Dairy Products for the South Beach Diet

Changing Recommendations


Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

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The South Beach Diet is focused on choosing the right fats and the right carbs for health and weight loss. Its creator, cardiologist Arthur Agatston has revised the diet several times since the initial book in 2003. Some of the most significant changes have been in whether dairy products are allowed and which types of dairy products are recommended.

In the original plan, only small amounts of fat-free or nonfat milk were allowed. This was increased in 2004 when it allowed most low-fat unsweetened dairy products but in limited quantities. The diet aims to reduced saturated fat consumption rather than eliminating fats.

Because whole milk and cream contain saturated fat, the original South Beach Diet restricted you to reduced-fat milk products. Most forms of cheese are high in saturated fat and their amounts were restricted on this diet.

This advice was questioned over a decade later when some research showed that certain full-fat dairy products showed neutral or protective rather than detrimental effects on blood cholesterol and lipids. However, there is still much debate as to whether or not saturated fat is problematic for cholesterol and lipids. The American Heart Association still recommends a reduction in saturated fat to no more than 5%–6% of your total daily calorie intake. And the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that you consume than 10% of daily calories from saturated fat.

The South Beach Diet website stated that full-fat dairy products were preferred over low-fat and nonfat products. Check current editions of the South Beach Diet books and website information if you are following this plan.

Phase One

Phase one of the diet is aimed at a significant reduction in simple carbohydrates by limiting the types of food you eat rather than counting carbs. This is to reduce the glycemic impact of food and to spur faster weight loss.

Dairy products contain carbohydrates naturally in the form of sugars and will have more if they are sweetened. With newer South Beach Diet recommendations as of 2016, you are allowed full-fat dairy products, limited to two servings per day as part of your daily protein allowance. A serving is 1 cup.

Permitted Dairy Products

  • Buttermilk
  • Greek yogurt, plain (5.3 ounces)
  • Kefir, plain
  • Milk, whole
  • Soy milk, unsweetened

Unsweetened coconut milk is counted under "nuts and seed" and restricted to a 1/4 cup serving. This is a dramatic change from the prior South Beach Diet recommendations, which were for 2 cups per day of reduced fat and unsweetened dairy products.

According to the South Beach Diet, this change was made to reflect the current medical research. You still must avoid any additional sugars in your dairy products but there is no longer a concern about the fat content.

Phase Two

The same dairy product guidance is in effect for the second phase of the diet. But because fruit is no longer restricted, you can add fresh or frozen fruit to your yogurt or smoothies.

Dairy Products to Avoid

These products are higher in fat or sugar than is allowed in any phase of the South Beach Diet.

All Phases

Cheese is allowed in all phases but is limited to 1 ounce or 1/4 cup except where noted. Restrictions on full-fat cheese where eliminated.

  • Blue cheese
  • Cheddar
  • Cottage cheese (4 percent fat and a 1/2 cup serving size)
  • Farmer cheese
  • Feta
  • Goat cheese
  • Mozzarella
  • Parmesan
  • Provolone
  • Queso fresco
  • Ricotta (full fat, 1/2 cup serving size)
  • Soy cheese
  • Spreadable cheese (but not canned)
  • String cheese (one piece)
  • Swiss
5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lordan R, Tsoupras A, Mitra B, Zabetakis I. Dairy fats and cardiovascular disease: do we really need to be concerned? Foods. 2018;7(3):29. doi:10.3390/foods7030029

  2. Saturated Fat. American Heart Association.

  3. Gordon, Barbara RDN, LD. Choose Healthy Fats. American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. August 6, 2019

  4. South Beach Diet. What are the new dietary guidelines?

  5. What are the new dietary guidelines? South Beach Diet FAQs

By Laura Dolson
Laura Dolson is a health and food writer who develops low-carb and gluten-free recipes for home cooks.