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Diet Review: The South Beach Diet

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The South Beach diet

What is it?

    The South Beach diet was created by cardiologist Dr. Arthur Agatston, and appeared in a book of the same name in 2003.  It takes its name from the location of his Miami, Florida practice and emphasizes eating “good carbohydrates” and “good fats.” 

Dr. Agatston promotes the idea that eating an excess of “bad carbohydrates” creates insulin resistance.  Insulin is a hormone that affects the metabolism and other important body systems, and an insulin resistance would impair the body’s ability to properly process fat and sugar and result in metabolic problems and type 2 diabetes and its associated complications. 

Dr. Agatston also promotes the belief that eating an excess of “bad fats,” such as saturated and trans fats, contribute to increased instances of cardiovascular disease.  To prevent these two conditions-insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease- the South Beach diet limits consumption of “bad carbohydrates” and “bad fats” in favor of “good fats” and “good carbohydrates.”

The South Beach diet has three phases.  Phase I consists of eliminating or avoiding high or moderately high-glycemic carbohydrates, and following a diet of normal-size meals of fish, meat, vegetables, eggs, and nuts.  The glycemic index (GI) measures the effects of carbohydrates on blood glucose (or blood sugar).  Carbohydrates that break down quickly, such as white bread, candy and other sugary or processed foods, are considered high GI.  Carbohydrates that break down slowly, such as most fruit, vegetables, and grains, are considered low GI.  Recent research evidence suggests that consumption of high GI carbohydrates are associated with increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease.

Phase I is intended to reverse the effects of insulin resistance, and promote the metabolism of excess body fat.  Phase II reintroduces a number of foods, including whole grains, fruits and dairy products, but continues to stress consumption of low glycemic index foods.  Finally, Phase III, or the maintenance phase, begins after the participate has reached their desired body weight.  Phase III expands permissible food, and emphasizes permanent change in eating, consuming a variety of foods, and an understanding that ease and flexibility in application are acceptable as long as eating “good” fats and carbohydrates are chosen over “bad” fats and carbohydrates.