The South Beach Diet: Is It Worth It?

Amy Grimes August 20, 2013 2
SBD book cover and recipe food

Dieting doesn’t mean starving yourself. It can just be eating healthy food.

   The South Beach Diet is an eating plan that focuses on healthy foods that are low in carbs and unhealthy fats. In broad terms, it is a low carb diet with three phases. The first is a 14-day introduction to the diet that will eliminate cravings and stabilize your blood sugar. This phase includes rapid weight loss for those with a lot to lose and cuts out a lot of foods, including grains and alcohol. Phase 2 is all about reaching your goal weight. Certain foods are reintroduced, such as some whole grains and fruits and as you lose weight you will learn how to eat healthily in order to keep it off. Finally, the third phase begins once you reach your weight loss goal. This phase is the rest of your life, as you take what you have learned and apply the diet’s guidelines to your eating habits in order to maintain your weight.

   This diet focuses on reasonable amounts of food. You don’t have to count calories or methodically weigh portions, you just have to consume normal portions. The idea is to eat better food, instead of the standard highly-processed items that make up many women’s typical diets. This includes: lean protein, vegetables, dairy, starchy vegetables, nuts, legumes, and healthy fats.

   South Beach is often compared to Atkins but the two diets are not the same. For instance, Atkins advocates eating butter while on South Beach it should be minimized. Atkins also counts any and all carbohydrates while on South Beach you simply go by the number of portions and can eat an unlimited amount of non-starchy vegetables. Another diet it may be compared to is Paleo – South Beach is much less restrictive than Paleo and allows many foods in moderation. For example, in the later phases wholegrain products can be consumed while with Paleo no grains at all can ever be consumed.

   Realistically, every diet has its drawbacks. One of the main ones noted with the South Beach Diet is that it advocates using aspartame and other artificial sweeteners which many people feel conflicted about. However if you are not a fan of the sweetener you can still follow the diet while choosing to avoid it. Another concern is that there is not much focus on exercise within the diet. Exercise is key to losing weight and keeping it off so a generous amount should be done on top of the diet.

Two SBD Dishes

Meals Consisting of Good Carbs Make You Feel Full, Without Making You Fat

   Speaking of exercise, low carb diets like this one can have a hugely positive influence on athletic performance. Traditionally, common wisdom has stated that you should ‘carb load’ before any event requiring endurance and stamina. I know I have certainly been told more than once by people trying to be helpful that I should load up on pasta the night before a 10km run. However, many casual runners and cyclists actually find this counter-intuitive. Surely if the body already has fat to burn, eating carbohydrates in the day leading up to a long run or cycle doesn’t really help with weight loss? That is why a low carb diet can help to burn fat – when you are on the South Beach Diet for a few weeks your body will become a fat-burning machine. The body burns the energy that is already present and it does so at a higher rate. Scientifically, this stage is known as keto-adaptation. Keto-adaptation has a beneficial affect on athletic performance because when the body is burning fuel more quickly it also becomes more efficient at performing aerobic activity. This means that pace and stamina are improved, as well as heart rate and oxygen use.

   The South Beach Diet has many health benefits. The one that the public is most often familiar with is its ability to prevent and manage diabetes. The diet can be beneficial to those with either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes – for those with Type 1 they can manage their blood sugars more easily due to the stability provided by consuming fewer carbs. For those with Type 2 it is actually possible for some individuals to not only manage this type of diabetes but to lose weight and return to healthy blood sugar levels altogether. Many Type 2 diabetics find that they can reduce the amount of medication they need to take and for those suffering from more serious implications of the illness low carb eating plans like the South Beach Diet can control the diabetes and prevent it from worsening. This is all because eating a diet low in carbs regulates blood sugar levels, which has the added benefit of reducing hypoglycemic attacks caused by drops in blood sugar. When it comes to diabetes, the South Beach Diet is a wise first step for someone to take in an effort to be healthier. Of course if you have diabetes you should discuss any diet with your physician before starting as it may need to be tailored to your individual needs and medication requirements.

