The South Beach Diet – Does it Really Work

The South Beach Diet has been helping people to lose weight for two decades. Weight loss plans are sometimes called fads. So is a diet plan with a 20-year record of slimming success a fad… or just an effective one?

South Beach Diet Review

The South Beach Diet is a weight loss diet developed in the 1990s. Sometimes thought of as a fad diet, the South Beach diet was actually created by the respected cardiologist Dr. Arthur Agatston.

The diet was originally called the Modified Carbohydrate Diet. It was later given its present name because Agatston’s practice was near Miami’s South Beach neighborhood.

The diet emphasizes foods that are high in fiber and rich in nutrients.

Unlike many other weight loss plans, the South Beach Diet doesn’t offer a short-term fix. It’s for people who want to lose weight and keep it off—for life.

Review of the South Beach Diet

History of the South Beach Diet

Agatston came up with the diet after noticing patients were successfully losing weight via the Atkins Diet.

However, he was not comfortable with the amount of saturated fat the Atkins diet permits. Nor did he like the restrictions the diet imposes regarding high-fiber carbohydrates like fruit and whole grains.

South Beach Diet Book

Agatston believed he could come up with a better option. His South Beach Diet is rich in lean proteins, unsaturated fats, and low glycemic index carbs.

He was the first person to use the diet. It helped him to burn belly fat and lose weight so he began suggesting his patients follow his South Beach Diet plan as well. They lost weight too.

In 2003, Agatston published his diet as a book. It was a bestseller all over the world.

The South Beach Diet Supercharged

Six years later, in 2009, he published an updated version of the book, called The South Beach Diet Supercharged. Also a bestseller, the second book adds an interval training program to the original diet plan.

SBD Enterprises owns the trademark “South Beach Diet”. Agatston is a part owner of the company. However, in 2015, Nutrisystem bought the company and presently offers a number of home-delivery meal plans via the official South Beach Diet website.

SouthBeach diet testimonials

Are Pre-Packed Meals Necessary?

People, all over the world, speak highly of the South Beach Diet. When done correctly, it works. There is no need to pay for pre-packed meals in order to do the diet, but some people may prefer to do so. It’s a matter of personal choice.

Anyone who is considering purchasing a home-delivery meal plan should be sure to read the terms and conditions page on the South Beach Diet website. This will save any confusion regarding recurring auto-ship fees and cancellation charges.

NOTE: If you do decide to purchase please bear in mind you will be signed to their auto-ship program. Auto-ship basically means you will shipped products every month and billed accordingly until you cancel.

The number of complaints published on the Better Fussiness Bureau (BBB) website shows many customers fail to familiarize themselves with the terms of sale before ordering.

What You Need to Know Before Doing the South Beach Diet

If you want to lose weight by doing this diet it helps if you are familiar with the glycemic index.

The glycemic index (GI) ranks carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100. The rating regards their ability to raise blood sugar (glucose) levels after eating.

Foods that have a high GI  (56-100) are very easy to digest. The body absorbs their energy quickly. High GI foods can cause the blood glucose level to spike.

Apart from setting off a chain of events that lead to carb and sugar cravings, such spikes are unhealthy. If they occur too often it increases the risk of diabetes and other health problems.

Low GI Carbohydrates

The body digests low GI carbohydrates (0-55) more slowly. Because of this, such foods are less likely to spike the blood sugar. Eating low GI foods in preference to high GI foods can help with weight loss while also supporting long-term good health.

If you want further information about the glycemic index, it’s easy to acquire. The University of Sydney actually maintains a glycemic index website.

Low GI foods are a key element of the South Beach Diet.

South Beach Diet Breakfast examples
South Beach Diet Breakfast examples

How to Do the South Beach Diet

The South Beach Diet is a little different from most other weight loss plans because it has three stages.

The first two deliver weight loss and the final one is for weight maintenance.

Phase 1

Phase 1 lasts for two weeks. It’s the strictest of the three because it’s the weight loss jump-starter. According to Agatston dieters should lose 8—13 pounds during this stage.

Foods you can eat during Phase 1 include:

  • High protein options including poultry, beef, fish, eggs, and cheese.
  • Healthy fats such as avocado, olive oil, and canola oil.
  • Carbs with a low glycemic index, such as tomatoes, aubergine, lentils, and peas.

