Saturday October 11, 2003

The South Beach Diet

I have been reading "The South Beach Diet" by Dr. Arthur Agatston. (The hardcover book is currently on sale for softcover prices ($15) at both amazon.com and Barnes & Noble; there are used copies available as well through amazon.com starting at $11.75.

Dr. Agatston is a cardiologist who started investigating diet as a way to help his overweight patients lower their weight, cholesterol, and triglycerides and reduce adult diabetes and pre-diabetes symptoms. The patients shared the diet success with friends and family and it's become very popular.

Rich and I have been looking through various "diet" schemes, reading the books, comparing what they say to what we believe makes sense. So far, The South Beach Diet is the closest to what I think makes the most sense. It's low-carb but not no-carb. It's not "high fat" nor is it "low fat". It's not "all protein" and it's certainly not a starvation diet. It draws a distinction between "good" and "bad" carbs (and between "good" and" bad" fats) . It's not so much a "diet" as a lifestyle change.

  • Some fats are better for you than others: fish oils, nuts, olive and canola oil, the liquid fats

  • Some fats are worse: the highly saturated fats (the stiffer it is at room temperature, the more saturated)

  • Some are really bad - the "trans" fats (invented by people to try to address the Heart Association's suggestion to cut down on saturated fats; the "solution" was worse than the problem)

  • Some carbs are better than others: less processed, less refined, more fiber, less cooking - whole grain bread, raw veggies, foods with more fiber content, wild rice are better.

  • Some carbs are worse for you: refined sugar, juice vs whole fruit, white flour, baked potatoes, quick-cooking rice. ("white" foods :-)

Dr. Agatston discusses the Atkins and Ornish diets and gives his reasons why he thinks his way is better. He says his purpose is to teach neither low fat nor low carb but rather how to learn to choose the right fats and the right carbs.

His major objection to the Atkins diet is the "liberal intake of saturated fats". He says:

"there is evidence now that immediately following a meal of saturated fats, there is dysfunction in the arteries, including those that supply the heart muscle with blood. As a result, the lining of the arteries is predisposed to constriction and clotting. ... None of this was known when Dr. Atkins developed his diet. But we know it now."

Ouch. (I assume the reason the Atkins diet has not been updated to reflect the new knowledge is largely due to the fact that Dr. Atkins is no longer alive; no, he didn't die of heart failure.)

Dr. Agatston's major objection to the Ornish diet plan (severe fat restriction and liberal consumption of carbohydrates) is threefold:

  1. it is very difficult to follow
  2. most polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are good for you
  3. the high carb intake can induce prediabetes syndrome (at least 25% of Americans are prone to this syndrome)
He says Ornish developed the diet "when the deleterious effect of refined carbs was virtually unknown"; Ornish is putting greater emphasis on high-fiber carbs today.

I like the book because it not only talks about how to eat (and how not to eat) but why. It explains how food is digested, how blood sugar rises and falls, how insulin works, what aspects of food make it digest faster or slower (particle size, "gelatinization" of starch, acidity, fiber, fat content).

Dr. Agatston uses the analogy of drinking alcohol - we all know that alcohol on an empty stomach goes to the blood faster than alcohol taken with food. Apparently carbohydrates work the same way. A plain baked potato will actually put the sugar in your blood stream faster than a baked potato with butter and sour cream. The fats slow the digestion of the carbs, you feel full faster, you eat less — the "unadorned" potato is actually more "fattening"!

He's got notes from and stories of patients (and non-patients) who have not only cut way back on their weight but lowered their cholesterol and triglyceride numbers substantially, reduced diabetes symptoms, and generally feel better.

And... I like this diet because it describes something that I know to work. When I was in High School I decided I was too chunky and I needed to lose weight. And I did. I "invented" my own version of what is now the South Beach Diet. I stopped eating bread and potatoes. No gravy, potato chips. I cut out cake, cookies, ice cream, candy. I stopped eating margarine (today, I know margarine has trans fats; also, margarines then were all corn oil — today we know that olive and canola are much better oils). I ate smaller portions; I stopped snacking. It worked.

Rich and I have been working at this since the first of September and we have noticed a steady improvement. We don't miss bread and potatoes. Our weight is a bit lower, Our clothes are more comfortable. We don't feel hungry.

Rich got a blood lipid profile run last week at our local drugstore (they do cholesterol screening and such once a month and his values (while not great) are the best on record for him so far.

I recommend the book (and the "diet"). We'll keep you posted.

ref: The South Beach Diet, Dr. Arthur Agatston, M.D.; Rodale; 2003; ISBN 1-57954-646-3

The South Beach Diet ( in category Special Interests ) - posted at Sat, 11 Oct, 14:38 Pacific | «e»