   Weight loss is an obvious benefit of the South Beach Diet. Whether you just have a spare tire to lose in order to become truly comfortable with yourself or are in need of serious weight loss to achieve a healthy BMI, a low carb diet has fast fat-burning results. The South Beach Diet has all the benefits one would associate with weight loss: better sleep, healthier skin, nails, and hair, greater alertness, and more. One point that I think is worth noting is that mood swings can often be caused by fluctuations in blood sugar. As women, all too often we blame menstruation or hormonal shifts for mood swings. In fact, when I examined my diet I realized that I wasn’t becoming irrationally angry or sad around that time of the month – I was suffering mood swings when I didn’t eat properly or when I spent all day feeling hungry and then gorged on carbs in the evening. The South Beach Diet helped to fix this because less carbs equals fewer fluctuations in blood sugar levels, meaning no mood swings, fewer food cravings, and best of all, no hunger pangs. This diet helps you to feel satisfied and happy.

Two SBD Phase I dishes together

Meat Is Welcome Too!

   Another plus of the diet is that it can reduce cholesterol levels and improve blood pressure. These are both important in order to have a healthy heart and by following the South Beach Diet you can lessen your risk of heart disease. Cholesterol is composed of two things – high density lipo-protein and triglycerides. A healthy person should have low levels of triglycerides and higher levels of lipo-protein. The ratio of these two cholesterol components is a major indicator of a person’s risk of heart disease. The figures are affected by the levels of glucose (sugar) and insulin in the body. It is worth nothing that popular diets that focus on lowering fat intake with high carbohydrate consumption can actually be detrimental to these levels, causing a drop in high density lipo-protein and an increase in triglycerides. That is shocking information and when compared to the fact that low carb diets have the opposite, positive effect of maintaining the correct ratio, it becomes obvious which one is the healthy choice.

   So we’ve discussed the abstract ideas but what does a meal from the South Beach Diet actually involve? Let’s take a look at a hearty and wholesome dinner recipe from Phase 1 of the diet to get an idea of what you can eat. Try it – you won’t even notice the lack of carbs.

Beef and Bean Chili (makes 4 servings)

   Ingredients: 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil1 pound lean ground beef2 1/2 teaspoons chili powder1 teaspoon cumin1 small onion, thinly sliced2 cloves garlic1 28oz can tomatoes with juice, diced1 15oz can red kidney beans, drained and rinsedSalt and pepper to taste

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add beef, 1 teaspoon chili powder, cumin, and sauté for 5 minutes. Once the beef has browned, remove it with a slotted spoon and set aside on a plate.
  2. Lower the heat to medium and add the onion, garlic, and the rest of the chili powder to the pot. Sauté for 3 minutes until the onion is soft.
  3. Add the tomatoes and their juice, and the rinsed beans. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Remove cover, add the beef back in and cook for 5 minutes. Season and serve with reduced-fat sour cream and chopped scallions on top.

   Personally, a large part of the success of a diet lies in whether or not I can still cook. Eating ready-made weight loss meals or surviving on bland, boring food will set me right on the track to failure. The great thing about a diet like this is that you’re not as restricted as with other diets. If you need cooking inspiration then you’re not limited to just a diet book either, there are many women out there who blog about the meals they make and I find that this is a valuable resource when dieting. A recipe like the one above meets the diet’s guidelines but is also a good representation of the kinds of delicious and creative meals you can eat while following the South Beach Diet. There’s no need to eat unappealing food or go hungry to lose weight and that’s one of the best parts of following the South Beach plan.




  1. Stephanie December 2, 2013 at 11:38 am -

    My mother has tried Atkins and South Beach. She’s had success with both but did feel Atkins was too restrictive for her. Currently on South Beach, she’s lost about 25 pounds and feels great.

  2. Kim Rawks December 4, 2013 at 5:02 pm -

    I’ve known a couple of personal trainers who use this diet to maintain weight and stay fit.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -