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South Beach Diet

The South Beach Diet was developed by cardiologist, Arthur Agatston.

Fresh vegetables are the cornerstone of a good diet. [©Jupiter Images, 2010]
©Jupiter Images, 2010
Fresh vegetables are the cornerstone of a good diet.

South Beach Diet

The South Beach Diet may be a way for heart patients to lose weight and keep it off. Its creator, Arthur Agatston, M.D., is a cardiologist, associate professor of medicine and author who has written many popular books on the South Beach Diet. The diet concentrates on eliminating bad fats and carbohydrates and replacing them with good ones to generate gradual, sustainable weight loss and create a healthier lifestyle.

Good Carbohydrates and Good Fats

Refined, or bad, carbohydrates have been processed in a factory to improve the taste or shelf life of the product. They are stripped of most of their nutritional value and are easily broken down by the digestive system. Some examples of refined carbohydrates are crackers, white bread, pasta and foods made with white flour. Good carbohydrates are unrefined or natural. They contain vitamins, minerals and nutrients that are important to a healthy diet. Good carbohydrates also contain fiber, which slows digestion and affects the absorption of sugar, allowing the body to feel full longer. Some examples of unrefined carbohydrates are whole grains, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, starchy vegetables and fruits. The UC Berkeley Wellness Newsletter points out that carbs are the bodys main energy source and provides more information on choosing healthy options.

Not all fats are considered bad on the South Beach Diet. Good fats, such as the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in olive and canola oils, nuts and omega-3 fish oils, lower LDL cholesterol. Good fats also maintain HDL cholesterol, which carries excess bad cholesterol from the arteries to the liver for disposal. Bad fats are saturated fats found in red meat and trans fats found in margarine, cookies, cakes and partially hydrogenated oils. Rather than eliminating fats altogether, the South Beach Diet replaces bad fats with good fats.

Claims and Inconsistencies

The South Beach Diet official Web site breaks the diet into three phases. The first two weeks of the diet are referred to as Phase One. It focuses on removing bad carbohydrates by removing almost all carbohydrates from the diet and replacing them with lean protein, low-fat cheese and non-starchy vegetables. The diet claims that the consumption of highly processed, refined carbohydrates causes drastic changes in blood sugar and removing these starches and sugars from the diet allows the blood sugar to stabilize and cravings to diminish. However, according to Community Medical Centers, blood sugar remains in a stable range unless the patient is diabetic, and there is no research to back up the claim that low blood sugar causes hunger.

Phase Two is the long-term phase of the South Beach Diet in which patients lose weight gradually, usually 1 to 2 pounds each week. It includes foods from Phase One and reintroduces good carbohydrates, such as whole-grain breads, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta and most fruits, into the diet. Fruits not allowed include canned fruit, watermelon, raisins and bananas.

Keeping the Weight Off

Phase Three was designed to maintain a healthy weight upon reaching it. It is the life-long phase of the South Beach Diet. This phase includes all foods from the first two phases of the diet plan but also allows for an occasional indulgence of otherwise unacceptable foods. Although the plan is relatively easy to follow since it does not require counting calories, limiting carbohydrates and other certain foods may be difficult on a long-term basis.

Benefits and Dangers

Benefits and dangers associated with the South Beach Diet vary with each of its three phases. According to a review by the American Dietetic Association, weight loss during Phase One, which averages 8 to 13 pounds, is much higher than the healthier rate of 1 to 2 pounds lost per week during Phase Two. Much of this initial weight loss may be due to water loss rather than fat loss, which puts the dieter at risk for dehydration. Phase One is also more dangerous than the other phases because it restricts many nutritious foods, while Phases Two and Three allow for a more balanced diet. All three phases may cause a deficiency in fiber and calcium, since they limit consumption of grains and dairy products. Phases Two and Three are the healthiest phases of the diet; aside from aiding weight loss, they can also lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol and the risk of heart attack.

Pregnant women should also use caution, and it is recommended that they skip Phase One since removing certain foods altogether may not meet their required nutritional needs. Certain medical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and kidney problems, and any medications should be discussed with a physician before starting the diet. Healthline.com reports that since the South Beach Diet is both a low carbohydrate and a low fat diet, there is a risk of ketosis, which may cause heart palpitations, fatigue, irritability, lightheadedness, dizziness and dehydration.

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