The South Beach Diet Phase 1 Meal Planning

No sugary or starchy foods in the first phase—but here's what you can eat

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Dr. Arthur Agatston, a cardiologist based in Florida, observed that the Atkins diet was resulting in loss of weight and belly fat for patients—but he was concerned by its saturated fat content and health implications—so he created his own diet suitable for patients with conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. 

With that, the South Beach Diet was born in 2003.

The main differences between Atkins and South Beach are that South Beach has less saturated fat and doesn't limit non-starchy vegetables. There are other differences, too, such as South Beach allowing the introduction of fruit, whole grains, and starchy vegetables in Phase 2—and Atkins only allowing small amounts of fruit.

The goal of Phase 1 of South Beach is to eliminate the blood sugar highs and lows that come from consuming sugar and refined carbohydrates, which helps you stay satiated while burning fat. That's why it cuts out those foods, as well as starches, condiments, and meats high in saturated fat. Phase 1 includes high protein meats, poultry, pork, seafood, lots of vegetables, healthy fats, and some dairy and legumes. 

So Then What Do You Eat?

When you're used to Standard American Diet foods such as bagels, sandwiches, and desserts, it can feel daunting when starting a diet such as South Beach—you not only have to get used to the level of restriction, but you also face the task of meal planning with foods you may have only eaten sparingly before.

But don't fret. It just takes some adjustments. Here's a simple approach that can help you get off to a good start. 

First, make sure you are familiar with the diet and what you can eat on it. 

Next, familiarize yourself with this outline of three meals plus two snacks. On his Phase 1 food list, Agatston also includes sweet treats, which you can have for dessert.

In this scenario, you would be eating six times per day. Because one of the goals of South Beach is to keep blood sugar balanced, it may be helpful to eat more frequent meals, rather than waiting long periods of time to eat and then having a large serving. Now, let’s tackle the meals one by one. 

South Beach Breakfasts: Phase 1

Breakfast should consist of:

  • A serving of protein, such as eggs, meat, tofu, or cottage cheese
  • At least one serving of vegetables or tomato juice or vegetable cocktail juice (such as V-8)
  • A calorie-free beverage such as coffee or tea

There is no limit to any of these foods except the dairy, but Agatston provides suggested serving sizes. If you are still hungry, you can eat a little more. To make breakfast easy and fun, you may want to learn different ways to cook eggshow to make a quiche or a tofu scramble, and get familiar with low-carb vegetables.  

South Beach Lunches: Phase 1 

Lunch should consist of:

  • A serving of approved protein (serving size not limited, but don’t overeat)
  • Several servings of vegetables. In the book The South Beach Diet, almost all of the Phase 1 lunches are meal salads or include side salads.
  • A third to half cup serving size of beans or legumes 
  • 1 to 2 Tablespoons of salad dressing 
  • Dairy if desired (remembering the limits)
  • Calorie-free beverage, such as water 

This tuna walnut salad is a great option, as is this Thai-style chicken salad

South Beach Dinners: Phase 1

Dinners should consist of the following. Of course, they can be combined and cooked in any way and spiced how you like. This can turn into a Mexican, Asian, or Italian meal, for example.

  • A serving of approved protein (serving size not limited, but don’t overeat)
  • Several servings of vegetables, including beans (legumes).
  • Dairy - check how much you have left, and add in as desired - you might want to save it for dessert (see Dairy Products on the South Beach Diet)
  • Approved fat for cooking or dressing vegetables – 1-2 Tablespoons
  • Calorie-free beverage

For dinner ideas, online low-carb recipes are your best friend.  But of course, adjust the recipes to fit the serving sizes allowed on this diet. 

South Beach Snacks: Phase 1

The South Beach Diet requires two snacks per day. The ideal snack has both a vegetable and a protein source (sensing a theme? All low-carb diets rely heavily on these two food categories). For example, you could stuff celery with tuna salad, dip raw veggies into a bean dip, or have a hard-boiled egg along with whatever raw veggies you fancy. Nuts are also an excellent snack, as they have protein and fiber together (note serving size).

Dessert: Phase 1

Unlike snacks, dessert is not required on the South Beach Diet. Most of the desserts in the Phase 1 Menus of the South Beach Diet book are some form of flavored ricotta cheese. Also, 75 calories of sugar-free "sweet treats” are allowed per day. Any acceptable snack would be fine as an evening snack as well if you are hungry.

If you want specific meal plans, The South Beach Diet by Arthur Agatston contains two weeks worth of Phase 1 menus.  The South Beach Diet website offers you the option of purchasing their meal program, which includes meals delivered to your door. After a few days on Phase 1, I recommend you start looking ahead to Phase 2 so that you can plan accordingly.