Nearly two decades after the South Beach Diet became a household name, it’s still the absolute easiest low-carb plan to follow — that’s according to a prestigious panel of experts, including top docs from Harvard and Yale, who rank diets each year for USNews.com. But South Beach creator Arthur Agatston, M.D., is not one to rest on his laurels.
The Florida-based cardiologist recently decided to see what would happen if he added elements of the popular keto diet to his famous plan. The result? “It takes both to the next level!” he promises. “You get the fat-burning benefits of keto, but in a way that’s easier to start and easier to sustain.”
Dr. Agatston makes a confession in The New Keto Friendly South Beach Diet ($16.99, Amazon), “I used to cheat on my own diet,” he admits. A lover of sweets, his small indulgences spiraled out of control, and he packed on 20 pounds. “One night, I snuck into the kitchen after my wife was in bed and finished off a blueberry pie,” he shares. It was a turning-point moment. He vowed to recommit to his approach and improve its ability to control cravings. Research on the keto diet caught his eye, and he began experimenting with its best facets. He ended up with an upgraded South Beach Diet that beat his sweet tooth, melted his belly, and was soon winning raves from patients.
The weight-loss phase of the new South Beach is now much closer to keto, keeping carbs lower and allowing for lots of healthy fat, including full-fat cheese, nitrate-free bacon, and more. What sets this South Beach apart? Instead of limiting carbs to the keto standard of 20 grams a day, you get 50 grams, making room for small servings of beans, sweet potato, and fruit. “This means you get more fiber and other nutrients crucial to overall health and weight loss,” the doc notes. “And allowing yourself more carbs is less stressful.” That’s key since stress hormones damage the thyroid and accelerate belly-fat storage. “Plus, it feels better, so you stick with it.”
Keto and Blood Sugar
Unlike stricter regimens, keto-friendly South Beach reduces intake of sweets and starch just enough so the body can no longer make adequate blood sugar to fuel itself. This prompts the body to begin turning fat (from both food and fat cells) into ketones, compounds that gradually become its new fuel. “You begin burning excess fat at a significantly faster rate,” explains Dr. Agatston. “You also trigger a cascade of changes in your body that improve overall health.”
Issues caused or worsened by chronically high blood sugar — including carb cravings, diabetes, fatigue, high blood pressure, and more — quickly begin to resolve. Eliminating blood-sugar spikes also brings down inflammation throughout the body, improving conditions like joint pain, asthma, and sleep apnea. “It’s not just about weight loss. You experience a surge of vitality.”
Here’s a nice bonus: Once your system has had time to heal damage from excess blood sugar, “you can safely increase the carbs in your diet to up to 100 grams per day,” says Dr. Agatston. How soon can you do this? He admits the old South Beach let folks increase carb intake too quickly. “You need to wait at least a month, but it’s probably even better to use your belly fat as a guide. When most of it is gone, it’s a sign that you’ve corrected the way your body reacts to carbs. You’ve turned off your fat-storage ‘switch’ and can have regular servings of healthy carbs and even the occasional dessert without gaining an ounce or reactivating cravings!”
The South Beach Keto Meal Plan
Giving South Beach Diet meals a keto twist is all it takes! Check out our sample menu below.
Breakfast: Beat 10 eggs. Pour in greased muffin tin. Add diced cheese and veggies. Bake at 400°F until set. Makes 4 servings.
Lunch: Enjoy sliced meat with 1–2 cups salad and 2–3 servings of fat, such as avocado, nuts and/or olive-oil vinaigrette.
Drinks: Sip lots of water and unsweetened tea. Bone broth is great too; its nutrients help you adjust faster to fewer carbs.
Dinner: Grill or sauté shrimp in butter and herbs; serve with cauliflower rice and salad with olive-oil vinaigrette.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.