A dozen ways the South Beach Diet is wrong

The South Beach Diet book has enjoyed phenomenal sales, and you will likely find the volume on many bookshelves. In my opinion, that’s where the book should stay, because the dietary advice provided by its author, cardiologist Arthur Agatston, MD, is less than healthful or helpful, and sometimes nonexistent.

What do I mean by that?

Yo-Yo Effect. The South Beach Diet is a three-phase program, with the promise that you will lose as much as 13 pounds within the first two weeks while you follow an Atkins-like diet plan. Phase 2 involves the addition of fruit and beans, and then Phase 3 lets you eat just about anything you want. But if you begin to gain weight, you are instructed to return to Phase 1. This is an example of yo-yo dieting, which is associated with many health problems.

Carb Confusion. The diet can be confusing when it comes to carbs because it promotes consumption of fruits and whole grain breads. This recommendation can be way off base for people who are intolerant or even mildly sensitive to gluten as well as for individuals who have difficulty controlling insulin levels or who are hypersensitive to high carbohydrate intake.

Milk Misstep. Despite the prevalence of allergy to pasteurized casein, Agatston recommends drinking commercial pasteurized milk. No information about this common allergy is provided even though many people are not even aware they are affected. This misstep could result in many people suffering needlessly from milk allergy symptoms.

Saturated Fat Slam. While it’s true you should limit your intake of saturated fat, your body does need some high-quality sources (e.g., avocadoes, organic butter, organic coconut oil) for optimal functioning. The South Beach Diet, however, slams saturated fat for everyone, and this is not healthy.

Unreasonable about Unsaturated Fats. This popular diet takes the unreasonable stand that all unsaturated fats are good, yet this is far from true. In fact, many people have a diet that promotes an unhealthy ratio of omega-3 to omega-6, the latter of which are unsaturated fats that promote inflammation. A healthful ratio is 1:1, yet it is far more common to see ratios of 1:20 or 1:50.

Fishy Advice. The South Beach Diet is big on fish, which may come as no surprise because of the title! However, the diet fails to properly warn you that virtually all fish are sources of some type of contamination, from mercury to PCBs and various pesticides. These toxins are associated with neurological disorders and should be avoided by everyone. Omega-3 fatty acids can be safely obtained from certifiably clean fish oil supplements and wild caught, sustainable fish populations.

Bitter Sweetness. It’s well known that the artificial sweetener aspartame has been associated with numerous health issues ranging from headaches to diabetes and behavioral problems. The South Beach Diet recommends including this sweetener in your diet. Enough said.

Peanut Perils. Peanut butter is a popular and convenient food, but it is also fraught with perils. Yet The South Beach Diet promotes this food without addressing two important perils: the fact that peanuts are heavily treated with pesticides and that most of them are susceptible to a mycotoxin called aflatoxin, a human carcinogen. Agatston fails to advise consumers to look for peanut butter made from Valencia peanuts, which are much less likely to be contaminated with this toxin.

Weight Loss Woes. You cannot count on losing weight with The South Beach Diet because it depends a lot on the glycemic index for guidance. This index includes foods that are not associated with losing weight. For example, if you were to follow Dr. Agatston’s advice and choose low glycemic index foods such as Snickers bars, apple juice, and pizza, the pounds are not likely to drop off.

Exercise Shortcuts. If you are reading a weight loss book, chances are you are not participating in enough physical exercise to help with your weight loss efforts. Yet Dr. Agatston recommends only 20 minutes per day. This amount is fine for people who are physically fit, but probably not for the readers of this book. Without a more rigorous recommendation for exercise, along with the diet, weight loss will be much more elusive.

Emotionally Challenged. The advice provided in this diet book fail to adequately address a big issue: the emotional side of eating. Most people who try to lose weight have to cope with factors such as low self-esteem, feeling sad or depressed, and food cravings, which can be considerable hurdles to overcome. The South Beach Diet does not provide readers with sufficient tools to take on this challenge.

Fried Food Fallacy. It is common knowledge that trans fat is unhealthy, especially for the heart and circulatory system. Yet The South Beach Diet claims that foods cooked in oil, such as potato chips and French fries, are better for you than baked potatoes.

The South Beach Diet is just one of many fad diets on the market that can makes promises and claims that are suspect and even hazardous to your health. If you want to lose weight, talk to a knowledgeable healthcare professional so both of you can develop a healthful, life-long program (and not just a diet) that fits your unique needs.


Craig Cooper

By Craig Cooper

Craig Cooper is a serial entrepreneur, venture capitalist, author, and TV host of CNBC's "Adventure Capitalists". He is an “Ambassador” for both the global men’s health foundation “Movember” and 2XU, the performance sportswear company. He is the author of the Harper Collins book “Your New Prime: 30 Days to Better Sex, Eternal Strength, and a Kick-Ass Life After 40“. Follow Craig on Instagram @craigcooperrrr and Facebook.