Fats vs. Carbs: the ultimate diet question

It seems like every other day there is a new fad diet and also, that every other day, the benefits of a fad diet are getting called into question. This week was no different. The New York Times ran the article, “A Call for a Low-Carb Diet that Embraces Fat” this weekend about how research is suggesting that “low-carb” really is the way to go. So let’s talk about low-carb diets!

The article suggests that these diets might be on to something. “People who avoid carbohydrates and eat more fat, even saturated fat, lose more body fat and have fewer cardiovascular risks than people who follow the low-fat diet that health authorities have favored for decades”, a major new study conducted by funds from the National Institutes of Health and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found.

The three major diets that taut the “low-carb” message are the South Beach Diet, Atkins, and the Dukan Diet. (Paleo also falls into the low-carb diet category but is much more restrictive…) Today, we are going to tell you about the best of these diets, the South Beach Diet.


From information gathered on Wikipedia, South Beach is a diet plan designed by cardiologist Arthur Agatston and dietician Marie Almon as an alternative to low-fat approaches such as the Ornish Diet and the Pritikin Diet advocated by the American Heart Association in the 1980s.

The South Beach Diet is relatively simple in principle. It replaces “bad carbs” and “bad fats” with “good carbs” and “good fats.” According to Agatston, hunger cycles are triggered not by carbohydrates in general, but by carbohydrate-rich foods that the body digests quickly, creating a spike in blood sugar. Such foods include the heavily refined sugars and grains that make up a large part of the typical Western diet. The South Beach Diet eliminates these carbohydrate sources in favor of relatively unprocessed foods such as vegetables, beans, and whole grains. Carbohydrate sources are considered “good” only if they have a low glycemic index.

The South Beach Diet eliminates trans-fats and discourages saturated fats, replacing them with foods rich in unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acid. Specifically, the diet excludes the fatty portions of red meat and poultry, replacing them with lean meats, nuts, and oily fish.

Agatston divides the South Beach Diet into three phases, each progressively becoming more liberal. “Phase 1” lasts for the first two weeks of the diet. It eliminates all sugars, processed carbohydrates, fruits, and some higher-glycemic vegetables as well. Its main purpose is to get rid of the hunger cycle. “Phase 2” continues as long as the dieter wishes to lose weight. It re-introduces most fruits and vegetables and some whole grains as well. “Phase 3” is the maintenance phase and lasts for life. There is no specific list of permitted and prohibited foods. Dieters are expected to take what they have learned and apply it to their life without any guidance.

While the South Beach diet does prohibit foods rich in simple carbohydrates such as white bread, white potatoes and white rice, it does not require dieters to forgo carbohydrates entirely or even measure their intake. Instead, it focuses on the “glycemic impact” (short term change in blood glucose) of foods. Many vegetables are permitted even in phase 1. Complex, fiber-rich carbohydrate sources such as brown rice and 100% whole grain bread are permitted during phase 2. Agatston has tried to distance the South Beach Diet from “low carb” approaches: “It is my purpose to teach neither low-fat nor low-carb. I want you to learn to choose the right fats and the right carbs.” In fact, there is a vegetarian variation of the South Beach Diet, which is relatively high in carbohydrates.

For this reason, South Beach is the best fad diet out there. It really is a lifestyle change and less of a diet.

And now the research is finally supporting the “low-carb” movement. It should be noted that the Times article ends with a suggestion from one of the doctors involved in the study, Dr. Mozaffarian, the Dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, who said “the research suggested that health authorities should pivot away from fat restrictions and encourage people to eat fewer processed foods, particularly those with refined carbohydrates.” Isn’t that we have been saying all along?

Enjoy the weekend!


The FITgals

P.S. Look at the South Beach website for tons of recipes and suggestions. BE WARNED: things like PAM spray will be recommended in many of the recipes – and we do not recommend them. Replace PAM with olive oil (and generally, replace canola oil in recipes with EVOO as well…)


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