Bread, rice, pasta, potatoes,  fruit, and other high GI foods are forbidden during this stage. However, two snacks per day are permitted. Ideally, the snacks should consist of lean protein and vegetables.

Phase 2

Day no. 15 marks the start of Phase 2. This stage continues until you attain your desired weight.

How long this takes will be largely dependent on how much weight you need to lose. However, if you keep with the program you should be losing one to two pounds each week.

The food options in Phase 2 are the same as those in the first stage, but you can introduce small portions of fruit along with whole grains and other “good carbs”. A limited amount of certain types of alcohol is also permitted each week during Phase 2 of the South Beach Diet.

Stage 3

When you reach this stage of the diet it’s a time to rejoice because you’ve hit your target weight.

Phase 3 is ongoing. You need to maintain healthy eating practices but occasional treats are permissible.

If you put on weight due to overindulgence or some other reason, Agatston suggests returning to Phase 1 for a week or two.

There is no need to go back to Phase 2. When the weight is under control, simply jump from Phase 1 back to Phase 3.

Lunch examples of the SB diet
Lunch examples

How the Diet Works

The South Beach Diet forces people to lower their daily calorie intake. In that way, it’s no different from any other weight loss plan.

However, it’s a well thought out weight management method that encourages long-term dietary changes that should prevent the lost weight returning.

Let’s take a look at the three stages in a little more detail.

How Phase 1 Works

Phase 1 is going to be the hardest. Especially for dieters who have a love of starchy carbs.

The types of food dieters have to avoid tend to provide too many calories . Though vitamin-rich, fruit is high in simple sugars (fructose). Starchy carbs like potatoes and rice deliver a lot of extra calories that defy sensible attempts at weight loss.

This stage involves eating a decent amount of protein. That’s advantageous because protein is good for filling the stomach.

Adequate protein is also important when trying to lose weight because it helps prevent muscle loss. Loss of muscle mass is a risk presented by many weight loss plans.

Bad for BodyBuilders

This is something that can be particularly bad for bodybuilders and other athletes who have worked hard to gain muscle.

However, loss of muscle mass is never desirable—for anyone—because muscle tissue has an energy demand that assists weight loss. Losing muscle tissue can cause you to burn fewer calories per day.

Once you understand the relationship between muscle mass and metabolism, it becomes easier to understand why the high protein requirements of the South Beach Diet is a good thing.

The non-starchy vegetables will provide dietary fiber, which also keeps the stomach feeling fuller for longer.

When chosen carefully, the right vegetables will provide all the vitamins and minerals the body needs. They will also provide antioxidants to control free radical toxins and prevent oxidative stress.

South Beach Diet dinner examples
South Beach Diet dinner examples

How Phase 2 Works

Phase 2 of the South Beach Diet plan is a continuation of the healthy eating practices from Phase 1.

By this time, dieters should have already lost a respectable amount of weight. This kind of early success can be very motivating.

Weight loss will be slower during Phase 2. It will also be a good match for the recommendations from health experts.

It’s only natural that weight loss will slow. Introducing fruits and other good carbs into the diet will increase calorie intake. As will partaking of alcohol.

However, the foods that are introduced should have a part in any healthy diet.

Phase 2 may last a long time, so it’s good that the food choices have fewer restrictions.

Phase 3

This is more than just the final stage of the diet. It’s the first stage of a new and healthier lifestyle. It’s the part of the diet that ensures long-term success.

The Foods to Avoid from Phase 2 Onward

Certain types of food are discouraged during Phase 2 of the diet. The same foods are frowned upon during Phase 3. This is the maintenance period. So, cutting to the chase, you need to be severely limiting or avoiding these foods for life.

The foods South Beach Dieters need to avoid contain saturated fat and/or high amounts of natural or refined sugar.

Examples include:

  • Butter and coconut oil
  • Fatty meat and poultry
  • Whole milk
  • Fruit juice
  • Foods made with refined flour
  • Foods made refined sugar
  • Maple syrup, honey, agave nectar
  • Beetroot, potatoes, and corn
  • Pineapple, dates, figs, raisins, and watermelon
  • Alcohol (with the exception of light beer and dry wine)

It’s easy to see the sense of sticking to lean cuts of meat and avoiding whole milk and certain other foods. Unfortunately, some of the other foods dieters are told to avoid are known to offer many health benefits.

For instance, beetroot is high in nitrates and is valued as a superfood. Watermelon and coconut oil also have virtues that can make them good additions to any healthy, low-calorie diet.

