South Beach Diet vs. Other Diets: Which Is Best?

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The South Beach Diet is an interesting eating plan because it emphasizes both foods that we know to be healthy, such as leafy greens, as well as foods we know to be harmful, such as certain vegetable oils.

It’s advertised as a low-carb diet, but it doesn’t cut out all carbohydrates and it’s much lower in fat than most low-carb diets such as the keto diet. Instead, the focus is on eating low-glycemic carbohydrates and lots of lean protein, which is thought to stabilize blood sugar, reduce cravings and promote weight loss. 

The 2019 U.S. News and World Report Best Diets ranks the South Beach Diet number 20 in Best Diets Overall and gives it an overall score of 3.1/5.

USDA Guidelines

Compared to the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the South Beach Diet lacks in some ways but it doesn’t stray too far from the federal suggestions. The USDA Dietary Guidelines Key Recommendations include: 

  • A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy vegetables
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
  • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
  • Oils
  • Limited saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars and sodium

Food Groups

In Phase 1, the South Beach Diet restricts virtually all carbohydrates, including fruits and whole grains, but Phase 1 only lasts for 14 days. Phase 2 begins on the 15th day, at which point, you can start incorporating small portions of fruit and "good carbs" back into your diet. From there, the South Beach Diet is mostly congruent with the USDA Guidelines, emphasizing whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and healthy fats. 

Overall, the South Beach Diet encourages a higher fat intake and a lower carbohydrate intake than the federal recommendations. Your protein consumption on South Beach would be cohesive with the USDA Dietary Guidelines.

Calories

Hunger shouldn’t be an issue on the South Beach Diet. While the diet doesn’t specify a calorie count — that will depend on your current body weight, goal weight, and when you want to reach your goal weight — it does encourage strategic snacking to dampen hunger before it strikes. 

In fact, the South Beach Diet encourages you not to count calories, and instead focus on the types of food you eat. That said, you still need to pay attention to your caloric intake if your ultimate goal is weight loss. To lose weight, you must burn more calories than you eat

Here’s a helpful calorie calculator to help you find out how many calories you need each day to reach your goal. 

Variety

The South Beach Diet actually does a great job of incorporating variety, especially in the later phases. You’ll still be able to eat a range of satiating foods on the South Beach Diet that should satisfy both your physiological hunger cues and social or emotional cues, i.e., cravings. 

The South Beach Diet encourages you to eat plenty of vegetables and get your protein from different sources, so you may actually end up eating more variety than you ever did before. 

Similar Diets

The South Beach Diet is primarily a low-carb diet, so you can liken it to a few other popular low-carb diets. 

Atkins Diet

Like the South Beach Diet, the Atkins Diet was developed by a physician (Dr. Robert Atkins) who wanted to help his patients lose weight. Atkins also has phases like the South Beach Diet.

General Nutrition: Atkins advises eating a variety of fats, including saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fat, whereas South Beach emphasizes the minimal intake of saturated fats from sources such as butter. Your food choices are more limited on the Atkins Diet than on the South Beach Diet, so you may be able to reach the USDA Dietary Guidelines recommendations more easily on South Beach.

Cost/Accessibility: Atkins and South Beach both provide a wealth of resources for people who follow their diets. Both websites detail a great deal of information, and you can find books on both diets. As far as cost goes, both meal plans can be pretty pricey. You can expect to pay a few hundred dollars per month to follow the plans to a T. However, you don’t need to purchase the paid program for either diet in order to follow the guidelines. 

Weight Loss: There’s more research on the Atkins Diet than there is on The South Beach Diet, but both have been found to contribute to moderate weight loss. 

Sustainability: Both diets require you to give up many foods that you may be used to eating, particularly the South Beach Diet in the beginning. Overall, though, the South Beach Diet is more flexible and doesn’t require as much tracking as Atkins does. 

Nutrisystem

General Nutrition: Nutrisystem actually owns South Beach, so it makes sense that their approaches are similar. Like South Beach, Nutrisystem revolves around the glycemic index, but this program doesn’t cut out carbs. Instead, Nutrisystem focuses on a high-protein diet with “good” carbs, such as vegetables and whole grains that fill you up with fiber.  

Cost/Accessibility: On the Nutrisystem program, you’ll eat the company’s pre-packaged, delivered meals and snacks, plus some products you buy on your own. But the convenience and ease of the program comes at a price: A four-week plan starts at $10.54 each day, plus more if you want greater variety and extra shakes. On top of that, you’ll still have to buy your own kitchen essentials, such as milk, fruit, and other items. 

