South Beach Diet Analyzed

✓ Fact Checked

What Is The South Beach Diet?

The South Beach Diet (also known as the modified carbohydrate diet) is a relatively modern addition to the long list of ever-growing diet techniques and programs now dominating the health and weight loss industry on a global scale.

Created in 2003 by American cardiologist and celebrity Doctor, Arthur Agatston, the South Beach Diet in its current state is a well-marketed weight loss program that involves a rigorous dieting plan and ready made low-calorie meals that the follower will consume during the first phase of the program. The program is currently owned and operated by the same parent company that owns Nutrisystem.

How Does It Work?

Fundamentally, the South Beach diet works to focus on teaching followers what foods are healthy and what foods are bad for you. It tries to gear you towards avoiding foods that are high in carbohydrates, while pushing you towards foods that are high in protein, low in saturated fats, and high in good fats.

Instead of being a written program that you simply follow, the south beach diet also requires you to purchase ready-made branded meals for phase 1 and 2 of the plan too. These meals can be found in places like Walmart, Amazon, CVS etc. and can cost up to $80 for a 7 day, 21-meal “weight loss kit”.

Interestingly, the program puts no restrictions on calorie intake – you can technically eat as much as you want, however you’re not able to eat anything that is high in carbohydrates or saturated fats (so it’s essentially a keto diet). While it is never fully explained why there’s no caloric limit, we assume that it’s because it’s somewhat hard to overeat on lean meats and non-starchy vegetables – often dieters will become full long before they exceed their body’s daily caloric maintenance number.

The south beach diet itself is broken up into 3 different phase:

Phase 1 – “The 14 Day Body Reboot”

The first phase of the diet lasts for two weeks only, and focuses heavily on overhauling your diet and lifestyle, and placing your body into a state of ketosis.

Firstly, during Phase 1 you’ll need to be strictly following the daily water intake (64 fl oz) and cardio requirements (30 mins each day), and eating the foods within the “South Beach Living weight loss kit” (which you’ll have to buy separately) as entrées for your breakfast, lunch and dinner.

You are also allowed to add some sides to the South Beach Entrée Meals from the approved foods list; the amount you can add depends on your gender:

Women may add three lean proteins, two healthy fats, and five non-starchy vegetables per day.

Men may add four lean proteins, three healthy fats, and five non-starchy vegetables per day.

The plan also allows followers to add up to 35 calories and 3 grams of carbohydrates worth of condiments and/or “added extras” to each daily meal for added flavor.

Phase 2 – “Steady Weight Loss”

After you’ve completed your first 14 days of the diet you will immediately progress onto the second phase, which will be sustained until you reach your target body weight. Like in Phase 1, you’ll still be exercising for 30 minutes per day and drinking 64 fl oz of water each day, however as the name suggests, this phase focuses more on slow and steady weight loss rather than fast.

Phase 2 reintroduces a small amount of carbohydrates into your diet again, and still requires you to purchase and consume the branded entrée meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Unlike phase 1,  you only need to follow these directions 5 days per week. the remaining 2 days are what’s referred to by South Beach as “practice days”. These practice days involve you preparing your own low-carb, low saturated-fats meals from home using regular groceries you’ve picked up from the supermarket.

As mentioned above, you will sustain phase 2 of the diet until you’ve hit your target body weight – how much time this takes can entirely depend on an individual basis.

Phase 3 – “The Rest Of Your Life”

This part begins when you have hit your target weight. To help you maintain your new weight, you will be able to enjoy options that are more liberal. Once you get to this phase, you will stay there for the rest of your life. After completing Phase 1 and 2, this phase will feel like normal eating to you. Now you are eating differently – for life! If your weight starts creeping back up, modify the foods you are eating and the amounts.

As with the rest of the phases, you will also be required to keep up the daily 30 minutes of exercise and 64 fl oz water intake.

What Are You Allowed To Eat?

As previously mentioned, the south beach diet allows you to eat any food that is not high in carbs and/or high in saturated fats.

This essentially means that foods like pasta, potatoes, oats, bananas, quinoa, and chickpeas are off the menu (and yes, the same goes for chocolate, candy and ice cream too). Instead, you’ll be finding vast amounts of lean meat, fish, eggs, lettuce, nuts and seeds on your plate.

Remember, if in doubt, always check the food labelling to establish whether or not a food is high or low in carbs and saturated fats.

