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South beach diet: everything you need to know

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The South Beach diet focuses on choosing healthy carbohydrates and fats so you can drop excess weight while lowering your risk of developing heart disease.

The plan unfolds in three phases, and average weight loss runs between 8 to 13 pounds during the initial two weeks. There’s no need to count calories or tally up carbohydrate and fat grams. Three meals and two snacks each day make hunger an unlikely issue.

Cardiologist Dr. Arthur Agatston designed the diet with help from dietitian Marie Almon in the 1990s to improve patients’ poor results using low-fat diets. Originally developed for heart disease patients, the plan later gained general popularity as an effective weight-loss diet. (1)

The restrictive introductory phase of the South Beach diet is set up to stabilize blood sugar levels as it jump-starts weight loss. (2)

Initial success can help with ongoing motivation to follow the South Beach diet plan, and more food choices are allowed in the second phase. Weight loss after phase one usually levels off at a pound or two a week for most dieters. (3)

For those who want to drop ten pounds or less, starting with the second, more liberal phase can be a viable option.

Getting Started

Some people may find the list of prohibited foods difficult to stomach, but succeeding with the South Beach diet depends on your ability to follow the plan.

There are plenty of approved foods to choose from:

  • Lean meats and fish, all you want in every phase of the plan; this includes fish, shellfish, chicken, turkey
  • Low-carb vegetables and salads in generous portions, up to 4 ½ cups daily
  • Eggs, beans, soy products and legumes
  • Low-fat dairy products, a maximum of 2 cups a day
  • Healthy fats, up to two tablespoons daily, including extra-virgin olive oil, avocados and nuts

You won’t be eating or drinking anything listed below during the first phase:

  • Fruit or fruit juice
  • Starchy foods like rice, potatoes or pasta
  • Whole grains, including bread, crackers and brown rice
  • Sugar and all foods made with sugar and other sweeteners
  • Alcoholic beverages

Phase 2 starts at the beginning of week 3 and is less restrictive. Continue eating lean meats and fish, as well as low-carb vegetables in abundant quantities.

Begin the process of reintroducing good carbs like whole grains and fruits. You can enjoy a glass of red or white wine with dinner if you like, as well as a low-carb, high protein dessert.

While snacks are required in the first phase, they’re optional once you pass the two-week mark. Gradually reintroduce carbohydrates as you keep an eye on the scale. For example, you might add in a single piece of fruit the first day, and a slice of whole-grain bread the next.

If you stop losing weight, back off on the carbs. Experiment with which kind of foods support slow and steady weight loss for you, as well as what amounts you can tolerate.

Since everyone’s a little different, some people might continue to lose weight while adding carbs from fruit sources and stall out when they add grains. For others, it could be the opposite.

Low-carb, high-protein desserts like ricotta cheesecake can be added as long as they don’t hamper your progress. Recipes can be found on the website, along with advice about how to limit yourself to three bites when you can’t resist ordering a rich dessert when eating out with friends. (4)

Once you’ve dropped the weight you need to lose, you enter the maintenance phase; Dr. Agatston recommends following phase 3 guidelines for the rest of your life.

  • Don’t think of any food as off-limits; continue to use good judgement with choices and portion control as you apply the new habits you’ve instilled
  • Keep fruit servings to 3 daily
  • Eat up to 4 servings of starchy foods each day if you like
  • Focus on quality fat sources with the day’s total around two tablespoons

Since the South Beach diet allows unlimited quantities of lean, quality protein, following the plan could round up your grocery bill. Branded food is available, but not required for success.

You may also find yourself spending more time in the kitchen, but dining out can be workable with careful planning. It helps if your favorite restaurant is amenable to substitutions.

