For more than ten years now, the South Beach Diet has been one of the most popular diets.
This low-carb diet has been given credit for generating rapid weight loss without causing hunger and promoting heart health at the same time.
However, it also has been criticized for being a “fad” and a restrictive diet.
In this article, we will be providing you with a detailed and comprehensive South Beach Diet review including its pros, cons, sustainability, and safety.
What is the South Beach Diet?
During the mid-1990s a cardiologist in Florida by the name of Dr. Arthur Agatston created the South Beach Diet.
His research on heart disease resulted in him developing his Agatston score that measures how much calcium is contained in the coronary arteries.
Dr. Agatston has said in published interviews that he observed that patients following the Atkins Diet lost belly fat and weights, while those who were on high-carb, low-fat diets struggled to obtain results.
However, he was not comfortable with the high levels of saturated fat that the Atkins Diet allowed, especially for individuals with heart disease.
Also, he didn’t believe that high-fiber foods containing “good carbs,” such as whole grains and fruit should be restricted.
Dr. Agstston wanted to develop a diet that would allow prediabetic, diabetic, and overweight people to lose weight easily and lower their risk of developing heart disease.
So he created his South Beach Diet. It is rich in unsaturated fats, lean proteins, and low-glycemic-index carbs.
After losing belly fat and weight after trying the diet himself, he started to prescribe it to his patients. They reported similar results.
In 2003 The South Beach Diet book was published and it was a bestseller all over the world. In 2009 an updated version was published under the title The South Beach Diet Supercharged and also was a bestseller all over the world.
How Does South Beach Diet Work?
There are three phases that make up the South Beach Diet – two are for losing weight and the third one is for maintaining weight.
The first phase lasts for 14 days.
This phase is considered to be the strictest one since it limits grains, fruit, and other high-carb foods to reduce cravings, stabilize hunger, and decrease insulin and blood sugar levels.
A majority of individuals can expect to lose 8 to 13 pounds during phase 1.
During this first phase, you can eat three meals a day which is comprised of non-starchy vegetables, lean protein, and small amounts of legumes and healthy fat.
Also, you can have two snacks a day, ideally a combination of vegetables and lean protein.
On day 15 phase 2 starts and is maintained for however many weeks are necessary in order to achieve your weight loss goal.
During this phase, you can lose, on average, 1-2 pounds.
During phase 2, you can eat all of the foods that are allowed from phase 1, along with limited portions of “good carbs” and fruit, including certain kinds of alcohol and whole grains.
After you have achieved your target weight, then you move onto phase 3.
During phase 3, although the guidelines of phase 2 should form the basis of your lifestyle, you are also allowed occasional treats and there are no foods that are totally off-limits.
However, if you end up overindulging and begin to put on weight, it is recommended by Dr. Agatston that you go back to phase 1 for 1-2 weeks before you go back to phase 3.
Dr. Agatston recommends in his book South Beach Diet Supercharged regular exercise and offers a three-phase fitness program that accompanies the 3 phases of the diet.
South Beach Diet Phase 1: Foods that are Included
Note that the guides for all of the phases come from The South Beach Diet Supercharged book. The guidelines on the website might vary.
Although the diet does not limit portions, it recommended that a small portion be slowly consumed first, and then return in a few seconds if you hungry still.
- Lean pork, beef, game, veal, and lamb
- Skinless turkey and chicken breast
- Shellfish and fish
- Pepperoni and turkey bacon
- Egg whites and eggs
- Soy-based meat substitutes
- Cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, and low-fat hard cheeses
Soy milk, kefir, Greek or plain yogurt, low-fat milk, buttermilk, limited to 2 cups per day
- Non-Starchy vegetables – consume at least 4 1/2 cups per day.
All vegetables can be eaten except for most kinds of winter squash, white potatoes, peas, yams, turnips, corn, carrots, and beets.
Limit them to 1/3 to 1/2 cup of cooked legumes per day, unless otherwise noted.
- Various bean varieties, including garbanzo beans, navy beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, and black beans
Black-eyed peas and split peas
- Soybeans and edamame
- Hummus, maximum of 1/4 cup
Seeds and Nuts – limited to 1 ounce per day.
- Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and other seeds
- Nut butters – limited to 2 tablespoons
- Walnuts, pistachios, pecans, macadamias, cashews, almonds, and other nuts
- Fats and Oils – limited to 2 tablespoons of oil a day. It also encouraged to consume monounsaturated oils.
