South Beach Diet

February 22, 2016

The South Beach Diet is a weight-loss diet first popularized in 2003 by cardiologist Arthur Agatston and outlined in his best-selling book, “The South Beach Diet: The Delicious, Doctor-Designed, Foolproof Plan for Fast and Healthy Weight Loss.”

It is important to understand from the outset that the South Beach Diet is a commercial weight-loss diet that makes money for those who sell its various products. There are many South Beach Diet products, including conveniently pre-packaged foods and cookbooks widely available both in stores and online. Commercial diets that provide accessible foods and are easy to follow also provide a steady profit stream to those selling its products. However, you don’t actually need to buy the products in order to follow the diet. 

The South Beach diet, which is named after a glamorous area of the city of Miami Beach, is a “modified” low-carbohydrate diet. It is lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein and fats than is found in most typical weight loss diets of its era. However, it is not an extremely low-carbohydrate diet. And in that respect, it is actually easier to follow for protracted periods of time.

The South Beach diet employs the glycemic index of foods and glycemic load (their relative amount) to explain which carbohydrates a person should avoid.  There is some evidence that increases in blood sugar resulting from high glycemic foods can boost appetite and therefore increase both food consumption and weight gain. Over the long term, weight gain and associated insulin sensitivity can contribute to many forms of cardiovascular disease.

The South Beach Diet distinguishes those dietary fats that are said to be “good” from those that are “bad”. It also limits fats that Dr. Agatston argues are unhealthy while emphasizing foods with “healthier” (monounsaturated) fats.

The South Beach Diet also emphasizes the consumption of whole grains and increased amounts of dietary fibre. Many fruits and vegetables are also part of the South Beach Diet.images-5

The main goal of the diet is to alter the ratio of the foods most people already consume in order to encourage weight loss and a healthier lifestyle. Dr. Agatston suggests that a ratio of higher protein and lower carbohydrates than is commonplace is a healthier way of eating whether you want to lose weight or not. For many people this actually may be true, but it is not true for everyone. It depends on where one starts, how active a lifestyle one already has, and many other individual factors.

One of the attractive aspects of the diet—and probably the reason it is still popular—is that people find they can adhere to it for a sustained time period, perhaps even over a lifetime.

The diet itself is a three-step program:

  1. the first phase eliminates many high glycemic items in order to reduce cravings and induce some relatively quick weight loss.
  2. the second phase slowly reintroduces some of these in smaller amounts and in an altered ratio with proteins in order to continue weight loss.
  3. the final phase is a maintenance diet designed to keep weight off. The diet emphasizes that in phase three, all kinds of foods can eventually be eaten in moderation, including some snacks and desserts which you can buy over the counter, as well as make for yourself.

Does the South Beach Diet actually work?

There are no specific long-term, randomized controlled clinical trials that we know of that are designed to measure the health outcomes of the South Beach Diet.

There have been no studies of the overall health or cardiovascular benefits of following a low-glycemic-index diet in healthy adults either. While eating foods like whole grains, unsaturated fats, vegetables and fruits could help to promote better health for many people, none of these very general items are inherently good for everyone. Some whole grains, for example, have high gluten content that can be very difficult for some people, while others do not. Some saturated fats are not a problem, and not all unsaturated ones are actually good for you. And vegetables and fruits vary greatly in their vitamin, fibre, sugar, and caloric content.

While altering the ratio of protein to carbohydrates is likely to lead to weight loss in the first phase of the diet, at least in part because that also reduces caloric intake, it is overly simplistic to suggest that this simply reduces cravings, though in some individuals it may do so.

Are there risks to the South Beach Diet?

The South Beach Diet probably has little risk because the first phase of the diet is short, and it only alters the ratio of foods already consumed.

Severely restricted carbohydrate diets do lead to ketosis, where the body uses stored fat for energy, and in some individuals this can lead to discomforts including nausea, headache, mental fatigue, and occasionally dehydration and dizzy spells. Bad breath is also often reported when the body is in ketosis. However, the South Beach Diet is not a severely restricted carbohydrate diet so most of these problems are not likely if one is actually following the recommended three sequences of the diet.

Speaking with a knowledgeable professional before starting this (or another) diet is a good idea, especially if you have any health concerns or are taking any form of medication. And prior to beginning any diet plan it’s also a good idea to read about its limitations, then evaluate the diet and formulate your own views of its recommendations in a balanced way.

The most trenchant online critique of the South Beach Diet is probably one written by Joseph Mercola.
Mercola’s criticism is quite detailed and we recommend reviewing it on your own. However, it can be summarized as follows:

  • There are inaccuracies around carbohydrates especially with respect to normalizing insulin levels
  • toxin levels in fish are underestimated, and the costs of relying on them in a diet are exceptionally high
  • milk allergies associated with caselin are problematic
  • saturated fats from healthy sources are actually good (not bad) and we need more of them
  • artificial sweeteners (aspartame) are unhealthy
  • trans-fats are dangerous and ought to be avoided at all costs
  • carcinogenic oils such as those in peanuts containing traces, or more of afflatoxin are dangerous
  • the dangers of dependence on statins is unrecognized
  • weight loss will not occur in many individuals;
  • and finally, too little exercise is recommended.

Mediterranean Diet

March 14, 2016

The Mediterranean Diet

When people imagine the Mediterranean region, pastoral images of ancient hill towns, picturesque island fishing villages, sunshine, warm smiling people, and of course good food and wine are often part of the picture. Not surprisingly, the “Mediterranean” diet is associated with the good things in life too–and perhaps a longer life in which to enjoy them. And while some (butimages-2 not all) studies of the Mediterranean diet are indicative of longer life-spans, they are strongly associated with a healthier life, especially for people who suffer from cardiovascular disease, or are at risk of developing it.

Key components of the Mediterranean diet include:

  • Mainly consuming a broad range of plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
  • Using spices and herbs, especially those high in trace mineral and vitamin content rather than much salt
  • Using olive oil rather than other oils or butter
  • Consuming some lean red meat, but only two or three times a month
  • Eating fish and/or poultry several times a week
  • Drinking (mainly red wine) but always in moderation. This is entirely optional, especially if there are any problems associated with alcohol consumption–such as diabetes, alcoholism, liver problems or simply personal preference or religious belief.
  • Sharing and enjoying meals with both family and friends
  • Staying active–walking, dancing, swimming, playing sports, music, etc.

An extremely important aspect of this diet is the role that fresh vegetables, nuts and whole grains play in it. It’s abarley-kernel-germ-germinating-cereal-flakes-725x544n antioxidant rich diet where fats are mainly derived from nuts and olive oil rather than dairy products or meat. The least processed forms of olive oil contain antioxidants and help reduce LDL (low density) cholesterol associated with coronary diseases and many other illnesses. The nuts and oily types of fish in the diet also provide a regular supply of Omega-3 fatty acids that improve cardiovascular health by lowering blood sugars, decreasing blood clots, lowering blood pressure and strengthening the entire vascular system. The nuts, chicken and fish all provide a reasonable amount of high quality protein as well because they are nutrient dense. That is, it doesn’t take a lot of nuts or small oily fish to provide a solid amount of protein and healthy fats in a compact form.

3060935008_994195f247_oResearchers have noticed that in many parts of the Mediterranean, especially where people adhere to traditional diets, life expectancy is quite long. Cardiovascular diseases are also less common than in other developed countries. Many clinical studies have been conducted to understand why this is so.


One of the most widely cited recent, large cohort studies was carefully conducted over nearly 5 years. Known as the PREDIMED study, it compared a low fat control group with two different Mediterranean diet subgroups–one with additional olive oil in their diet, and the other with additional nuts. The PREDIMED study generated many specific studies of various subgroups such as diabetics, or those with heart disease, and also contained some overall large scale findings.

A recent review of 5 of the major publications [1] showed that both of the Mediterranean groups fared much better than the low-fat diet group on virtually every measure, including not dropping out of the study (which many of the low-fat diet group did).

The Mediterranean diet was statisticallyfruits & veggies in tray significant for men in many ways, but generally not so much for women. Statistical significance means that a result is highly unlikely to be due to chance. In the broadest terms, the diet with extra nuts was marginally better than the one with increased amounts of olive oil–especially for those with what is called metabolic syndrome. This is a grouping of metabolic measures that combine to increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. They include increased blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, abnormal cholesterol levels and abdominal obesity. Over the course of the five years, far fewer of those on the Mediterranean diet actually became diabetic than those on just the low fat diet. In one of the largest cohort comparisons (7,216 participants) the risk of death was significantly lower for those who consumed nuts compared to the other groups. This may be largely because those consuming Omega 3 rich diets had far fewer heart attacks than those of the other groups–and heart attacks are often fatal. The diet also has been shown to reverse metabolic syndrome markers by very large percentages in controlled comparisons.

One final factor associated with this diet is the ability of people to change their lifestyle and stay on it. In that respect, the Mediterranean diet tends to work. It is a traditional diet which emphasizes the social role that food (and moderate drink) play in helping people to lead fulfilling lives. It’s not a diet associated with denial, or dietary restriction of calories, but with lifestyle changes that improve overall health and life satisfaction through what people eat, and how they eat. It can lead to some gradual weight loss if people eat “sensibly” (not too much) and don’t drink very much (or any) alcohol, and avoid any sweets other than fresh fruits and some honey.

Overall, the Mediterranean Diet points to the simple fact that healthy eating should not be about living a dull, unfulfilling life. On the contrary, a focus on denial not only diminishes life itself, but it just doesn’t work. After reading through the comparisons, many readers may wonder why anyone actually stayed in the low-fat diet cohort during the entire course of study. Perhaimagesps someone should have invited them over for a nice Mediterranean style dinner. Given the numbers of controls who left the study, maybe that’s just what happened: they gave up, called some friends, and finally just went out “for Italian”.

[1] Gunnars, Kris November 2015

Atkins Diet

March 14, 2016

What is the Atkins Diet?

In 1972, cardiologist Roger C. Atkins, MD, published Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution, which was followed in later years by a series of newer versions and cookbooks. The latest updated version, Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution includes the diet that people interested in this approach should follow. The Atkins diet was among the earliest of a series of diets which dramatically reduce carbohydrate intake, control calories, and also recommend some daily exercise—even moderate forms like walking—as an effective element for weight loss and control. Exercise is not required, but strongly recommended in the Atkins plan. The Atkins diet is still widely used because it is accessible and generally helps people to lose weight, relatively quickly, and if they stick to the recommendations, to keep excess weight off.

Four Phases of the Atkins Diet

The Atkins diet includes four phases beginning with the elimination of nearly all carbohydrates and anything that includes added sugar for approximately two weeks. The subsequent three phases gradually broaden the diet to inclucutting-meat-19578277de some carbohydrates at a rate of about 10 grams of carbohydrates per week in the later phases until a weight goal is reached. At that point a maintenance diet is recommend. The diet does include up to two snacks a day, which helps control some cravings. Those following the diet are expected to measure their carbohydrate and overall calorie intake, and to drink adequate amounts of water.

This diet allows for consumption of high levels of animal protein and fats, though there is a vegetarian version that includes plant protein sources—so it is not just a ‘high meat’ diet, which is an often-voiced criticism. Rapid initial weight loss is common, and is due both to calorie reduction and through ketosis, a state where the body burns fat, rather than carbohydrates and sugars. The temporary side effects of ketosis may include nausea, mental fatigue, headaches and bad breath. It is also a diet that should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women. People with heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels, should talk with a healthcare professional before starting any diet, including this one.

Does the Atkins Diet work?leafy lettuce

Short answer: yes, if you stick with it. Diets excessively high in fat can be a worry for people who are already fat. And while care should be taken not to go overboard with the consumption of things like bacon, full-fat ice cream, etc., healthy fats are an integral part of nutrients that we all require, and so eliminating them is not wise either.

Research using carefully controlled comparisons conducted with people who are already experiencing serious health problems associated with obesity, such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome risks, have been conducted on many low carbohydrate diets including the Atkins diet. Many direct, controlled comparisons between low-carbohydrate diets and low fat diets have been completed and they reveal that low carbohydrate diets nearly always show weight loss well beyond that experienced by participants who are just on low fat diets.

Diets that are low in carbohydrates and higher in protein and fat usually lead to feeling satiated, so people don’t eat as much or feel hungry quite so quickly between meals. Both of these kinds of diets lead to reduced caloric intake—and weight loss. But it happens faster, and may last longer for people who reduce carbohydrate intake than for those who strictly reduce fat intake yet take in roughly the same amount of calories.

A concise review [1] of the findings published in 23 peer review journals (which included studies of the Atkin’s diet among them) concluded that when low-carbohydrate and low fat diets are compared, people not only lose significantly more weight much faster on low carbohydrate diets, but that no adverse effects were reported for either form of diet. Blood pressure tends to drop in both types of diets. In research where people actually follow the low carbohydrate diet very closely to the end of the study, blood sugars can drop well below the level that require diabetics to use medication. Slightly more people were also found to adhere to low carbohydrate diets, probably because they reduce hunger due to adequate fat and protein intake. Where diets are unsatisfying, people often abandon the study because they lose motivation to continue. On that basis, low carbohydrate diets are superior, but faster weight loss can also be highly motivational on its own.

Overall, since low carbohydrate diets (including the Atkins diet) are effective and include no serious adverse effects, they have much to recommend them for most people, most of the time.

[1] Gunnars, Kris, (July 2015)