What Is The South Beach Diet? Should You Do It?

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The South Beach diet is a progressive plan that is broken down into three individual phases.

Over the years, the unique approach of this diet has helped many individuals successfully lose weight.

Many advocates of the diet credit it with bringing about rapid, yet sustainable, changes in weight. In addition, it has also been suggested that the diet may improve heart health.

This article will break down the South Beach diet and review scientific research to determine the effectiveness of this nutritional approach.

What Is The South Beach Diet?

The South Beach diet is a popular nutrition plan created by American cardiologist, Dr. Arthur Agatston.

In his experience with patients, Dr. Agatson found that patients on the Atkins diet, a popular high-fat diet, experienced a great amount of weight and fat loss.

Meanwhile, other patients who followed low-fat, high-carb diets found it challenging to achieve similar results.

Although impressed with the Atkins diet’s impact on body composition, Dr. Agatson was uneasy with the high intake of saturated fat.

Research has indicated that a high consumption of saturated fats can lead to heart issues (1).

Additionally, for those with heart conditions, too much saturated fat can cause complications.

Furthermore, the Atkins diet involves restricting high-fiber foods, something that Dr. Agatson also disagrees with.

Dr. Agatston, therefore, decided to create his diet that would address the potential issues of the Atkins diet.

The goal of the South Beach diet is to promote positive body compositional changes and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Considering the goals, the diet primarily revolves around lean proteins, low-glycemic carbohydrates, and unsaturated fats.

How Does It Work?

The South Beach Diet can be broken down into three distinct phases. The first two are weight loss phases while the third is a weight maintenance phase.

Dr. Agatston has designed a three-phase fitness program to complement each diet phase. This can be found in his book “ The South Beach Diet Supercharged”.

In this section, we will breakdown each phase and provide detail on what is involved.

1. Phase One

This initial phase lasts for fourteen days in total. The goal of this phase is to reduce blood sugar and insulin level, decrease cravings, and stabilize hunger.

To achieve this goal, phase one is strict – it is undoubtedly the strictest of the three phases.  In this phase, high carb foods, such as fruit and grains, are severely restricted or prohibited.

During this phase, three meals will be eaten each day. These meals are primarily made up of lean protein foods, non-starchy vegetables, and small quantities of unsaturated fat.

There are also two compulsory snacks that must be eaten per day. Once again, these snacks should be a combination of lean protein and non-starchy vegetables.

The amount of weight lost during this phase is influenced by many individual factors. However, typically, eight to thirteen pounds will be lost.

2. Phase Two

Phase two begins on day fifteen and will run for much longer than the previous phase. The goal for phase two is to significantly reduce body weight.

Therefore, there is no predetermined end date of this phase. It should be maintained until our end goal weight has been attained.

In this phase, all of the permitted foods from phase one are allowed. Phase two also introduces small portions of certain fruits, whole grains, and alcoholic drinks.

Providing the diet is strictly adhered to; it is possible to lose one to two pounds per week during this phase.

3. Phase Three

Only once the goal weight has been achieved should we move onto phase three. In this phase, the goal is to maintain body weight.

Phase three is still based on guidelines used in phase two. By now it is hoped that we have built a solid foundation for our lifestyle and understand how to eat healthily.

If we start putting on weight, it is recommended to return to phase one for a couple of weeks. This will allow us to get our weight under control again before moving back to phase three.

What Foods Can Be Eaten?

What Is South Beach Diet

As highlighted, phase one is restrictive in comparison to both phase two and three.

Therefore, in this section, we will cover a number of permitted foods in each distinct phase. This section is not intended to be a comprehensive list of all permitted foods.

