Everything You Need to Know About South Beach Diet

You’ve probably come across South Beach Diet when you were looking for the best way to slim down. Indeed, the South Beach Diet is a popular choice by many men and women who want to lose weight. But is its popularity justified? Through this post, we’re going to discuss everything you need to know about the South Beach Diet, its benefits, disadvantages, and more.

What is the South Beach Diet?

South Beach Diet is a lower-carbohydrate diet that focuses on the consumption of unsaturated fats, lean meats, and low-glycemic-index carbs. This eating pattern was created in the mid-90s by Dr. Arthur Agatston, a Florida-based cardiologist, and celebrity doctor.

Dr. Agatston didn’t intend to create a weight-loss diet, though. As a cardiologist, he wanted to help his patients prevent heart attack and stroke. At the same time, he was aware his patients didn’t do well with the American Heart Association recommended diet. They were gaining weight, in fact. So, Dr. Agatston dedicated a lot of time to research in order to find the most suitable eating protocol.

What Dr. Agatston wanted to do is create an eating pattern that would allow overweight/obese, diabetic, and prediabetic men and women to lose weight quickly.

The result was the South Beach Diet which promoted weight loss and improved blood test-related parameters that led to reduced risk of heart attack and stroke (1). He tested the diet on himself first. Once he lost weight and abdominal fat, Dr. Agatston started recommending it to his patients.

The South Beach Diet evolved a lot during this time. In 2003, Dr. Agatston published the first of several books on this subject. According to the official website, over 11 million people have chosen to follow the South Beach Diet so far (2).

How Does the South Beach Diet Work?

South Beach Diet works in three phases. The first phase jumpstarts weight loss, the second phase leads you to the target weight, whereas the third phase focuses on maintenance.  Below, we are going to break down each phase.

Phase 1

Phase 1 lasts two weeks and is specifically created to tackle cravings for foods that are high in sugar or carbs. This is necessary to kickstart your weight loss. Of all three phases, this one is the strictest in terms of foods you need to avoid.

You can expect to lose eight to 13 lbs (3.5-6kg) during this phase if you adhere to the protocol. For example, you need to eat three meals a day. Meals should include non-starchy vegetables (about 4 ½ cups a day), lean protein, and small amounts of legumes (1/3 to ½ cup a day), and healthy fats (2tbsp). Besides the main meals, you also need to consume two snacks. The snacks should be a combination of vegetables and lean protein.

During the first phase, you are required to avoid almost all carbs from your diet. This also includes pasta, fruit, rice, and bread. Besides these, you also need to avoid alcoholic drinks.

Fortunately, Phase 1 allows you to eat sweet treats, as long as they are up to 100 calories and contain unsweetened cocoa, sugar-free gelatin.

Phase 2

Phase 2 is the next step in the South Beach Diet. You start with this phase on day 15 and follow it as long as it’s necessary to achieve your desired weight. Remember, phase 2 revolves around helping you reach the goal weight after the first phase successfully jump started your weight loss.

In the first phase you avoid carbohydrates, but now you start adding them to your diet. In this phase, you can eat whole wheat pasta, bread, fruits, brown rice, and more vegetables. All these food groups were meant to be avoided in the first phase.

If you stick to the program, you can lose about one to two pounds (0.5-1kg) a week. While you may think this is not enough for weight loss, it is. You’ll be pleased to know, it is recommended to aim for a weight loss of one to two pounds a week for sustainable, long-term results (3).

A common concern for many people is whether they will start regaining weight once they reintroduce carbs to their diet again. Slow and steady weight loss is the best, healthiest, and most effective. You need to reintroduce carbohydrates to your diet in order to achieve your body weight goal. Without carbs, you would find it difficult or impossible to stick to and follow the South Beach Diet in the long run.

Reintroducing carbs should be performed carefully. You can’t add them all at once. Instead, you are supposed to add one single carb to one meal a day for a week. Then, you need to pay attention to how that carb makes you feel. If everything goes well, you are ready to add the second carb to your diet. Follow the same process.

How to know if a specific carb is working for you? You should feel an energy boost, better mood and sleep, better skin, regular bowel movements, and continued weight loss. If reintroduction of carbs doesn’t produce these effects, you may want to return back to the previous phase so you can regain control.

Signs that say you should go back to Phase 1 include food cravings, weight gain, and returning to unhealthy eating habits.

Phase 3

Phase 3 starts when you complete Phase 2 i.e. when you reach the target weight. Unlike the first phase, the second doesn’t have a limit. You follow it as long as it’s necessary. This phase is the same. Since Phase 3 is maintenance, there is no deadline or window until you need to follow it. Ideally, you should follow it for life.

In this phase, no food is considered strictly off-limits. The best thing to do is to follow principles you learned in Phase 2, but you can still eat treats for example.

The problem here is that many people overdo it. Since no food is off-limits, it’s easy to think you can eat whatever you want and how much you want it. Overindulging is a common problem, but you can overcome it by returning to Phase 1.

In Phase 3, people don’t always return to old eating habits. Instead, many of them continue making healthier options as they become more mindful about the foods they eat.

You can have a drink, too. While consuming too much alcohol is not a good thing (nor it is recommended) you can enjoy a glass of wine or light beer.

Benefits of South Beach Diet

South Beach Diet, as a low-carb diet, could be beneficial for persons who want to slim down quickly in the early stages and patients with type 2 diabetes who need to control their blood glucose levels (4).

