What Is the South Beach Diet?

Created in 2003 by cardiologist Arthur Agatston, the central premise of the South Beach diet is choosing the “good” carbs and fats. The carbs you eat are low-glycemic index, which keeps blood glucose levels steady and increases satiety after meals.

High-GI foods, such as those high in refined carbohydrates, including sugar, are avoided. Trans-fats and omega-6 vegetable oils are avoided, while monounsaturated fats from foods like olive oil and avocado are encouraged.

In 2019, South Beach launched the Keto-Friendly South Beach diet. It is even higher in fat and lower in carbohydrates and protein than the original iteration. The plan includes elements of the ketogenic diet – low carbs and high fat – but does not require you to be as strict in limiting your carbohydrate intake, allowing for more variety in the diet. The approach does not require you to be or stay in ketosis to see the weight-loss benefits.

As of August 2022, SouthBeach.com is “taking a break” from its home delivery of meals and a la carte foods. The company recommends people interested in the diet visit its blog site, The Palm, which still offers nutrition, fitness and lifestyle advice, as well as recipes and meal plans. One section includes DIY guides to following the diet at home. In 2015, South Beach was acquired by Nutrisystem, Inc.

  • Gluten-free friendly. Recipes can be easily modified and still follow a gluten-free diet.
  • Halal friendly. Recipes can be easily modified and still follow the diet.
  • Kosher friendly. Recipes can be easily modified and still follow the diet.
  • Low-carb. Low-carb diets contain significantly less calories from carbs than the government’s 45% to 65% recommendation.

How Does It Work?

  • Phase one consists of three meals and two snacks daily, mainly protein and non-starchy vegetables. 
  • During phase two, you’ll be able to add small amounts of whole grains and fruits to your menu, and even be allowed certain types of alcohol. 
  • Phase three should last the rest of your life once you’ve hit your goal weight. No food is entirely off limits, but attention to serving sizes is essential. 

Phase one, the weight loss phase, is the strictest of the three phases but only lasts for two weeks. You’ll be limited to 50 grams of net carbs each day while in this phase, and it will mostly be protein and non-starchy vegetables with very small servings of low-fat dairy products, legumes and berries – as well as sources of monounsaturated fats, including nuts, olive oil and avocado.

Phase two is the maintenance phase, during which you’ll begin reintroducing “good carbs,” including more whole grains, certain types of fruit and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes.

Your net carb intake will increase from 50 grams a day to an amount between 75 and 100 grams, although some people might choose to keep it lower based on how they feel when they add more carbohydrates to their diet.

You’ll reintroduce foods by adding a single serving of carbohydrates to one daily meal for the first week. If you want your extra serving of carbohydrates to be a fruit, it’s recommended that you eat it at lunch or dinner rather than at breakfast. If you want your extra carbohydrate to be a whole grain, you might start with high-fiber, low-carb breakfast cereal or oatmeal.

After this, you can add a second carbohydrate. You will continue to gradually add carbohydrates, one serving a day each week, until you’re consuming up to six servings of “healthy carbs” every day by week six (two or three servings each of fruit, starches or grains and low-fat dairy). You will stay in this phase until you’ve reached your goal weight. During phase two, your lunches and dinners should each contain a minimum of two cups of vegetables.

In the final phase of the diet, phase three, you’ll consume about 28% of your daily calories in the form of carbohydrates. For comparison, the average diet has around 50% of calories coming from carbs.

No foods are off limits, although serving sizes will be limited and you might choose to continue avoiding desserts, alcohol and other calorie-laden beverages, or fatty cuts of meat and poultry (such as fried chicken or sausage). The third phase is intended to be followed for life. If you fall off track, you’re supposed to return to phase one or two for a while.

Throughout all three phases of the diet, it’s recommended that you drink half of your body weight in ounces of water every day.