Phase One Foods

Lean Protein

  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Lamb
  • Lean beef
  • Pork
  • Turkey
  • Cottage cheese
  • Greek yogurt
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Low-fat milk
  • Soy milk

Non-Starchy Vegetables

All vegetables permitted apart from:

  • Beetroot
  • Carrots
  • Corn
  • Potato
  • Peas
  • Squash
  • Yams


  • Black beans
  • Lentils
  • Kidney beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Soybeans
  • Split peas

Nuts and Seeds

  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Chia seeds
  • Flaxseeds
  • Macadamias
  • Pecans
  • Pistachios
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Walnuts

Oils and Fats

  • Avocado oil
  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Soybean oil

Sweet Treats

  • Sugar-free candies, popsicles, and gum
  • Sugar-free cocoa
  • Sugar-free gelatin, jams, and jellies
  • Sugar substitutes and artificial sweeteners


  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Tomato juice
  • Other vegetable juices
  • Sugar-free beverages

Phase Two and Three Foods

Phase two includes all of the foods listed in phase one with the addition of a number of higher-carb foods. Specific alcoholic drinks are also permitted.

In phase three, food is unrestricted and no foods are out of bounds. However, “treat foods” should be consumed in moderation.


All fruits permitted apart from:

  • Dates
  • Figs
  • Pineapple
  • Raisins
  • Watermelon

Whole Grains and Starchy Vegetables

  • Brown rice
  • Couscous
  • Peas
  • Quinoa
  • Squash
  • Turnips
  • Whole-grain cereal
  • Whole-grain bread
  • Whole-grain pasta
  • Yams


  • Light beer
  • Dry red or white wine

What Foods Should Be Avoided?

Asterisked foods should only be avoided in phase one and may be permitted in phase two.

  • Alcohol *
  • Butter and coconut oil
  • Fatty meat
  • Fruits and fruit juice *
  • Grains *
  • Refined carbohydrate products
  • Starchy vegetables *
  • Whole milk

Health Benefits Of The South Beach Diet

This section will consider a number of the benefits associated with the South Beach diet.

1. Facilitates Weight Loss

What the Science Says

Restricting calorie intake is what ultimately causes weight loss, with most diets designed to reduce the number of calories consumed significantly.

With the South Beach diet, several high-calorie foods are prohibited, while predominantly low-calorie foods are promoted.

Therefore, by following the South Beach approach, it is likely that weight will be lost.

Furthermore, results from research have shown that high-protein, low-carb diets are highly effective for weight loss (2).

Another study asked overweight individuals to follow the South Beach diet for twelve weeks.

Participants lost an average of eleven pounds of body weight and two inches from the waist (3).

2. Reduces Hunger and Cravings

What the Science Says

As highlighted, high protein diets are highly effective for bringing about weight loss.

Consuming protein has a great impact on several critical weight-management mechanisms.

As well as increasing our metabolic rate, protein has an impact on two “hunger hormones” known as leptin and ghrelin.

Leptin causes appetite to decrease while ghrelin brings about an increase in hunger and appetite (4).

Studies have found protein to regulate levels of these hormones to reduce appetite and leave us feeling fuller for longer (5).

This is particularly significant for those who are on a calorie-restricted diet, as hunger can become very challenging to combat.

3. Improves Heart Health

What the Science Says

While large doses of saturated fats may detrimentally impact heart health, unsaturated fats have the opposite effect.

Many studies have concluded that to optimize heart health and reduce disease risk, saturated fats should be swapped for unsaturated fats (6).

The South Beach diet involves consuming a great quantity of unsaturated fats and a small amount of saturated fat.

The meats, nuts, vegetables, and oils that are included in the diet are all excellent sources of unsaturated fat.

As a result, it can be concluded that adopting the South Beach diet may lead to an improvement in heart health.

4. Blood Glucose and Insulin Control

What the Science Says

Research on low-carb diets has consistently been found to reduce blood glucose levels and enhance insulin sensitivity (7).

Managing glucose levels more effectively and increasing insulin sensitivity may lead to weight loss.

Reducing glucose levels may also reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes.

For people with diabetes, low-carb diets can stabilize blood sugar levels and may even lead to the reversal of type two diabetes (8).

However, this must be done under the supervision of a medical professional. Always speak to a doctor before starting a low-carb diet.

Considering the low-carb nature of the South Beach diet, it may improve glycemic control and reduce diabetes risk.

