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South Beach Diet Is Hot; Here's Why

The South Beach Diet produces rapid weight loss without counting carbs, fats, or calories.
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It started out simply enough. Arthur Agatston, MD, a cardiologist, decided to develop an eating plan that would improve the cholesterol and insulin levels of his patients with heart disease. Now, the South Beach diet has grown into something much bigger. That's because the plan Agatston created not only improves cholesterol and insulin levels, but it also has helped many people lose weight.


"We've had people lose anywhere from five to 100 pounds on the diet," says Agatston, who is director of the Mount Sinai Cardiac Prevention Center in Miami Beach, Fla. "That's great, but what it really is good at is improving heart patients' lipid profiles."


In clinical trials, people on the South Beach diet see dramatic reductions in LDL (bad) cholesterol and increases in HDL (good) cholesterol. And they do so without much calorie counting.


Agatston's book about his plan, The South Beach Diet: The Delicious, Doctor-Designed, Foolproof Plan for Fast and Healthy Weight Loss, has become a best seller and it appears to be poised to overtake the controversial Atkins diet in popularity.


"My medical orientation has always been in prevention," he says. "The diet grew out of the frustration in seeing more and more patients becoming obese, having metabolic syndrome and diabetes, and all the heart disease associated with those conditions."


Despite the South Beach diet's glitzy title, Agatston's research and inventiveness is well respected in cardiology circles. Among other achievements, he is one of the developers of the electron beam tomography scan, or EBT, a screening method used to detect coronary artery disease and other diseases. EBT scans for this purpose are given a score on the "Agatston Scale," to gauge the severity of the disease.


"This plan really does meet several criteria for a health-promoting diet," says Cindy Moore, RD, a director of nutrition therapy at The Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (ADA). "It appears to be scientifically based. It is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein, and it doesn't omit any major food groups."


So what is the South Beach diet all about?


In the first phase of the South Beach diet, which lasts two weeks, you eat normal-sized helpings of lean meats, such as chicken, turkey, fish, and shellfish. Vegetables are also allowed, as are nuts, cheese, and eggs. A salad with real olive oil dressing is fine. Coffee and tea are OK, and lots and lots of water is required.

The Atkins diet differs in that carbohydrates are severely restricted during the initial phase. The South Beach diet instead groups "good" and "bad" carbohydrates based on their glycemic index, a measure of how foods affect your blood sugar.

"The goal is to eat three balanced meals a day, and to eat enough so that you don't feel hungry all the time," Agatston says.

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