Pros and Cons of the South Beach Diet

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The South Beach Diet is a popular low-carb diet. People whose bodies are suited to low-carb eating tend to feel better on them, be less hungry, and have positive health responses (lower triglycerides and blood glucose; lower blood pressure, higher HDL, among others). But not everyone takes well to the South Beach Diet.

Here we explain the positives and negatives of the diet and what sets it apart from other low-carb diets.


Very Simple: There's no counting and not much measuring. For the most part, you just choose foods from certain lists and eat within that. There's no guesswork or counting calories of each food.

Low in Saturated Fats: Low-carb diet authors have different opinions on whether it's important to limit saturated fats on reduced carb diets; however, no author recommends relying on them. At the very least, it's probable that some people do better with a minimum of some of the saturated fats.​

Encourages Individual Experimentation: One of the strongest aspects of the diet is the focus on each person being aware of the effects of foods on their bodies, particularly as they add carbohydrates. Using the marker of carb cravings can be a useful one, as it’s vital for people who are sensitive to carbohydrates to be aware of what foods and what quantities trigger these cravings.


Use of Glycemic Index: Agatston relies a lot on the glycemic index when evaluating foods. This is surprising to me given that the book was written after the concept of glycemic load was introduced, and it is a much more practical and useful indicator of how a food is likely to affect blood glucose.

Very Restrictive First Phase: The limitations of the first phase may be a real turn off for some people. On the other hand, it's short-term, and the author doesn't recommend anyone staying with it longer than 3 or 4 weeks at most (for people who have quite a bit of weight to lose). Since there are no guidelines as to how much carbohydrate to eat, "carb crash" could also occur, depending upon the individual dieter's food selections.

Possibly Not Enough Structure: For some people, there may not be enough structure when it comes to adding carbs back in. This diet leaves a lot up to the individual, which is good in the long run but is probably harder in the short run. Also, some people just aren't all the tuned into their bodies' signals and might not be motivated to become so.


Quite a few aspects of the diet that don't really fit together well. Why is more saturated fat allowed in Phase Three? Why say that portion size of low-carb foods should be left up to the individual, but then recommend counting individual nuts (and it's a different number depending upon the nut).

And what's the deal with couscous? This is a highly processed, high glycemic form of wheat, and yet Agatston recommends it and has many recipes which include it. Other high glycemic foods are in his menus and recipes, which may send, at the least, a mixed message.

Note also that the glycemic index charts in the first book are based on white bread being a value of "100", where most numbers you read these days are based on glucose being "100," so you may see foods with different numbers. 

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