South Beach Diet: The Good and the Bad

The South Beach Diet was developed as an alternative to many of the low- carbohydrate diets promoted by the American Heart Association. Arthur Agatson and Marie Almon were the originators of this diet, originally to help people suffering from heart disease, but now used to lose weight the world over. It is most definitely considered one of the most popular diets in the world right now.

While originally designed as a diet to help patients with a risk of heart disease or high cholesterol, the weight loss benefits of the South Beach diet very quickly became apparent to many people using it.

How the South Beach Diet Works

On paper the South Beach Diet is one of the healthiest diets doing the rounds these days. It was actually developed in the 1980s off of the same research that led to people talking about low glycemic indexes.

It is based on the idea that when we eat refined sugars and carbohydrates our bodies release insulin, telling cells to absorb this sugar. When we keep eating these things our cells become immune to insulin.

While this commonly leads to diabetes, the immediate effect of it is cycles of hunger, which make people crave the exact foods that are causing the problem – sugars and refined starch. The South Beach diet promotes healthy grains and low glycemic-index carbohydrates, as well as healthy fats and oils.

By replacing complex sugars and white starches with healthy grains, and by replacing saturated fats with healthy fats and oils containing omega-3 oils, the South Beach diet promotes healthy blood sugar levels, and helps to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.

The South Beach diet is not a low-carbohydrate diet like the Atkins diet. Instead it focuses on the concept of glycemic index, and a large part of the introduction to the diet involves educating users about this concept and how it applies to their daily nutrition.

By making use of the glycemic index, the South Beach Diet enables those following the program to feel full for longer (as they do when eating whole-grain based carbohydrates). This lowers the chance of falling into the depths of hunger in the afternoon and gorging on unhealthy food.

At the same time, many wholegrain foods contain large amounts of fiber, vitally important for intestinal and digestive health. Daily intake of fiber has been linked to lower risk of colon cancer, piles and even heart disease and cholesterol problems.

The Pros of the South Beach Diet

  1. Of all the fad diets doing the rounds, this is one of the healthiest and most well balanced. The major benefit of this diet is that it educates people about the different types of carbohydrates and fats that are found in food, and how these affect our bodies.
  2. People know far too little about the differences between healthy whole grains and white bread, and that they can actually promote weight loss by eating certain types of fats. The South Beach Diet does the important work of reminding people that white bread, while it may taste nice, is in some ways a nutritionally barren food item.
  3. The three ‘phases’ that the diet puts you through are each progressively more liberal, meaning you feel less and less restricted by the diet as the weeks go by. By being hard on you at the beginning, it also ensures that you come to enjoy the new foods that you are allowed to eat as you move from phase to phase. Very soon you won’t be missing all those simple carbohydrates at all.
  4. The restriction of simple carbohydrates like white bread, white potatoes and white rice is not a difficult change to make, and if taken to heart will lead to a healthier next generation.

The Cons of The South Beach Diet

  1. There has been little solid criticism of the South Beach Diet, because it ticks most of the major boxes for a healthy diet. However, some diabetes researchers and dieticians lump it with other ‘low-carb’ diets like the Atkins diet, or dismiss the entire glycemic index concept as ‘snake oil’.
  2. Whether or not this is true, it appears that the conventional wisdom is on the side of the South Beach Diet. Replacing white bread with whole grains, and replacing deep-fried with grilled doesn’t sound like such a bad idea – it seems like common sense.
  3. However, it would appear that much of the success of the South Beach Diet could be a result of dieters losing 5-7 lbs early on as a result of shedding retained water. On the other hand, eating healthily like this over a longer period of time would result in weight loss so perhaps this criticism is somewhat unfounded.
  4. The only other criticism one could make is that the nutritional basis for the entire diet – the glycemic index – could be better explained to people without a firm grasp of nutrition. Arguably though, this responsibility falls on the dieter – there is more than enough information available on the glycemic index for people to educate themselves and make healthy decisions that will enable them to lead healthier, longer lives.



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