Dr. Agatston says you’ll lose weight following the South Beach diet whether or not you combine it with exercise, but he recommends including moderate cardio workouts like brisk walking as part of your health plan. (5)

Trials and Studies

In a randomized trial conducted in 2004, results were compared between subjects following the South Beach diet and a control group following a standard, low-fat diet. The South Beach group dropped twice as much weight over 12 weeks. During a second study done the following year, similar results were reported, and cholesterol measurements of the South Beach diet group also decreased. (6)

While the South Beach diet is primarily focused on weight loss and long-term maintenance, other health benefits can be achieved with the reduction of abdominal fat. (7)

Lower carbohydrate plans, like the South Beach diet and the Atkins diet, have proven effective for burning off both abdominal and intermuscular fat. Positive effects on fat distribution, as well as insulin sensitivity, have been noted with adults classified as high risk for developing type 2 diabetes. (8)

With any diet plan encouraging unlimited consumption of lean protein foods, it’s important to make sure adequate fiber is included in daily food intake. The USDA recommends 38 grams per day for men and 25 for women. (9)

Since fruits are allowed only in moderate quantities on the South Beach diet, focus on low-carb vegetables like lettuce, broccoli, green beans, and cauliflower to keep dietary fiber at healthy levels. If you need to rely on a laxative for regularity, you’re not eating enough fiber. (10)

Summary: The South Beach diet is effective for fast weight loss up-front, and moderate for keeping weight off long-term (11)

Engine 2 diet: vegan with a twist

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The Engine 2 diet is a vegan diet with an unexpected twist: no vegetable oils allowed.

A firefighter and athlete with a strong health background, Rip Esselstyn wrote the bestselling book, The Engine 2 Diet: The Texas Firefighter’s 28-Day Save-Your-Life Plan That Lowers Cholesterol and Burns Away the Pounds.

The book covers everything you need to know for nourishing yourself on a vegan diet to prevent and reverse heart disease.

Esselstyn’s great-grandfather, George Crile, was a co-founder of the Cleveland Clinic; his father, Caldwell Esselstyn, served at the well-known medical facility as chief of surgery, conducting extensive research on how plant-strong diets affect heart health. (1)

While other heart-healthy diet plans limit fats, especially saturated fats from animal sources, the Engine 2 diet takes the approach a step further. According to Esselstyn, the best way to incorporate vegetable fats in the diet is through consuming them in their whole and natural form.

Consuming excess amounts of omega-6 fatty acids found in vegetable oils has been shown to increase the risk of developing autoimmune diseases, cancer and heart disease. (2)

As for fats in animal foods, Esselstyn believes they promote the formation of plaque that clogs arteries, which translates to bad news for heart health.

Plant Power

Esselstyn is a former professional athlete and a go-for-it kind of guy, so the Engine 2 diet plan also includes suggestions for improving fitness. He recommends weighing yourself and getting a cholesterol test before you start the program so you can track progress.

Besides cutting out animal products and vegetable oils, the diet calls for ditching all processed foods.

There’s a choice up front in how you want to tackle necessary changes for embracing the Engine 2 diet: a complete lifestyle overhaul, or the more gradual “fire cadet” approach.

Also known as the 28-day challenge, the cadet method may be more appealing to some, especially if they’ve been eating in a fairly mainstream style.

Vegans, vegetarians and others with powerful motivation to make a big leap and reap benefits as soon as possible prefer taking a hard left turn; if you find this appealing, get started by emptying the refrigerator, freezer and pantry of all animal products, processed foods and anything with more than 2.5 grams of fat per hundred calories.

Restock with vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, and whole grains.

The 28-day challenge allows the option of wading in a week at a time. During the prep week, you’ll reorient your ideas about which foods are your friends, and which aren’t.

Toss or give away anything that doesn’t fit Engine 2 diet guidelines. Support and information are available on Esselstyn’s website, where you can also watch videos designed to coach you through each phase. (3)

The 28-day challenge goes like this:

  • Week 1 – eliminate all processed foods and dairy products
  • Week 2 – get rid of animal products like eggs, fish and meat
  • Week 3 – cut out any added oils from your diet
  • Week 4 – stay with it and settle in to the program

That’s it. If you’re handy in the kitchen, you may do well with adapting your own favorite meals to the plan. Esselstyn’s book, The Engine 2 Diet, has plenty of recipes and menus, and more are available in his follow-up offering, My Beef with Meat: The Healthiest Argument for Eating a Plant-Strong Diet.

You can eat all the plant foods you want and you’ll still lose weight while your cholesterol levels drop. Esselstyn says the key to weight loss and heart health is eliminating processed foods and oils.


Esselstyn is in good company with his enthusiasm for plant-strong diets, though most don’t go to the extreme he proposes. For example, the Flexitarian diet recommends including limited amounts animal protein once or twice a week and focusing on plant foods the rest of the time.