Health Considerations

As with any other weight management plan, certain people may do well to seek medical advice before starting the South Beach Diet:

  • Women who are pregnant or nursing a child
  • People with diabetes or other health issues

Fortunately, the South Beach Diet is based solely on making dietary changes. It does not involve the use of medication or supplements, so there is no need to worry about interaction issues.

However, people who overly restrict their carbohydrate intake make experience problems due to ketosis.


Ketosis is a condition that occurs when blood glucose levels become overly low. (

People following the Keto Diet deliberately bring about this condition in an effort to lose weight.

Ketosis can present a few negative issues though. Side effects may include headache, nausea, and mental fatigue. Bad breath is a particularly common problem with Keto dieters. Dehydration and dizziness can occasionally become an issue as well.

It’s worth noting the fact that Dr. Agatston’s original diet does not aim to cause ketosis. However, the South Beach Diet website does market it’s products as being “keto-friendly”.

Results of the diet plan
South Beach Diet Results

Good and Bad Points of the South Beach Diet

Although some people call the South Beach Diet a fad, that’s being too harsh.

Fad diets tend to encourage unhealthy eating practices that can cause nutrient deficiencies. The South Beach Diet does the opposite. It can work alongside the 5 A Day fruit and vegetable. recommendations instead of going against them.

Nutrient-rich vegetables such as spinach, kale, and broccoli are some of the options you could use during Phase 1 of the diet. There are, of course, many more. It’s a diet that need never be boring or involve overly repetitive food choices.

The fact that nutritious snacks are allowed is also good. It will further help prevent hunger while also ensuring adequate nutrient intake.

Healthy Food Choices

As for the bad points, healthy food choices may be a little more expensive than buying junk. Healthy food choices are always the right way to go, though, so this should not be a major consideration.

The only other real negative is the speed of weight loss during the first stage of the diet. It can be motivating to see such progress,  but medical experts suggest losing no more than two pounds per week.

The South Beach Diet involves two weeks of rapid weight loss that may involve losing more than six pounds per week. That makes the diet controversial, but such losses are only encouraged for two weeks.

The South Beach Diet is pretty easy to do. Although it involves certain dietary restrictions, you can eat normal portions and there is no need for any complicated maths, calorie counting, or seeking unusual foods.

It’s also a diet that’s suitable for vegetarians and vegans. The protein requirements can be met by eating beans, soy, and legumes.

When viewed as a whole,  Dr. Agatston’s diet plan looks pretty good.

South Beach Diet Customer Testimonials
South Beach Diet Customer Testimonials

South Beach Diet FAQ

Do I need to buy a meal plan and have food delivered to my home?

No. The diet is built around making specific food choices. You can do this in your local supermarket.

Does the South Beach Diet work?

If you plan your meals correctly and keep them within the confines of the recommendations made in the books, the diet should work.

Do I need to exercise on the South Beach Diet?

No, but doing so will help you attain better results. The original book only provides dietary information. The updated version provides exercise recommendations as well though. Getting more exercise is always beneficial. Not only for weight loss but for health in general.

What if I’m allergic to seafood?

Being allergic to seafood will not prevent you from doing this diet. Simply use other sources of protein, such as poultry or lentils.

Will I feel hungry all the time on the South Beach Diet?

This is unlikely. The South Beach Diet’s ability to help you to lose weight without feeling hungry is one of its main selling points.

Is the South Beach Diet Gluten Free?

The weight loss food packages sold via the South Beach Diet website are not certified gluten-free. However, the diet itself is flexible. So if you are buying your own food you can choose all gluten-free options.

Is the South Beach Diet suitable for Vegans?

The pre-packed meals sold via the official website are not vegan-friendly, but the diet is. Vegans and vegetarians who wish to use the diet can do so. Meat, fish, and dairy do not have to be a part of this diet.

Will I still be able to drink alcohol on the South Beach Diet?

No alcohol is allowed during Phase 1. The diet does allow a small amount of alcohol during Phases 2 and 3. You can drink dry wines and light beers, but no more than two servings per week.

About Eloise Bel

Eloise Bel (Certified Holistic Nutritionist & B.A. in Communications) Eloise is an experienced journalist with a strong grounding in holistic nutrition. She has an in-depth knowledge of the supplement industry and has been specializing in the weight loss sector since 2008. LinkedIn

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