The South Beach Diet: All Wet

The majority of the best-selling diet titles in history have been sold during just the last 5 years.[53] One of the latest steak oil salesmen is Dr. Agatston, whose South Beach Diet appeared a year after Atkins’ latest and sold its first million copies in just 2 months.[54] Currently, subscriptions to his website alone bring in a million dollars a week.[55]

The Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter weighed in on the South Beach Diet in their May 2004 issue: “Disappointingly, the South Beach Diet is simply yet another version of a fad wrapped within a gimmick.” They concluded that it was “based on fallacies… replete with faulty science, glaring nutritional inaccuracies, contradictions, and claims of scientific evidence minus the actual evidence.”[56]

The article notes, “The faulty and confusing science is compounded by The South Beach Diet’s own internal inconsistencies.”[57] Up front, for example, the author says that his diet doesn’t depend on exercise, but then goes on to tell people to get 20 minutes a day.[58] He tells readers to avoid bananas in “phase 2”; then goes on to recommend: bananas dipped in chocolate sauce. He says up front that the diet is “distinguished by the absence of calorie counting or even rules about portion size” and that one shouldn’t “even think about limiting the amount you eat.” He then, of course, proceeds to count calories and measure out servings every step of the way, even to the point of specifying “I recommend counting out 15 almonds or cashews.”[59] That sounded like a rule about portion size to the reviewers.

Tufts lists a few of the “out-and-out food and nutrition inaccuracies” in The South Beach Diet.[60] Agatston says that whole-wheat bread is not whole grain, but cous cous is (actually the reverse is true). He claims watermelon is full of sugar but cantaloupe is not (they have the same amount). For a cardiologist who claims, “I feel nearly as comfortable in the world of nutrition as I do among cardiologists,”[61] Dr. Agatston “sprinkled an awful lot of nutrition gaffes throughout his book.”[62] He claims eggs have minimal saturated fat–wrong. Each egg can have as much as 2 grams,[63] giving some of his recipes over a third of one’s daily limit.[64]

To be fair, though, he does frown on lard, although the Atkins corporation is quick to point out that the South Beach menus do not have significantly less saturated fat than Atkins.[65] Just as Atkins himself claimed he followed his diet for decades yet, according to his own cardiologist, was overweight,[66] Agatston revealed that he needs to take medication to lower his cholesterol.[67] Agatston, at least, doesn’t call fruit “poison.”[68]