- Soybean, sesame, and safflower oil
- Seed and vegetable oils, such as peanut, grapeseed, flaxseed, and corn
- Monounsaturated oils, like avocado, macadamia, canola, and olive oils
Every serving should be equivalent to 2 tablespoons of healthy oils.
- Olives, limited (depending on size) to 20-30
- Salad dressing with under 3 grams of sugar, maximum of 2 tablespoons
- Regular mayonnaise, maximum of 1 tablespoon
- Low-fat mayonnaise, maximum of 2 tablespoons
- Trans-fat-free margarine, maximum of 2 tablespoons
- Avocado, a maximum of 2/3 of one avocado
Limit your consumption to 100 calories or less per day.
- Sugar substitutes, which include artificial sweeteners, Stevia, and sugar alcohols like erythritol and xylitol
- Sugar-free gum, popsicles, or candies
- Sugar-free jellies, jams, and gelatin
- Unsweetened or sugar-free chocolate syrup or cocoa
Unless otherwise noted, you can consume as much of these foods as you want.
- Light whipped topping, maximum of 2 tablespoons
- Light cream cheese or sour cream, maximum of 2 tablespoons
- Half and half, whole milk, cream, maximum of 1 tablespoon
- Miso, steak sauce, soy sauce, maximum of 1 1/2 teaspoons
- Light coconut milk, maximum of 1/4 cup
- All vinegar – balsamic maximum of 1 tablespoon
- Salsa, lemon juice, mustard, horseradish, spices, herbs
You can drink unlimited amounts of the beverages below, although it is advised to drink caffeine in moderation.
- Vegetable juice or tomato juice
- Sugar-free drink mixes
- Sugar-free sodas
- Tea, herbal, decaffeinated, or regular
- Coffee, decaffeinated or regular
Phase 1: Foods You Should Avoid
Foods high in carbs and certain fatty foods, including grains and fruits, are prohibited in phase 1. They include the following:
- Winter squash, white potatoes, peas, yams, turnips, corn, carrots, beets
- All fruit juice and fruits
- Agave nectar, maple syrup, and honey
- Foods containing refined sugar
- Whole milk
- Coconut oil and butter
- Poultry and fatty meat
Phases 2 & 3 Food Yo Can Eat
Included in Phase 2 are all the foods from phase 1 while gradually adding in higher-carb foods, which starts with one daily serving of whole grains and fruits or starchy vegetables during the first week.
On phase 2’s 14th day and after, you can consume up to a maximum of four servings of starchy vegetables and whole grains and three servings of fruit per day.
You are also allowed to have an alcoholic drink occasionally, although your choices are limited to dry wine and light beer.
After your goal weight is achieved, you move over to phase three, which is the maintenance phase. During that phase, in general, you should follow the phase 2 guidelines.
However, you also can have “treat” foods on occasion, since there are no foods that are totally off-limits.
Eat 1-3 servings on a daily basis. All frozen and fresh fruits are allowed other than watermelon, raisins, pineapple, figs, and dates.
The serving size is 3/4 cup of grapes, cherries, or berries, half of a grapefruit, or a small piece of fruit.
Starchy Vegetables and Whole Grains – eat 1 to 4 servings a day
One serving size, except where noted, is 1/2 cup cooked grains, 1 slice bread, or 1/2 cup of cooked starchy vegetables.
- Winter squash, maximum of 3/4 cup
- Yams and sweet potatoes
- Farro, couscous, quinoa, whole-grain pasta
- Wild or brown rice
- Whole-grain bread
- Whole-grain cold cereal, maximum of 1 cup
- Whole-grain hot cereal
- Whole-grain or corn tortilla, 1 small maximum
- Pita bread, maximum of 1/2 a pita
- Whole-grain bagel, maximum of 1/2 small
- Popcorn, a maximum of 3 cups
- Taro, maximum to 1/3 cup
An occasional light beer or one daily dry wine serving is allowed.
- Light beer, maximum of 12 ounces
- Wine dry white or red, maximum of 4 ounces
Phases 2 & 3: Foods You Can’t Eat
The consumption of fatty meats, foods that are high in natural or refined sugar, and saturated fats during Phase 2. Try to avoid the following:
- Alcohol other than dry wine and light beer
- Watermelon, raisins, pineapple, figs, and dates
- White potatoes, corn, and beets
- Fruit juice
- Agave nectar, maple syrup, honey
- Foods made with sugar or refined flour
- Whole milk
- Coconut oil and butter
- Poultry and fatty meat
Sample Menu: What a Day on South Beach Diet Looks Like
The following are sample meal plans for phases 1 & 2, to provide you with an idea of what a typical day on the day may be like.
