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World’s Best Diet Part 5–The South Beach Diet

If you google the word diet, you will come up with over 200,000 results.  Every week, month, year, and decade a new study or article comes out claiming certain foods are killing us, or that some other food or nutritional approach will lead us to the promised land.  Unfortunately, articles are written to create traffic, so scientific research is often misreported or spun to sell magazines or generate website traffic.  The truth is, there are many ways to skin a cat.  All of the evidence on nutrition (in regards to weight loss) points to two undeniable truths.  First, that dietary adherence is king.  It doesn’t matter how perfect or evidence based a nutrition plan is, if you can’t follow it, it doesn’t matter.  Before starting any eating plan, you must ask yourself how easy it will be to maintain long term.  Second, you must achieve an energy deficit to lose weight (eat less energy than you expend each day).  Though “calories in, calories out” may be slightly over simplified, it is still the underlying rule to any weight loss success.   For any weight loss plan to work, you must consistently follow the pla, and you must be in a caloric deficit.  This series will highlight the nine most popular current nutrition approaches, and the pros and cons of each.

The South Beach Diet

Claims: The South Beach Diet says that its balance of good carbs, lean protein, and healthy fats makes it a nutrient-dense, fiber-rich diet that you can follow for a lifetime of healthy eating.  It focuses on eliminating “bad” carbs that are high on the glycemic index scale (meaning these foods increase blood sugar quickly when eaten in isolation).  The diet also encourages the consumption of monounsaturated fats, limiting “unhealthy” fats, and consuming whole grains and other fiber rich foods.  The diet is set up in 3 phases.  Phase 1 eliminates virtually all carbohydrates and is claimed to help eliminate cravings. Phase 2 re-introduces “healthy” carbs and is the weight loss phase.  Phase 3 is the maintenance phase where you continue to use what you learned to do in the first two phases, but other foods can also be eaten in moderation.

Reality: This is another sensible meal plan which allows for eating a balance of lean protein, whole grains, and variety of fat sources.  The only fault with this program is the emphasis on low glycemic carbohydrates.  The Glycemic Index is based on what foods do in isolation.  If other foods are eaten in conjunction with these items, the blood sugar response can be greatly altered.  On top of that, even if a food does rapidly increase blood sugar, it doesn’t inherently make it a poor food choice, and weight loss can still be achieved with these foods assuming portions are monitored.

Pros: Encourages lean protein consumption, fiber rich foods, whole grains, and variety of fat sources.

Cons: Creates an undue fear of certain types of carbohydrates and doesn’t directly advise on portion sizes.

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CFSC, Pn1