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How good is the South Beach Diet?

Posted Sep 12 2008 8:52am

I'm a fan of the South Beach Diet.

Though it is billed as a program for weight loss (for which it is very effective), it is really a program for health. The basic approach of South Beach involves:

Eat good fats — Choose good fats from olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, flaxseed oil, walnut oil, avocados, nuts, and fish. Omega-3 (fish oil) supplements are also fine.


Eat good carbs — Good carbs include high-fiber, nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.

Eat lean protein — Good sources include eggs, low-fat dairy, nuts, seeds, legumes, skinless white-meat poultry, fish, shellfish, lean cuts of meat, and vegetarian options such as tofu.

(From The South Beach Diet, Dr. Arthur Agatston)


There's no doubt that South Beach can yield dramatic weight loss. In my experience, the success in weight loss depends on 1) how unhealthy your diet was in the first place, and 2) how long you can stick to Phase I, the inital phase during which weight loss is most dramatic. Some people have to periodically cycle back to Phase I to break a "plateau" or to lose faster.

But South Beach is also healthy. It has all the ingredients of a healthy eating program: Low saturated and hydrogenated fats, rich in monounsaturated fats, high fiber, low- to moderate- glycemic index, vegetables and fruits, lean proteins.

The Atkins' diet, in contrast, while very effective for weiglht loss, is an unhealthy process. I've seen lots of bladder infections, constipation, skin rashes, and kidney stones. That's just in the short term. If you stick to the "induction phase" (the no carbohydrate, low fiber, indiscriminate fat initial phase) for an extended period, I suspect that other adverse internal phenemena also develop that might not show for years, like cancer. But--it does work for weight loss!

South Beach's Phase I is also carbohydrate restricted, but steers you towards healthier foods, such as healthy oils from olive and canola, raw or dry roasted nuts, and lean proteins and vegetables.

What really makes South Beach special, however, are its clever recipes. Dr. Arthur Agatston (the author) involved chefs from the restaurants in the South Beach area of Miami to help create healthy yet delicious recipes. We've tried many of them and, while they are different from traditional fare, are delicious and satisfying for the most part.

Criticisms? None, really. But, when my patients choose South Beach (which I often encourage), I often have to impress on them that the Track Your Plaque program is not about weight loss. It is about seizing control of a potentially life-threatening disease. It is a far more important goal with greater implications. Weight loss is just one aspect of a coronary plaque control effort. For this reason, we sometimes have to make changes in the South Beach program to allow for correction of specific lipoprotein patterns.

The most common modification is in people with small LDL particles. This pattern often does indeed respond to weight loss and/or niacin. However, it occasionally persists despite these efforts. We then will ask the patient to continue to restrict the re-introduction of wheat products, though it is allowed after Phase I in South Beach. In other words, for this specific and sometimes difficult to control lipoprotein pattern, a spedific modification of the off-the-shelf South Beach program is sometimes necessary. Of course, the diet is created to suit everybody. Lipoprotein analysis permits detailed insight into your patterns and it's only to be expected that specific modifications might be needed.

But, as written, you can do quite well in your plaque control program by sticking to South Beach.

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