By Arthur Agatston, MD
Developed by a cardiac specialist, the South Beach diet begins with a two-week induction phase that's heavy on protein and low in carbs—fruit is banned. (What differentiates this phase from the Atkins diet is Agatston's more restrictive approach to butter and red meat.) In phase two, dieters increase their carb intake—adding whole grains and a little fruit—until they hit their goal weight. The last phase is maintenance, with a higher daily calorie count. Working with chefs at some of Miami Beach's trendiest bistros, Agatston came up with low-calorie dishes like cherry snapper ceviche and vegetable quiche cups.
What the experts like: The plan "really cuts out the bad carbohydrates," says Miriam Nelson, PhD. Robert Lash, MD, agrees, noting that "eventually you get to a reasonably healthy diet that can be part of a long-term eating plan."
What they don't like: "It's a very appealing diet, but this is a spa menu," Lynne Perry-Bottinger, MD, says, pointing to expensive ingredients and complicated menus that could make it impractical. Another worry for Nelson is that although South Beach initially allows more vegetables than Atkins, it is still protein heavy, and science doesn't know enough about what this could do over the long term to a person's cardiovascular health or immune system.
Crunching the numbers: (All figures are based on a 140-pound, 40-year-old woman who is lightly active.) Approximate daily calories start at 1,850 in phase one, dip to 1,450 in phase two, and end up at 1,750. The protein is high: In phase one, it's 275 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA), and in the maintenance phase, about 200 percent. The diet—definitely low carb—has 180 percent of the saturated fat RDA in phase one, which goes down to a healthy amount in phase two and gets a little high again (121 percent) in the maintenance phase.