Phase 1 Sample Day
- Breakfast: 3 eggs with a cup of cooked kale with 1 teaspoon of olive oil
- Snack: 1 ounce of string cheese with slices of bell pepper
- Lunch: Asparagus and roasted salmon salad and mustard vinaigrette
- Snack: 2 teaspoons of peanut butter and celery sticks
- Dinner: Lean steak and broccoli
Phase 2 Sample Day
- Breakfast: Easy and quick peanut butter oatmeal
- Snack: 1/4 cup hummus and 1 cup of cucumber slices
- Lunch: chicken apple-walnut salad
- Snack: Cherry tomatoes and cottage cheese
- Dinner: Pork fajitas and 1/2 cup of guacamole
Hundreds of recipes are available for all of the three South Beach Diet phases, including many that include ingredients that are easy to find, delicious, and affordable.
South Beach Diet Benefits
The South Beach Diet offers several important benefits, including the ability to lose weight without getting hungry.
Research has shown consistently that low-carb, high-protein diets are effective for losing weight.
This is partly due to the ability of protein to increase the metabolic rate of the body. Protein also helps to modify the levels of hormones that promote fullness and reduce hunger, so that you end up eating less naturally.
Also, adding small quantities of healthy carbs gradually back into your diet can help to promote continuous weight loss in some individuals and make it even easier for them to stick with their diet over the long-term.
There was one study of obese and overweight individuals with metabolic syndrome who used the South Beach Diet for a period of 12 weeks.
At the conclusion of the study, the individuals had lost an average of 2 inches from their waists and 11 pounds. They also saw significant increases in the CCK fullness hormone and reductions in fasting insulin.
The South Beach Diet recommends high consumption of fatty fish such as salmon and other inflammation-fighting foods like cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens.
They also recommend that dieters consume extra virgin olive oil, seeds, nuts, eggs, and other foods that protect heart health on a regular basis.
The South Beach Diet books make it enjoyable and easy to plan meals by offering two weeks’ worth of recipes and sample menus for each of the 3 phases. Hundreds of recipes are also available online for phase 1 and 2 meals.
Going on the South Beach Diet can help you lose belly fat and weight, help to protect your heart health, increase hormone levels to promote fullness, and reduce insulin levels.
Potential South Beach Diet Downsides
The South Beach Diet, unfortunately, has a few drawbacks as well.
The major issue is it might be too restrictive when it comes to the types and amounts of fats that are allowed.
It also allows potentially harmful kinds of fat, like safflower oil and soybean oil, which have very high levels of omega-6 fatty acids.
Although it is essential for your diet to receive some omega-6 fats if you are like most individuals, you are probably already getting a lot more than you actually need.
By contrast, if you consume a Wester, diet, then you likely do not get enough anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats that are contained in fatty fish such as mackerel, sardines, and salmon.
Eating a high ratio of omega-6 fats to omega-3 fats is linked with heart disease, inflammation and other types of heart issues.
By contrast, coconut oil and butter are not part of the South Beach Diet due to the fact that they have high levels of saturated fat.
Coconut oil, however, offers several important health benefits, which include weight loss, reduced belly fat and improved heart health markers in obese and overweight adults.
Also, a majority of comprehensive reviews of various studies have not found any association between the intake of saturated fat and an increased risk of developing heart disease.
However, it has been found by other large reviews that replace part of the saturated fats with unsaturated fats can possibly reduce the risk of developing heart disease.
Eating lots of fish with high levels of omega-3 fats and eating less processed fat can be much more important for your heart health overall than restricting your intake of saturated fats.
Review Summary: Is the South Beach Diet Sustainable and Safe Over the Long-Term?
The South Beach Diet offers a healthy way to eat that is much lower in carbs compared to regular low-fat diets. Dieters are also encouraged to mainly eat unprocessed foods, high-fiber, healthy carb sources, and generous amounts of vegetables.
However, processed vegetable oils are also allowed on the diet, which can pose potential health risks. However, that drawback can be avoided by instead using unprocessed monounsaturated fats such as macadamia oil, avocado oil, or extra virgin olive oil.
The South Beach Diet overall is a sustainable way to eat.
Many people have lost weight and kept it off by following this diet.
Ultimately, the most effective diet for losing weight is whatever one you can stick with easily over the long-term.