Weight Loss: Nutrisystem’s core claim is that you can lose up to 13 pounds and 7 inches in your first month. There’s some research that suggests you’ll lose weight with Nutrisystem, but the majority of said research is company-funded, so there’s a conflict of interest.

Sustainability: Because you’ll be outsourcing a lot of your shopping, meal preparation, and cooking, you’ll find that following Nutrisystem is easy. In that sense, the program is sustainable, and even more so because it’s not necessarily restrictive. 

Weight Watchers Diet

General Nutrition: Weight Watchers takes a different approach than most diets: On Weight Watchers, no foods are off-limits. Because of this, Weight Watchers can be much more well-rounded than other diets, as it allows you to include foods from all of the food groups. Also, the focus is on a healthy lifestyle rather than just weight loss. 

Cost/Accessibility: Weight Watchers can be pricey to participate in because it uses a membership model that includes access to weight loss and lifestyle coaches. To join, you pay an initial fee and then a monthly fee that differs based on the type of membership you chose. 

Weight Loss: Most studies on Weight Watchers confirm that it’s a good way to lose weight, especially in the short-term. One study suggests that Weight Watchers is more effective at promoting sustained weight loss than other diets.

Sustainability: Due to its “points” approach, Weight Watchers can be very sustainable. You can eat whatever you want, as long as you stick to your daily SmartPoints target, a number calculated using your gender, weight, height, and age.

Keto Diet

General Nutrition: On a traditional ketogenic diet, you’ll consume less than five percent of your total calories from carbohydrate for the long haul. The South Beach Diet, on the other hand, only restricts carbohydrates for a short period of time and then allows you to slowly reintroduce them. So in the long run, South Beach is more well-rounded. 

Cost/Accessibility: A keto diet isn’t a commercial diet; rather, it’s just an overarching way of eating, so you won’t have to purchase any special plan to eat a keto diet. That said, you don’t need to buy the South Beach Diet program to be successful there, either. Many foods on both diets can get pricey, for example, avocados and olive oil. 

Weight Loss: Some research has shown that keto promotes weight loss, but other research has shown that a keto diet is no more effective than a low-fat diet or other low-carb programs. When it comes to weight loss, the best diet is the one you can stick to. 

Sustainability: Many people have trouble sticking to keto because it’s very restrictive and not like the typical American diet. The South Beach Diet may be easier to stick to because the restrictive phase is short. 

Paleo Diet

General Nutrition: The paleo diet is similar to the South Beach Diet because both encourage you to eat meat (preferably grass-fed), seafood, vegetables, eggs, nuts/seeds, and healthy oils. You’ll keep your carb intake low on the paleo diet and refrain from eating bread, pasta, cereal or other grain-based foods, similar to Phase 1 of South Beach. However, one important thing to note about the paleo diet is that no processed foods are allowed, and on South Beach, you’re encouraged to eat prepackaged foods, such as shakes, that the company provides. 

Cost/Accessibility: Unlike the South Beach Diet, the paleo diet isn’t a commercial diet and you don’t need to purchase a program. However, the foods encouraged by the paleo community can be expensive: Die-hard paleo advocates eat grass-fed beef, cage-free eggs, and organic produce.

Weight Loss: Some studies have shown the Paleo diet to aid in weight loss, but results have been inconsistent, as they have been with other diets.

Sustainability: The simple truth is that cutting carbs is hard. Not many people can stick to a carb-restrictive diet for the long haul, which means paleo might not be the right choice for some people. 

A Word from Verywell

If you’re looking around for a new diet to try, chances are you’ve come across tons of different diet plans, and maybe you’re feeling a little overwhelmed or confused. That’s natural: From low-carb to zero sugar to paleo, the options seem endless. Despite what you see on the Internet, no single diet works for everyone. Rather, you’ll have to experiment with different ways of eating to find out what works best for you. 

The South Beach Diet may be a good place to start if you’re interested in a quick reboot to help you feel better and get rid of bloat, but you shouldn’t remain in the first phase of this diet for long. Instead, prioritize eating whole, nutrient-dense foods, and foods that make you feel good. Additionally, you would benefit from talking with a doctor or dietitian before beginning any weight-loss program or diet.

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