Will The South Beach Diet Help Me Lose Weight?

The South Beach diet may indeed cause significant weight loss.

As touched upon earlier, calories are of the highest importance for body compositional changes.

Consuming too many calories causes weight gain while restricting calorie intake will cause weight loss.

By following the South Beach diet, calorie intake will likely be lowered. Providing the diet is adhered to overtime, significant weight loss will occur.

However, it must be noted that following the South Beach diet does not guarantee weight loss.

It is possible to still consume too many calories while following this diet. In this instance, weight loss will not occur.

South Beach Diet Health Benefits

Are There Any Health Risks?

There are no serious risks associated with high-protein, low-carb diets such as the South Beach diet. However, some may experience some unpleasant side effects, including:

  • Bad Breath
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Nausea

However, it should be noted that while the majority of foods in the diet are unprocessed, some processed oils are allowed.

Several studies have found these processed vegetable oils to have a deleterious effect on health (9). It may be worthwhile swapping processed oils for unprocessed alternatives.

Furthermore, while both omega-6 and omega-3 can have a positive impact on health, overconsumption can cause problems.

Research has determined that a high intake may lead to inflammation, heart disease, and a range of other medical conditions (10).

How To Start A South Beach Diet

As highlighted, there are three individual phases of the South Beach diet to run through.

Before launching into phase one, there are a couple of things that will help us make the best start possible.

Firstly, consider the purpose of the diet and the goals set. For example, if our goal is to lose weight, how much weight do we want to lose and when by?

Setting goals in this manner will help to keep us on track and motivate us throughout.

Secondly, visit the grocery store with a list and purchase only phase one food. It may also be an idea to get rid of any prohibited foods from the kitchen.

Doing this will reduce the temptation to consume prohibited foods that impact our weight loss progress.

Finally, it may be an idea to calculate calorie requirements and follow a meal plan. This will ensure that we are consuming the correct amount of calories to bring about weight loss.

Once these have been done, begin phase one and progress through to phase three.

Typical South Beach Diet Meal Plans


What are the three phases of the South Beach diet?

The South Beach diet is broken down into three individual phases.

Phase one is a low-carb phase designed to cause rapid weight loss during phase two for gradual weight loss. The final phase is for weight maintenance.

What are the benefits of the South Beach diet?

The diet has the potential to cause a significant reduction in weight. In addition, the diet has been associated with improving heart health and glycemic control.

What foods are not allowed on the South Beach diet?

With each phase, certain foods are prohibited. In phases one and two, specific foods are not permitted, including certain fruits, refined products, and some alcoholic drinks.

In phase three, there are no restrictions. However, there is an emphasis on consuming “treat” food and drink in moderation.

Does the South Beach diet work?

Results from scientific studies have suggested that low-carb diets are effective for weight loss. They have also been associated with reducing the risk of developing chronic diseases.

Is the South Beach diet keto?

Ketogenic diets are low-carb, high-fat diets that are commonly used to bring about weight loss.

Some may consider the South Beach diet to be ketogenic, considering that it shares similarities with the Atkins diet. The Atkins diet is a highly popular ketogenic diet.

How much weight do you lose on the South Beach diet?

In phase one, it is expected that between eight and thirteen pounds will be lost. Phase two should be maintained for a prolonged period until the goal weight is achieved.

The amount of weight loss in phase two is dependent on the duration of the phase and the individual.


Based on much scientific research, it appears that the South Beach diet may hold some value for weight loss.

Research has consistently found the low-carb approach to be effective for bringing about weight loss. Furthermore, low carb diets may also promote greater glycemic control.

In addition to low-carbs, the South Beach diet focuses on increasing the consumption of unsaturated fats. These fats can have a positive impact on the health of the heart.

Lastly, many users of the diet have found the three-phase approach to be highly sustainable. This has allowed them to lose a substantial amount of weight and keep it off.

There may be a few side effects associated with this diet; however, generally speaking, it appears to be safe.

That said, it is vitally important to consult a doctor or nutritionist before beginning any new diet. This is particularly true for those with medical conditions.


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