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Dieters Weigh Choices: South Beach vs. Atkins

Source:  Dayton Daily News Wednesday, January 07, 2004
Author:  Ann Heller

At any bookstore the diet books may span multiple floor-to-ceiling bookcases. Eyeball the display and it looks like 80 running feet of diet books, with well more than half of them devoted to low-carb diets.

The names are familiar: Atkins, South Beach, Sugar-Buster’s, The Zone, Protein Power. But the big sellers are last year’s The South Beach Diet and the 2002 Dr.Atkins New Diet Revolution in paperback.

South Beach, by cardiologist Arthur Agatston, has been on the New York Times best-seller list for 38 weeks and currently is No. 2, leading the pack. The Atkins New Diet Revolution claims No. 2 on The New York Times paperback list, but Atkins for Life has slipped off that list.

Low-carb diets have been around – and changing – since Robert Atkins introduced his high-protein, low-carb diet in 1972.

Agatston, author of The South Beach Diet (Rodale, $24.95), developed the diet to meet the needs of his heart patients who were not successfully losing weight on low-fat/high-carb diets.

His is not a low-carb diet, he says. He takes the approach of urging dieters to eat “the right carbs” – fruits and vegetables and, eventually, whole grains – but it still means forgoing the “white carbs” – white potatoes, white bread, white rice and pasta (except for whole wheat pasta) – for the rest of your life.

What sets the South Beach Diet apart is the emphasis on lean meats, unlike the Atkins regimen that dieters translated to mean dinners of unlimited steak and salad with blue-cheese dressing – with bacon and eggs for breakfast. Atkins himself maintained that doing Atkins – reducing carbs and increasing protein – on a low-fat regimen wouldn’t work.

But South Beach author Agatston says he has a major problem with the liberal intake of saturated fats on the Atkins Diet. Agatston makes a point that his is not a low-fat diet, but rather one that incorporates “the right fats” – such as olive oil and canola oil. It is designed to limit saturated fats, allowing only some lean beef, pork and lamb, with meal plans dominated by fish and chicken.

While the diet may be lower in saturated fats, he does not recommend most low-fat prepared foods in which “the fats are replaced with carbs, which are fattening,” he writes. He endorses regular mayonnaise over reduced-fat mayo, and full-fat ice cream – on special occasions – over the low-fat versions, in which the fat has been replaced with sugar. His one exception is recommending low-fat cheese, milk and yogurt.

While both South Beach and Atkins diets prohibit any alcohol during the intense 14-day “induction” stage of the diet, the two differ on coffee. Agatston promises, repeatedly, that the dieter can have coffee.

“Some diets prohibit coffee or tea because caffeine does intensify cravings somewhat.” he writes in the South Beach book. “But you’ve got enough changes to contend with without having to give up your morning coffee, too.” Curiously, however, the South Beach diet plans, interwoven in the book, stipulate decaffeinated coffee through all phases of the diet. It almost seems as though two different people wrote the text portion and diet plans and recipes of the book.

The same thing is true for eggs.

“We make liberal use of eggs for breakfast, which will alarm some people who have been taught to avoid them due to cholesterol concerns,” he writes. “It turns out that eggs contain no saturated fat and raise the good cholesterol along with the bad. The yolk is a good source of natural vitamin E and protein, too. So eggs are permissible.” However, in seeming contradiction, the specific diet plans call for liquid egg substitutes or egg whites alone.

The book makes no mention of calorie counts, fat grams or portion sizes. “You don’t pay attention to any of that,” he says. “If you’re eating the right foods you don’t need to obsess over how much of them you eat.” Still, in another segment he recommends precisely counting out 15 almonds or 30 pistachios as a snack.

Actually the South Beach book is one where reading the text, rather than the menu planners and recipes, is the most informative.

Consider these conclusions and observations:

” “You know by now how bad white bread is for anyone trying to lose weight. Each slice is worse than a spoonful of table sugar.” When you have graduated to a slice of whole grain (not “whole wheat”) toast with breakfast, butter (within limits) is a better choice than jelly or jam “since fat slows down the absorption of the carbs in the bread.”

” “Stay clear of instant oatmeal…less fiber, more bad carbs.”

” On the special occasion of eating a hamburger, the ketchup has to go (too many sugar carbs) but not the mayo, in moderation. “Remember to use the regular kind, not the low fat. Regular mayonnaise is high in fat, but it is predominantly soybean oil, a good fat.” If a bun with the burger is a must, make it a whole-wheat pita or sourdough bread. “While sourdough bread is not whole grain, it has another quality that decreases its glycemic index – it is acidic. Acid slows down the stomach’s emptying of food into the small intestine, meaning slower overall digestion and slower increase and subsequent decrease in blood sugar.” Slower is always better. Foods with a high glycemic index create more carb cravings later.

Even though that burger meal may be a rare celebration, remember that french fries on the side are diet wreckers. “Even potato chips are a wiser choice. French-fried sweet potatoes are better yet.”

” Eating pizza: “If you can switch from deep dish to thin crust, you’ve made a difference. And, if, along with the olive oil and tomato sauce and part-skim cheese, you add some green peppers, onions, mushrooms and olives, you’ve added lots of good nutritious carbs that will make the dish more filling. In place of beer, try a glass of red wine. Now it’s a whole new meal: not quite health food, but better than take-out deep-dish pizza.

” Eating in a restaurant: As for drinks, start with water. “Feel free to have a glass or two of red wine (which is actually good for your health and not terribly fattening). Avoid white wine, spirits, or, worst of all, beer.

“The rapid rise of blood sugar caused by guzzling this beverage stimulates a corresponding rise in insulin production, which encourages storage of fat around the midsection,” he writes. “Now you understand what’s behind the beer belly.”