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The South Beach Diet by Arthur Agatston, Md
Over the years, the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence and practical weight loss experience have shown that the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet advocated by the American Heart Association, Nathan Pritikin and Dean Ornish does not work.
To make matters worse, the less fat Americans eat, the fatter they get — because they eat more carbohydrates.
We now know that people need enough protein and fat – which are often combined in meat, dairy products and nuts.
People need carbohydrates, but too many carbohydrates send insulin levels too high, add fat to the cells and in the long run lead to many other health problems including heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
Dr. Atkins saw this problem in the 1970s, but his diet went too far in the other direction. It’s all protein and fat, and no carbs. People can’t keep eating like that and, according to Dr. Agatston, high amounts of saturated fat are also bad for the heart. (For the record, he believes that a state of ketosis — when your body goes into fat-burning mode because you’re not eating carbs — isn’t particularly dangerous. But saturated fat is.)
In the 1990s Dr. Michael and Mary Dan Eades published PROTEIN POWER, and Dr. Barry Sears THE ZONE. Although the programs differ in details, both stress getting enough protein and limiting carbohydrates.
Zone Diet Dr. Sears recommends eating 30% protein, 30% fat and 40% carbohydrates. He sets up an entire system — several, actually — to help readers follow his plan.
The South Beach Diet, in my mind, like both, is simplified to the essentials. Dr. Agatston emphasizes eating foods with a low glycemic index. They are fine with whole grain foods as long as they are not processed so they take longer to digest. He rails against white flour and sugar in a way that reminds me of Adele Davis.
So Agatston throws out the idea of Controlling how much food you eat, or how often, or counting calories, or counting grams of fat, or keeping meals with a certain balance of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, or anything else that overcomplicates the process.
Just limit lean meat (he still fights against saturated fat), nuts, milk, grains and vegetables. You can add fruit after the first two weeks.
It obviously works for him. And of course, because it obviously keeps insulin levels somewhat under control – it’s definitely a big improvement over the typical American diet of high glycemic carbohydrates.
I was surprised that in many ways, it was similar to the way my grandparents ate. They don’t have white flour – they eat wheat bread as standard. They eat more fish. They always eat beef and pork, but not as often as chicken. They eat eggs. They eat fruit only in winter, but vegetables throughout the year. They crack walnuts and collect pecans.
They get more exercise just by doing their daily chores, and they are healthier too – except for infectious diseases.
Dr. Agatston approached the science of insulin. I appreciate his explanation of insulin tolerance – it happens because your fat cells grow so large with fat that insulin can’t reach the fat cell’s insulin receptors.
Thus, belly fat helps you stay fat and makes you more prone to heart disease and diabetes.
I’m not a doctor, but I used to take disability claims, and I can testify that I spoke to many people who have a complex of high blood pressure, arthritis and diabetes. And later, heart disease and cancer. And most of them are clearly overweight. I could almost predict everything he was going to say about his medical issues – right down to the list of medications – just from seeing him walk up to my desk.
However, if you want to know more about the science behind why too many carbs are unhealthy for you, you should read Zone’s book.
Personally, I believe that the Zone diet is more accurate, effective and healthy. However, if you can’t or don’t want to keep track of how many Zone blocks you eat at each meal, follow the South Beach diet much more than the conventional American diet.
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