Monday, July 15, 2013

Part 3: What About the South Beach Diet?

Originally designed by cardiologist Dr. Arthur Agatston to reverse heart disease in his patients, the South Beach Diet quickly became popular as a means to lose weight. The focus of this diet is identifying "bad carbs" and "bad fats" and replacing them with "good carbs" and "good fats," as well as avoiding or limiting foods that have a high "glycemic impact." He recommends the three phases below, and once in Phase 3, you should return to Phase 1 if you start to gain weight again. He also recommends taking statin drugs like he does (cholesterol-lowering drug).

 photo southbeach_zps3c7834d9.jpg

Summary of Diet Recommendations:
The diet is divided into three phases, as pictured above. Though no specific amounts are advised, the list of foods allowed by phase include:

South Beach Diet: Phase 1
Protein: Beef, chicken, pork, turkey, fish, shellfish, deli meats, and soy-based meat substitutes
Vegetables: Artichokes, bell peppers, broccoli, eggplant, spinach, tomato, zucchini
Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, cashews, flaxseeds, peanuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, walnuts
Dairy and Cheese: Buttermilk, cheese, eggs, milk, soy milk, yogurt
Beans and Legumes: Black beans, cannellini beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), kidney beans, lentils, lima beans
Sweet Treats: Unsweetened cocoa powder, popsicles, gelatin, jams and jellies, syrups
Fats and Oils: Avocado, canola oil, extra-virgin olive oil, olives, salad dressing, vegetable oil spread
Seasonings and Condiments: Extracts, cream cheese (this is dairy by the way), herbs, hot pepper sauce, miso, mustard, salsa, spices
Beverages: Coffee, seltzer, tea, vegetable juice blends
Missing Categories:Whole Grains, Fruit, Starchy Vegetables

South Beach Diet: Phase 2
Protein:No change
Vegetables:You may now include carrots, in addition to the Phase 1 vegetables.
Whole Grains (new in Phase 2):Barley, bread, brown rice, buckwheat, farro, oats, whole-wheat pasta, quinoa
Nuts and Seeds:No change
Dairy and Cheese:No change
Fruit (new in Phase 2): Apples, bananas, berries, citrus, grapes, melons, peaches, pears
Beans and Legumes:No change
Starchy Vegetables (new in Phase 2): Butternut squash, calabaza, pumpkin, sweet potato, taro
Sweet Treats:You may now include pudding, in addition to the Phase 1 sweet treats. (NOTE: pudding is often made with dairy.)
Fats and Oils:No change
Seasonings and Condiments:No change
Beverages:You may now consume alcohol, in addition to the Phase 1 beverages.

South Beach Diet: Phase 3
The website says you "can enjoy any food in moderation...If you find yourself getting off track or if cravings return, you can go back to Phase 1 or 2."

What's Good?
This diet is one small step closer to my dietary recommendations when compared to the Atkins diet. They do include a whole grains category, but only after significant weight-loss has occurred. This diet also includes fruits (only last two phases), vegetables, and beans/legumes.

What's Bad?
I find the lack of specifics a little alarming. There are no guidelines on how to prioritize these food categories. If I were looking at potentially starting the South Beach Diet, I would feel very confused and uncertain about how to proceed. I guess that's why they sell pre-packaged food products, so that you don't have to be confused about how to proceed, just buy their packages and you're good to go. To me, that feels more like a food company trying to sell you stuff rather than a diet aiming to improve one's overall health. (FYI, Kraft Foods manufactures the South Beach Diet packaged foods.)

Another important shortcoming of this diet is that the ultimate goal appears to be getting you to a point where you "can enjoy any food in moderation." First, moderation is vague and does not work. A little bacon for breakfast. Soda for mid-morning. A little cheese and butter on your baked potato at lunch. A cookie for the afternoon. A little steak for dinner. You cannot look at each meal in moderation. You have to look at the entirety of what you eat. A little of some bad things adds up to a lot of bad things. Second, this diet seems to be designed to fail. It seems that following this diet will only result in short-term weight-loss, because if (read: when) you gain weight again, just go back and start with Phase 1 again. I don't know about you, but I would like to eat a diet that doesn't result in my weight yo-yo-ing all over the place.

Also alarming is the fact that Agatston recommends cholesterol-lowering medication. If his diet were successful at reversing heart disease as he intended it, medication would not be required. The fact that he himself is not a picture of health is very alarming and should send you running in the other direction if considering this diet.

Fun Facts about Statin Drugs
Only 1.6% of people avoid a heart-attack and only 2.6%
of people avoid a repeat heart-attack taking statin drugs.

10% of statin patients receive muscle damage
Eating a healthy diet can reduce cholesterol as much
or more than statins in one week (up to 80mg/dl)

As you might have guessed, I strongly disagree with several of the food categories all together. High amounts of animal products, like meat and dairy, leads to the over consumption of animal protein, which leads to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, poor bone health, high cholesterol, and obesity.

I also think it's backwards to focus on the glycemic impact of foods. Take the white potato for example. The potato is a wonderful, healthful food. It's a complete food (contains basic nutrient requirements). One potato has 170 calories, 0 g fat, 25 mg sodium, 37 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 2 g sugar, and 5 g protein. It also contains vitamin C, iron, and calcium. That is a wonderful nutrient profile. All of the carbs are great for giving you energy. Where you get into trouble with this food is that you typically encounter it hidden beneath butter, sour cream, cheese, and bacon bits...or just plain fried up and salted. But the potato itself is a very healthy food. Omitting it is absurd. Foods that pose a real threat to diabetics are high-fat, high-protein foods...exactly like the ones promoted in the South Beach and similar diets.

This is definitely a high-fat diet, because they specifically and foolishly think there are such things as "good fats." All oils, yes, even olive oil, are 100% fat (remember from Part 1: What About the Standard American Diet? that 2 Tbsp of olive oil per day adds 24 lbs of body fat per year). There are no nutrients from oils. All oils will do is add empty calories, making it that much more difficult to lose weight and maintain your weight. They are completely unnecessary. Plant-foods that are higher in fat, like nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, and nut butters are nutrient-rich foods that have a higher fat content. These foods are good for you, but can make it difficult to lose or maintain weight if consumed too often.

Bottom Line:
This very vague diet falls short in promoting one's health. It seems to be more of a food manufacturing company's efforts to sell products than a health-promoting entity. High-fat, high-protein, low-carb, and low-fiber diets are one of the worst choices for improving one's health.

Next -- Part 4: What About the Nutrisystem Diet? 
Previous - Part 2: What About the Atkins Diet?
Introduction to the 10-Part Series

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