Review of The South Beach Diet: The Delicious, Doctor-Designed, Foolproof Plan for Fast and Healthy Weight Loss
a book by Arthur Agatston, M.D., 2003
Dr. Agatston’s theory to explain overweight is that we eat too many sugars and starches. The detrimental carbohydrates are concen-trated sugars—such as soft drinks, some fruits, and commercial fruit juices—and over-processed low-fiber starches, such as enriched white flour and white rice. These are his “bad carbs.” According to his theory, bad carbs increase insulin levels sharply, leading to increased fat storage (especially abdominal fat) and increased cravings for carbohydrate as the insulin eventually causes abnormally low blood sugar levels a few hours after the carb intake. Then you eat more carbs to raise your sugar level back to normal. Dr. Agatston spends much time explaining the glycemic index, a measure of how rapid and high a spike in blood sugar is seen after ingestion of particular foods. Figuring less prominently in this obesity theory are his “bad fats”—saturated fats and trans fats. Some of the “good fats” to eat are olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, and omega-3 fatty acids. Phase One of South Beach lasts two weeks and eliminates nearly all concentrated carbs, like the Atkins diet Induction Phase. You eat lean meats, fish, nuts, eggs, low-fat cheeses, healthy oils, legumes, and limited vegetable juices and high-fiber vegetables. Saturated fats are eaten in low to moderate amounts. In Phase One, your craving for bad carbs—sugars and starches—is cured, according to the author. Phase Two lasts two weeks. “Good carbs” are gradually re-introduced: low-fat milk and yogurt, sweet potatoes, whole grain bread and pasta, most fruits, brown rice, more high-fiber vegetables. Red wine is allowed. Starches are still eaten only sparingly. Phase Three starts after you have reached your “ideal weight” and lasts the rest of your life. It is similar to Phase two, except even more of the good carbs are allowed. It is close to a Mediterranean diet, although lower in carbs and higher in protein (in eggs, chicken, lean beef, and especially fish). If you gain weight, you cut back carb intake.
The author had intended to produce a diet with few rules, yet he tells you exactly what and when you will eat for 6 straight weeks. The recipes are prepared from readily available ingredients. How much do you eat? “The meals should be of normal size—enough to satisfy your hunger, but no more than that.” So the author never says how many calories you will eat. Although he says it is not a low-carb diet, it is. Especially the first four weeks. Strongest points? 1. The composition of South Beach is generally reasonable and would tend to improve health and longevity while controlling weight, compared to the usual Western developed-world diet. 2. The recipes look tasty and relatively easy. 3. High-fiber, minimally processed carbohydrates are indeed healthier than pure sugars and refined starches. 4. Plenty of people say it has worked for them. 5. Food variety. 6. South Beach is an improvement over Atkins, especially to the extent that the author moves Atkins toward a Mediterranean-style diet. Agatston never claims his diet is Mediterranean. Weakest points? 1. Six weeks of prescribed eating, leaving no room for flexibility. 2. Exercise is recommended—essentially a brisk walk for 20 minutes daily—but is not stressed nearly enough. 3. There is certainly no scientific consensus that sugars and starches—“bad carbs”—have caused our obesity epidemic. 4. There in no reference section and very few references are given. You cannot read for yourself the scientific journal articles that support the author’s opinions. An improvement to South Beach would move it further away from Atkins and even closer to the time-honored healthy Mediterranean diet of the mid-20th century, in which more “good carbs” and fewer proteins would be encouraged. And myriad benefits of exercise should not be taken lightly. The only diet that meets these criteria is “The Advanced Mediterranean Diet: Lose Weight, Feel Better, Live Longer.”
All matters regarding your health require supervision by a personal physician or other appropriate health professional familiar with your current health status. Always consult your personal physician before making any dietary or exercise changes.