now.

  36. Crystal

    lean deli meat & cheese roll-ups … or leftovers of whatever you made for dinner the night before … I usually eat a South Beach bar or a South Beach bar & a string cheese

    I can eat eggs, I just don’t like them much.

  37. judi

    Can’t eat eggs or eggswhites ,would like suggestions for breakfast that would help with my hunger.

  38. Rosemarie

    Yeah, that could do it! I remember years ago, my parents having some home rennovations, particularly in the bathroom, and I don’t know whether it was paint fumes or epoxy or whatever, but my mom actualy passed out from it.

    I’m having an issue with loss of appetite. I mentioned I had pasta the other night and could barely finish, which I thought was just because I wasn’t used to carbs anymore. Today, I made myself a 2-egg spinach omlette, whole wheat eng. muffin, and a couple thin slices of lean ham. I could only eat half and saved the rest for lunch. Last night, I could have skipped supper entirely. I had tuna on a pita for lunch, and some fresh fruit at a church event in the late afternoon. I had to force myself to eat dinner, and all that was Indian spiced vegetables (eggplant and okra) my neighbor cooked.

    I guess this isn’t a bad thing, just a little concerning. Maybe I should be eating less, or my stomach has shrunken from dieting.

  39. BS3

    Well they are using alot of polyurethane.And the smell is horrific. I also work with a pregnant woman who has been complaining b/c besides feeling all the things that go wiht being pregnant,she feel sicker since we have started construction.

  40. Rosemarie

    It’s so simple, easier than this tomatillo thing — I crushed garlic and used about a dozen spices, etc. I wonder if I could lightly bread with whole wheat flour? I just made meatballs with whole wheat flour last night. We ended up having pasta for the first time in 4 months. My husband had dental work and can’t eat meat that he has to chew a lot for a couple of days. I made whole wheat rotini with meatballs. The meatballs were made with 93/7 hamburg, so very little fat. I had only a cup of pasta and 3 meatballs, but I felt so full. It was a struggle to finish the pasta, and 1 cup isn’t much when you look at it on a plate. I forgot how filling carbs are. He also managed to stick to having only a cup, which for him as a guy who’s half Italian, is a big deal. He felt really full, too. Dessert was low cal jello and fruit. It felt like a feast!

    Husband’s sugar numbers are very low, in low 80s every day. He may have to reduce his medication or even phase it out altogether. He has a follow up next month on his Type II. It’s amazing what SBD can do to one’s body chemistry.