South Beach Diet

The South Beach Diet was created by Dr. Arthur Agatston, a cardiologist, as a way of helping his own patients in the fight against hearth diseases by maintaining healthy insulin and cholesterol levels.

In the beginning of the century, however, the diet quickly became one of the most popular weight loss plans of all times. Assisted by dietician Marie Almon, Agatston published his best-seller on tasty, doctor-recommended food options that result in healthy weight loss.

The theory behind this diet is that when sugar enters the bloodstream, the pancreas, in trying to deal with its excess amount, produces insulin. The high amounts of insulin could potentially lead to diabetes because the body becomes accustomed and less responsive to it. A second effect are hunger attacks and cravings, leading to higher sugar intake and closing the vicious cycle by triggering weight gain.

Therefore, Agatston based his diet plan on the glycemic index, developed in the early 1980s by David J. Jenkins. The index is based on the body’s insulin resistance and ranks foods by their glycemic load.

While developing the plan, Dr. Agatston was familiar with Robert Atkins’ popular low –carbohydrate (carb) diet, but was not in full agreement with its principles. He expressed concern that the generous amounts of saturated fat and the few carbs and fiber would lead to heart and kidney disease.

The most common confusion about the South Beach Diet is the belief that it is a low-carb diet, similar to Atkins’. While the plan does indeed prohibit refined sugars, highly processed foods, white bread, white potatoes, and white rice, it focuses on a healthy balance between what Agatston calls “good” carbs and “good” fats (such as unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acid).

The plan aims at stabilizing blood sugar and eliminating food cravings in order to achieve the desired weight loss. Dieters are not required to count calories or measure portions, but to rather learn how to select the right carbs and fats. In addition to a healthy meal plan, Dr. Agatston recommends regular exercise as a part of the South Beach program (with at least 20 minutes of cardio each day).

The South Beach Diet has three phases, which include specific allowable foods and meal plans. The plan also offers recipes as well as prepackaged meals produced by Kraft Foods.

The first phase lasts for two weeks and is the strictest of the three. This phase eliminates all sugars, processed foods, fruits, some vegetables with high glycemic index, and alcohol. Phase 2 reintroduces most fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and continues until the target weight goal is reached. Phase 3 aims at teaching the dieter to make healthy eating a lifetime habit. The scientific research about the potential benefits and/or harmful effects of the South Beach Diet has been very limited to include just a few studies that revealed favorable conclusions about the plan.

Critics of the diet claim that much of the initial significant weight loss is water-weight-loss, caused by eliminating carbs. Therefore, pounds would be regained as consumption is reintroduced. Some question the validity of the glycemic index while others say that similarly to the Atkins Diet, the South Beach fails to address the issue of complex carbohydrates and to explain why scores of people outside the Western Civilization, such as the Japanese, live on a diet, composed mostly of carbohydrates, without being overweight.

Most criticism of the South Beach Diet, however, comes from the confusion that it is another low-carb, fad diet.

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