Pros and Cons of the South Beach Diet

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The South Beach Diet is a popular diet that takes you through phases. During Phase 1, you’ll cut out virtually all carbohydrates to get rid of bloat and “reboot” your body; during Phase 2, you’ll slowly start adding carbohydrates back into your body; and by Phase 3, you’re expected to have met your goal weight and learned new healthy eating habits. 

The South Beach Diet claims to make you feel less hungry and contribute to a number of good health outcomes, including lower triglycerides and blood glucose; lower blood pressure, higher HDL, among others.

But like all diets, 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.

Pros

  • Very simple

  • Low in saturated fats

  • Emphasizes healthy eating patterns

  • Encourages individual experimentation

  • Gives your body a chance to reset

Cons

  • Very restrictive first phase

  • Some inconsistencies

  • No evidence for weight loss

  • Possibly not enough structure

  • May contribute to disordered eating

Pros of the South Beach Diet

Overall, the South Beach Diet can be healthy and well-rounded, with the exception of the first phase, which restricts carbohydrate intake. 

Simplicity

There's no counting and not much measuring on the South Beach Diet. For the most part, you just choose foods from certain lists and eat within that, so you won’t have to deal with any 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.

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.

Gives Your Body a Chance to Reset

While we don’t think fasting or restricting food groups is the best way to start any healthy eating program, a one-week reset does work well for many people. For example, you may have some food sensitivities you didn’t know about, and Phase 1 of the South Beach Diet could help you uncover those. 

Emphasizes Healthy Eating Patterns

After Phase 1 ends, the South Beach Diet is really all about creating sustainable and well-rounded eating patterns. The end goal does involve weight loss for most people, but South Beach emphasizes long-term healthy habits, and that’s a goal we can get behind. 

A successful version of the South Beach Diet involves powering through the first phase and then slowly discovering how many carbohydrates (and what kinds) your body can handle. The South Beach Diet offers some positives that make it a great diet for some (e.g., those who value simplicity) but may not be the best choice for everyone. 

Cons of the South Beach Diet

Like most diets, the South Beach Diet presents some drawbacks, most of which revolve around its restrictive and difficult Phase 1.

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.

Some Inconsistencies

Quite a few aspects of the diet don't really fit together well. For example, more saturated fat is allowed in Phase 3, when a primary aspect in Phases 1 and 2 was to limit saturated fat. Additionally, the creator, Dr. Aruthur Agatston recommends some highly processed carbs, such as couscous, 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.

No Evidence for Weight Loss

The South Beach Diet markets itself as a weight-loss solution, but there’s no solid evidence to uphold that claim. According to a study published in 2016, there is evidence that low-carb diets support weight loss, but South Beach doesn’t stay low-carb for long, so that relationship doesn’t pan out, either. There is little research on the South Beach diet, however a study published in 2014 suggested that it isn’t any more effective than other commercial diets, and is especially ineffective at promoting long-term weight loss.

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 that tuned into their bodies' signals and might not be motivated to become so.

Can Be Expensive

You can follow the South Beach principles on your own, but if you opt to participate in the paid program and get meals delivered to your door, expect to pay a few hundred dollars per month for the convenience.

May Contribute to Disordered Eating

Any diet that labels foods as “good” and “bad” hold the potential to result in disordered eating and an unhealthy relationship with food. Because the South Beach Diet places such an emphasis on “good” and “bad” carbohydrate sources and fats, it may lead to food fear. 

In the end, whether or not you should try the South Beach Diet comes down to personal preference and your goals. You should start a diet for the right reasons, and South Beach might be right for you if:

  • You want to uncover food sensitivities to carbohydrate sources
  • You want a one-week "reboot" that may help you feel better without too severely restricting calorie intake
  • You want to learn more about your body and what a healthy eating pattern looks like for you

The South Beach Diet may not be for you if:

  • You're solely in it for weight loss (there's no solid evidence to support this)
  • You have a history of disordered eating or an unhealthy relationship with food or your body
  • You're very active: lack of carbohydrates may affect your athletic performance or lead to hypoglycemia
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Article Sources

  1. Fields H, Ruddy B, Wallace MR, Shah A, Millstine D. Are Low-Carbohydrate Diets Safe and Effective? J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2016;116(12):788-793. doi:10.7556/jaoa.2016.154

  2. Atallah R, Filion KB, Wakil SM, et al. Long-term effects of 4 popular diets on weight loss and cardiovascular risk factors: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Circ Cardiovasc Qual Outcomes. 2014;7(6):815-27. doi:10.1161/CIRCOUTCOMES.113.000723