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South Beach Diet Critique

What, no cookies, candy, cake or chocolate? What kind of crazy diet is this??

After surviving 2 weeks of deprivation, The South Beach Diet basically advocates healthy eating: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, meat, poultry, fish and olive oil. Are there actually any Americans who don't know this is what they should be eating? So why aren't they? The answer is not found in this book. However, Dr. Agatston seems to be aware that people can only eat this way for a limited time, so his solution is to return to the deprivation period whenever a tune-up becomes necessary.

I believe this mentality of being on and off diets has failed people for quite some time. We need a plan for life, which is physically satisfying and psychologically fulfilling.

The first glaring flaw is a scarcity of satisfying snacks. Desserts of strawberries in balsamic vinegar or blueberries with nonfat, sugar free vanilla yogurt is enough to send any sane person into a binge! There are no suggestions for chips anywhere, so it is implied that chips are for cheaters...have them and you'll be sent back to deprivation quicker than you can finish the bag!

It is much better when people incorporate foods they crave into their plan, so they become managed instead of abused. Forbidden foods are very appealing, and people are likely to sneak them or binge. In fact when healthy versions of "junk foods" are eaten as meals, calories become incorporated instead of added.

For instance, a serving of Genisoy chocolate covered soy nuts has 140 calories, 2 grams of fiber, and 4 grams of protein. A cup of vegetable soup and a few servings of these make a great lunch. Soup's volume is filling and staves off appetite, soy is a good source of protein, chocolate is satisfying, and calories merely total a few hundred. Why not have an organic Van's whole grain waffle with a scoop or two of Breyers all natural ice cream for breakfast one day? The waffle is 95 calories, with 3 grams of fiber and 3 grams of protein. Ice cream is approximately 150 calories per scoop, and has enough protein, fat and sugar to stave off appetite. Here are a few hundred deliciously satisfying calories, with a calcium bonus! Dinner could be protein, fruit, veggies and whole grains, which would complete a calorically reasonable, nutritionally adequate, psychologically satisfying day.

Dr. Agatston says the problem is that some of these foods have a high glycemic index, defined as how much carbohydrates increase sugar in the blood. High glycemic foods cause a quick spike in blood sugar and nearly as quick a decline. He suggests that these spikes lead to more hunger and to inevitable weight gain. However, I have not seen convincing research to substantiate this theory, and besides, mixing fat with protein and carbohydrate minimizes the spike. Nobody eats plain sugar; even a chocolate peanut butter cup or chocolate nut bar has protein and fat with the sugar.

Although carrots are considered high glycemic, it would take over a pound of carrots to spike the blood sugar as high as the index warns. Who eats a pound of plain carrots anyway? If we talk about all natural carrot cake with cream cheese icing, we've got protein and fat reducing the glycemic index of carrots. Which would you rather have???? Count the calories into your plan and enjoy!

Calories are infinitely more important in weight management than the glycemic index, and many influential studies agree that a calorie is basically a calorie regardless if it comes from protein, fat, or carbs. Dr. Agatston states, "Much of our excess weight comes from the carbohydrates we eat, especially the highly processed ones found in baked goods, breads, snacks and other convenient favorites." I emphatically disagree with this basic tenet of his philosophy. Weight is gained when more calories are eaten than burned, and weight is lost when fewer calories are eaten than burned. If people are losing weight on this diet it is most likely because they are taking in fewer calories than before embarking on this diet.

My other major concern is The South Beach Diet's reliance on artificial sweeteners. Why do we have an abundance of artificially flavored diet foods available along with the highest obesity rate ever? His desserts primarily consist of ricotta crème mixed with different extracts and sugar substitutes. He also suggests having fat-free, sugar-free vanilla pudding, and sugar-free gelatin dessert. I don't know about you, but these sound disgusting to me.

They are probably toxic as well. Most sugar free products contain aspartame, an artificial sweetener which has been linked to headaches, brain tumors, and several other symptoms. Some research found that it worsens chronic conditions because of the accumulation of formaldehyde as it breaks down.

Recent studies found that aspartame lowers serotonin levels, and is therefore contraindicated for people with mood disorders. How many of us eat inappropriately when stressed or depressed? Most people with weight problems crave carbohydrates, which are loaded with serotonin, a chemical which reduces depression and calms anxiety. Does it make sense for these diet conscious people to be pouring artificial sweetener into their bodies when it only exacerbates cravings? Add that to a low carbohydrate diet, and it spells disaster to me.

Some research found that aspartame could stimulate appetite! How ironic that the diet product of the century can actually increase hunger. I have not seen any studies finding that artificial sweeteners helped people to lose weight and keep it off for any substantial length of time. In fact it was given approval by the FDA under circumstances one senator described as "troubling."

Dr. Agatston mentions using Splenda at times, but pre-approval research pointed to hazards regarding chronic immunological or neurological disorders with prolonged use.

I say "go natural." What if you eliminated foods with artificial ingredients, and stocked up on Newman's Own cookies, Brent and Sam's cookies, Luna bars, Karen's Fabulous Biscotti, Dude's Chips, Tropical Source chocolates, Stretch Island fruit leather, and Kozy Shack chocolate pudding? The USDA suggests the average woman should consume approximately 1600 calories a day, and men can have 2,200 plus or minus, depending on activity level. Eating "healthy junk foods" in addition to fruits, veggies, whole grains, and various proteins will prevent cravings, contribute substantial nutrition, and become a plan people can stick to. Chocolate has been found to have tremendous health benefits, not to mention the delectability factor!

People must create a satisfying plan for themselves which consists of more than 1200 calories per day, since this is the generally agreed upon definition of starvation. Starvation creates biological and psychological preoccupation with food, which sabotages progress and feeds eating disorders.

Speaking of psychology, it is important to cope well instead of eating for comfort...a concept Dr. Agatston dismisses as insignificant. I believe it is significant in varying degrees for different people, but a quick solution for most compulsive eaters is to stick to one food that won't make them fat. For instance, Pirate's Booty is low in calories, yet contains protein and fiber, and is great for abusive eating. It also contains serotonin, as all carbs do, which calms distressed people down. Weight will not be gained so there is no self hatred afterwards, which often stimulates more eating. Let’s take the struggle out of weight management by offering permanent control, through satisfaction with all natural nutrition and incorporating "healthy junk food" into our lives.

Abby Aronowitz, Ph.D. Author of Your Final Diet