How Healthy Is the South Beach Diet Program?

Jack ThatchLast Updated Jan 28, 2021 3:53:05 PM ET
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One of the most popular weight loss programs around is the South Beach Diet, which was first created in the mid-1990s. The program took off in 2003 after one of the diet's creators, cardiologist Arthur Agatston, M.D., wrote a book about the program. Since then, millions have tried the program and lost weight as part of their fitness journeys. But how healthy is the South Beach Diet really — and does it deliver effective long-term results?

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What Is the South Beach Diet?

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The South Beach Diet was designed by Dr. Agatson and dietitian Marie Almon and was originally available for patients working with Dr. Agatson. It was created to help said patients lower their risk of heart disease, but it became popular for its weight loss benefits as well.

This diet is often categorized as a low-carb diet, but it really focuses on adding good carbs and cutting out bad carbs. According to Dr. Agatston, the key to losing weight quickly and getting healthy isn’t cutting all carbohydrates and fats from your diet. So, South Beach focuses on the good carbs — those that are low on the glycemic index and, thus, have less of an impact on your blood sugar.

What Can You Eat on This Diet?

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The South Beach Diet has a balance of complex carbs, lean protein and healthy fats. Acceptable foods include fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes. It encourages those on the programs to cut out simple carbs, such as sugary and processed foods. Additionally, the program is broken into three phases. Phase One lasts for two weeks and is the most restrictive part of the diet, cutting out most carbs, including pasta, rice, bread, alcohol and fruit. During this initial phase, users eat lean protein, high-fiber vegetables and healthy, unsaturated fats. During this time, users report losing between 8-13 pounds on average.

Phase Two reintroduces some of the foods that were cut out in the first phase, like whole grains and low-sugar fruits. Carbs are increased, too, with a goal of between 75 and 100 grams each day. This phase lasts until the patient achieves their desired weight. Phase Three, which is the "maintenance phase," is about continuing to make good food choices so that the seemingly temporary diet becomes a true lifestyle change. During this final phase, you can eat all types of foods in moderation, so long as you remain mindful of the program’s principles.

Sample Meal Plans for Each Phase of the South Beach Diet

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Curious about what meals for each phase might look like? We’ve rounded up a few popular examples, including:

Phase One

  • Breakfast: 2 eggs, scrambled, with sliced tomatoes and lean bacon
  • Snack: Celery with low-fat cottage cheese
  • Lunch: Beef and bean chili
  • Snack: 1 oz of almonds
  • Dinner: Grilled salmon, asparagus and mashed cauliflower


Phase Two

  • Breakfast: Blackberry-banana smoothie
  • Snack: 3 cups of air-popped popcorn
  • Lunch: Grilled chicken, 1/2 cup of sweet potatoes and spinach
  • Snack: 1 small apple
  • Dinner: Lean lamb, 1/2 cup of black-eyed peas and 1/2 cup of greens


Phase Three

  • Breakfast: 2 eggs, scrambled, with sliced tomatoes and lean bacon
  • Snack: Greek yogurt
  • Lunch: Lean steak with broccoli
  • Snack: Celery sticks with 2 tsp peanut butter
  • Dinner: Apple-walnut chicken salad

Who Does the South Beach Diet Work Best For?

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The South Beach program has worked well because there are nutritious options that allow participants to feel full while still eating in a way that targets their goals. In essence, this diet proves that you don't have to be hungry in order to lose weight. Additionally, the weight loss that comes with the diet has been helpful for those with other health conditions, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. There also haven't been any serious short-term health risks or side effects with the program.

However, there are some people who should not take part in the South Beach Diet. For example, folks who are pregnant, those who have kidney disease and those who require a completely gluten-free or ketogenic diet should not partake in this diet. Additionally, the South Beach Diet program recommends that no one under the age of 18 should try this diet regimen.

The Benefits and Downsides of the South Beach Diet

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There are several benefits to participating in the South Beach program. Since the diet targets a high amount of protein intake, users find that their metabolic rate increases, helping them to not only lose weight, but to feel less hungry throughout the day. The program’s website provides plentiful online resources, so whether you need help sticking with the regimen or figuring out how to maintain a vegetarian or vegan diet while on the regimen, there are tools to help you achieve your goals.

Looking to stay more connected? South Beach also offers a subscription-based app. For $30 a month, users can track their progress, receive access to recipes, dining out recommendations, advice from health counselors and community support. Another pro? The South Beach Diet has a meal-delivery program. This component of the program runs around $350 a month; while it’s convenient, it isn’t a necessary buy-in.

So, are there any downsides? Not only does the plan limit fat intake, it might also up your consumption of processed vegetables — something that might be harmful in the long run. Additionally, if you restrict your carbs this much, you may end up in a state of ketosis, an aim of the now-popular keto diet. For those who are unaware, ketosis occurs when you’re low on glucose, which forces your body to break down stored fat and build up ketones. Finally, the South Beach Diet can cause nausea, headaches, fatigue, and, in some cases, dehydration and dizziness, especially when you’re first starting out.

Does the South Beach Diet Actually Work?

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In addition to helping people shed weight and belly fat, South Beach teaches participants to improve their eating habits, which, in turn, keeps the weight off. The regimen also helps control blood sugar levels and, in the long run, it’s a sustainable diet.

However, the most successful South Beach participants also incorporate regular exercise into their fitness plans too. As such, the program encourages light exercise, such as walking, as users adjust to the diet and, once they’ve gotten settled into the regimen, participants should incorporate some high-intensity exercises and strength training too. Of course, before making any major dietary or exercise changes, it is best to speak to a healthcare provider or dietitian to make sure this program is right for you.

Resource Links:

  • The Official South Beach Diet Website (www.southbeachdiet.com)
  • Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.org/is-the-keto-diet-for-you-a-mayo-expert-weighs-in/art-20457595)