Probably the biggest advantage of the South Beach Diet lies in its potential to promote weight loss without inducing feelings of hunger. Many diet programs today help with weight loss, but people do feel hungry pretty much the whole time. With this diet, hunger isn’t the problem.

With proper adherence, the South Beach Diet can help you slim down. A growing body of evidence confirms high-protein and low-carb diets promote weight loss effectively (56). A low-carb diet can also reduce triglyceride levels, diastolic blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and increase levels of HDL (good) cholesterol (7).

What makes the South Beach Diet good for weight loss, you wonder? High protein intake has a lot to do with that. Protein can speed up metabolism and thereby regulate hunger/satiety hormones (89). As a result, your appetite decreases. This is particularly important if we bear in mind many people struggle to slim down due to overeating. The more you eat, the more calories you consume and weight gain ensues. For that reason, appetite suppression is important for weight loss and protein can help feel full for longer.

This diet also allows people to gradually add carbs to their diet, to some extent. This is important for weight loss because it helps you adhere to the protocol.

The reality is there’s not enough research on the South Beach Diet. One study showed promising results. Scientists recruited four men and 16 women, all of whom were overweight/obese, and asked them to follow this diet for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, the average weight loss was 11 lbs (5.2kg) and waist circumference reduction 2 inches (5.1cm) (10).

Other Advantages of the South Beach Diet

As seen above, weight loss is the most significant effect of the South Beach Diet. Other benefits are also worth mentioning. For instance, this diet focuses on healthy eating and helps you stay away from junk food. While on this diet, it’s recommended to eat salmon, among other healthy foods. Salmon is a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids known for their anti-inflammatory benefits. Also, the consumption of vegetables supplies the body with a wide range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other healthy compounds.

Compared to many other diets out there, the South Beach Diet is relatively versatile in terms of foods you can eat. South Beach Diet encourages you to experiment with food. Most of us are “stuck” in the routine where we consume pretty much the same foods and meals all over again whether they’re healthy or not. The body needs a variety of foods to function properly. Different foods deliver different ratios of nutrients, so it’s always a good thing to experiment.

Experimentation in South Beach Diet is reflected in creating different meals using approved foods and ingredients. You also need to observe how different foods affect your body. By limiting carbohydrate intake and gradually adding them, you can pinpoint specific foods that are not beneficial for you.

Most weight-loss diets today focus on the avoidance of carbohydrates. This one doesn’t entirely. Sure, phase one doesn’t allow carbs, but once you make it to the next stage you can eat them. Carbohydrates, the healthy option, can prevent cravings. This is not a type of diet that makes you starve.

Exercise is crucial and the South Beach Diet encourages you to work out regularly. Many diet plans, especially popular programs, claim you can slim down by following their rules without exercise. In reality that doesn’t happen because the combination of a healthy diet and regular exercise works best (11).

Potential Risks or Disadvantages of South Beach Diet

The South Beach Diet is generally safe to follow. That said, severe restriction of carbohydrates can cause ketosis problems. Ketosis is a metabolic process that results from an insufficient amount of carbohydrates to burn for energy. Instead, the body starts breaking down stored fat. In the process, ketones start accumulating in the body.

While the whole idea of burning fat may seem convenient, especially if you’re trying to lose weight, you may experience side effects including mental fatigue, headache, nausea, and bad breath. Some people may experience dizziness and dehydration (12).

The main disadvantage of the South Beach Diet is its restrictiveness, particularly with the intake of fats. For instance, this diet allows for the intake of safflower and soybean oils, both of which are high in Omega-6 fatty acids and therefore potentially harmful. A high ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids is associated with heart disease, weight gain, inflammation, and other health concerns (1314).

Sure, it’s important to get Omega-6 fatty acids but most people get even more than they need in a regular diet.

At the same time, the South Beach Diet doesn’t include coconut oil and butter due to saturated fats. Coconut oil, however, has a wide range of health benefits including weight loss, improving health markers in overweight/obese persons, and reducing abdominal fat (1516).

Saturated fats are often demonized due to the link with heart disease, but various studies have shown they don’t increase the risk of cardiovascular problems (1718). This doesn’t mean we should eat high quantities of saturated fats, but moderate intake would be okay.

To sum up this section, the South Beach Diet could be too restrictive for some people to follow. Plus, a lack of structure could cause problems with adherence. For some men and women following this diet could be too expensive.

Additionally, lack of evidence coupled with dubious claims is also a problem.

While there are studies about low-carb diets, not much research focuses specifically on South Beach Diet and its effects or weight-loss potential. What’s more, one study evaluated facts from the South Beach Diet book and found 67% may not be supported by peer-reviewed literature (19).


South Beach Diet has been around since the 90s. A doctor-created diet has become a popular choice for many. Proper adherence to the South Beach Diet can promote weight loss and improve overall health. It is a type of diet that helps people slim down without starving. However, there are some disadvantages too. For example, the first phase is too restrictive and difficult to follow. Other stages are relatively easier. A lot more research on this diet is necessary. Just keep in mind you also need to exercise regularly. Regular workouts and a healthy diet should go hand in hand. The South Beach Diet is considered safe to follow.


  1. https://www.webmd.com/arthur-agatston
  2. https://www.southbeachdiet.com/about/index.jsp
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/weight-loss/art-20047752
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537084/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25466951/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14988451/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20679559/
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9683329/
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16469977/
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17634268/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3406229/
  12. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/south-beach-diet/art-20048491
  13. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0753332206002435
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26950145/
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19437058/
  16. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22164340/
  17. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26268692/
  18. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20071648/
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1924692/
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