Approved South Beach Diet Food Examples:

  • Beef (flank steak, ground beef, sirloin, pastrami)
  • Chicken (skinless breast)
  • Seafood (fish, sashimi, shellfish)
  • Pork (ham, bacon)
  • Lamb (chop, loin)
  • Cheese (cheddar, blue, mozzarella, parmesan, feta)
  • Eggs (whites, whole egg)
  • Nuts & Seeds (almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, chia seeds, coconut)
  • Non-Starchy Vegetables (artichokes, asparagus, brussels sprouts, celery, green beans)

These are just some examples; a full list of approved foods can be found in the Diet Handbook.

How Effective Is It For Losing Weight?

Technically, you should lose weight on the South Beach diet (as most people who embark on a low carbohydrate diet do), however as the South Beach Diet doesn’t really place an emphasis on caloric restriction, there is there very real possibility that no weight loss will occur for certain people who follow it.

Those looking to lose weight should always remember the fundamental rule of burning more calories than you consume. Even with carbs and saturates removed from your diet, it is possible to gain weight if you continue to eat large amounts of the foods that the south beach diet approves.

The book claims that dieters should lose up to 13 pounds in the first two weeks (phase 1), however this will vary depending on your current weight, healthy, and eating habits. After this, it’s unclear exactly how much weight you will lose over what time period as there is no meal plan to stick to.

A Note For Long-Lasting Results

The South Beach Diet is described by the creators as a diet for life, and for the most part we agree that sustaining a low carbohydrate diet will be beneficial for those looking to retain a leaner physique over a long term period, however it’s very important for dieters to keep in mind that breaking habitual eating habits and eating is correct amounts is the key to preventing unwanted weight gain.

The main issue we have with the South Beach Diet is that it doesn’t require you to really monitor your daily caloric intake – we believe that keeping an eye on the calories you’re consuming each day is critical. At the end of the day it all comes down to the foods you decide to eat. The South Beach diet puts very little restrictions on what you can actually eat so it would be quite easy to fall back into bad eating habits. If you’re not careful, you may find yourself weight cycling.

Is This Diet Healthy?

The healthiness of the diet entirely depends on the foods that you chose to eat. You should always be ensuring that you’re intaking all the vital vitamins minerals and nutrients that your body needs.

Always remember that just because you’re eating foods high in protein and low in fat, does not mean these are going to be healthy foods that contain everything that your body requires – you may need to spend some time carefully planning our your daily meal schedules.

As anybody looking to lose weight will know, the aim of the game is calorie-reduction; if you feel that you’re not getting in all your daily required vitamins and minerals, you could add a multivitamin supplement into your daily routine to top off your vitamin intake without inflating your daily calorie intake.

Are There Any Risks?

For the most part, this is a very safe diet to be following. During phase 1 and 2 you’ll be eating pre-approved branded foods that will ensure you’re getting everything your body requires. Phase 3 will involve you eating any type of food you want, though south beach themselves state that “the majority of foods you eat should be from the approved list”.

Is The South Beach Diet Suitable For Pregnant Women?

We would not recommend any woman who is pregnant to restricted her daily caloric intake, however as long as you ensure you are eating foods that contain all of the necessary nutrients you and your baby need, in theory it should be fine – always consult a medical practitioner before you adopt any diet.

This Diet Is Not Recommended For Minors

Any individual under the age of 18 should not follow this diet without express approval of a healthcare professional and/or dietitian.

Conclusion

To wrap up our south beach diet review, we believe it’s a decent diet plan for those looking to shed some weight, however there are some flaws.

While the diet has had undeniable success, it has also been subject to scrutiny – we can appreciate that the south beach diet has tried to create an schedule where you can feel free to consume the foods you love (at least during phase 3) however this can be a very slippery slope as most people find it very difficult to stay away from the foods that caused them to gain weight in the first place.

The south beach diet’s tagline claims this “doctor-designed” diet is foolproof, however we would have to disagree as the instructions give dieters way too much flexibility with the foods they can eat – there are too many circumstantial cases where followers could inadvertently end up overeating without even realizing they’re doing it.

Beth Coats, RD LN
Beth Coats, RD LN
Staff Writer & Fact Checker at DietProbe
Beth is a registered dietician with over 20 years experience in general nutrition.
Close Menu

Fact Checked


This article has been reviewed and fact-checked by a certified nutritionist, and only uses information from credible academic sources.