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. erica

    I had the same issue. I also eat a mainly vegetarian diet (occasional fish and meat, but only very rarely), and I was so sick after 3 days on phase one I finally gave up today. I didn’t have a lot of weight to lose–just wanted to get rid of that last ten pounds, but it was awful! I had terrible headaches, nausea, gas, bloating, everything. As soon as I ate a piece of sprouted grain toast I felt better. All the eggs made me want to vomit. I might try phase two after my body starts to feel normal again, but this was a terrible experience.

  2. Jax

    Cool thanks again Rosemarie! Nice to get my questions answered, I bought the SBD cookbook on the weekend so that should help me with some recipes!! 🙂

  3. BS3

    Thanks chica!! Flatbread never hurt anyone hehehe.Well I say you make your new goal to be 220 which is a nice round number lol. I was really hoping to be 50 pounds lighter by my birthday and hello its totally happening.Its insane.INSANE!! I don’t know what to make my new goal either.I suppose I would like to lose 20 more pounds by January 1st.Thats totally doable I think.YAY!!

  4. Crystal

    Congratulations and happy birthday, BS3!

    I have been indulging in little mini-cheats lately, but I’m being so careful. Like… last night I had about 3 bites of a piece of white flatbread. It was good.

    Today, I weighed myself and I’m officially 1 pound under my first goal (250 – which I was trying to hit by 12-1-2008.) I need a new goal! I did it and I did it with like a month and a half to spare!

    3-10-2008: 318.8
    10-19-2008: 249

    I’m going to roll this around in my head for a few days before settling on a new goal…

  5. BS3

    Hey everyone!! Hope everyone is having a fabulous weekend.I’m sick again and its annoying.I get sick right before my birthday every year like clockwork.Oh well.I bought groceries for work and suprisingly no one ate it.So it made it so much easier to have my lunch and not worry what I was eating.Honestly I had gotten way off track for like 2 and a half weeks.I felt pretty bad about it but then I realized I was being silly.After my ups and downs im down 46 pounds which is so awesome I think.I wanted to be 50 pounds lighter by my birthday party which is so possible.I never thought I would lose so much wieght ever in my life.I know I sound like a broken record but I’m happy about it.I eat the same thing everyday for the most part which is boring,but it doesnt bother me.I feel safe.Oh my gosh TasteyKake(did I even spell that right?) makes these sugar free coffee cakes that are SO amazing.Or maybe since I don’t ever really have sugar they taste normal to me.I am SUPER nervous about my birthday.Im going out to dinner Wednesday and Friday is the big party.I know everyone and their mother is going to want to buy me a drink.And theres going to be cake of course.I’m going to try and just have one drink.I also asked that my friend makes me mini cupcakes and not a big cake,then I could have one and not feel bad.:)I’m done being random for now.Hope you’re all well 🙂

  6. Rosemarie

    Olive oil is good because it is polyunsaturated. But I would skip the bacon, unless you are using Canadian bacon or turkey bacon, which are low in fat. Animal fat is a no-no, unlike in Atkins Diet. SBD even recommends low fat for dairy — cheese, yogurt, etc. I use Olivio margarine, which is a “tub” margarine made of olive oil. We use lean ham instead of bacon if we want meat with the eggs. If you have the SBD book, you will see that eggs are OK, but not bacon, except for Canadian bacon, which is more like a lean ham.

  7. Jax

    Hey Rosemarie thanks for your tips and encouragement there, it’s great to hear from people that are so positive about it. Well done to you and your husband!

    I was wondering though, what I do for dinner or a lunch is I will put some olive oil in the pan (small bit only) then put in the chicken/vegetables/cashews/seeds and then a bit of curry paste to add flavour to it. Anyways i was wondering does it matter if you cook your foods in olive oil? Because i also do my bacon and eggs in the morning like that, I’m careful not to use too much and only use it twice a day but thought i should ask just in case i’m doing it wrong!