The potential benefits in using a plant-based diet for reducing cholesterol levels are still being explored. Stanford conducted a comparison of two diets for lowering lipid levels over a 4-week period.

One was a standard low-fat diet, and the other was a low-fat diet with greater quantities of nutrient-dense plant foods like fruits and vegetables. The group eating extra plant foods experienced more dramatic drops in total cholesterol. (4)

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine states health issues like heart disease, obesity, cancer and type 2 diabetes may be more competently managed or even prevented through adopting a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. (5)

The National Institutes of Health reported in 2012 that the greater levels of fiber intake common for subjects following plant-based diets is likely a contributing factor to healthier triglyceride measurements, as well as lower blood pressure and total cholesterol levels. (6)

Surveys confirm that meat-eaters typically run heavier than vegetarians and spend more money on medical expenses; those who include meat in their diets also develop chronic illnesses at higher rates than those who don’t. (7)

Since animal products provide our bodies with vitamin B-12, vegans should supplement to make certain this need is met. When the body lacks vitamin B-12, red bloods cells may grow enlarged and cause various malfunctions including muscle weakness or neurological disorders like dementia. (8, 9)

Getting other necessary vitamins, minerals like zinc and iron, and essential fatty acids found in fish oils, along with sufficient protein you need for vital health, shouldn’t be a concern in Western populations where a wide variety of foods are available. (10)

Only about a third of the world’s population lives on a meat-based diet, and the rest rely primarily on plant foods for nourishment. Since plant-based diets draw less heavily on water and land resources, anyone making this shift for health reasons can also help improve ecological balance through adopting a more sustainable diet. (11)

While the number of Americans who consider themselves true vegetarians is still small at about 5% (12), the trend toward plant-strong diets continues to grow.

The Engine 2 diet has attracted a large following, and if you’re game to give up the oils, it might be what the doctor ordered. Like Esselstyn, you’ll be in good company with others who are enjoying the all-you-can-eat buffet of plant-based foods, packing around less body fat, and protecting their tickers from artery-clogging animal fat.

Dukan diet review: everything you need to know

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The Dukan diet takes the power of protein for weight loss to the extreme with an initial phase of protein-only menus.

French physician Pierre Dukan developed the diet to help patients lose weight fast and redesign eating habits to stabilize weight permanently.

Allowed foods in the introductory Attack phase include meat, fish, poultry, non-fat dairy, eggs, vegetable protein like seitan and tofu, pork, and game meats. You also eat oat bran, and beverages are limited to water and non-caloric drinks like diet soda.

The time period for Attack phase varies depending on how much weight you need to drop. For 20 to 40 pounds, it’s typically about five days, and you can eat all you want.

Without carbohydrates to supply fuel, the body burns stored fat through the process of ketosis. According to a report by the National Institutes of Health, a ketogenic diet may protect against neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. (1)

Next comes the Cruise phase: continue eating mostly protein, with certain vegetables allowed on certain days. Expect to drop 2 to 4 pounds weekly.

The Dukan diet has stringent rules, and success depends on a dieter’s ability to follow guidelines to the letter.

If you do well with following rules, you’ve got a good chance at making the Dukan diet work for you.

The time you spend in each phase of the diet is calculated according to your age and how much weight you want to lose, as well as how much yo-yo dieting you’ve done in the past. Dr. Dukan says you should run the plan past your doctor before you begin.

Here are the loose guidelines for how long to stay in the Attack phase: a day or two if you want to go down ten pounds; between 3 and 5 days for 20 pounds; up to ten days for more than 20 pounds. (2)

An online survey of 1500 respondents in 2010 reflected an average loss of nearly 16 pounds in the first two phases. (3)

Four phases of the Dukan diet:

  • Attack – only protein foods are allowed. This strategy puts your body into a state of ketosis; ketones are flushed through urine, so drinking 6 – 8 glasses of water daily is vital. You flush out water as your body begins to burn fat. Take 1.5 tablespoons of oat bran daily to provide a few carbs. Walking is the recommended exercise.
  • Cruise – expect to spend about 3 days for every pound you want to drop. Add non-starchy vegetables on alternating days, or customize the alternation pattern to suit your lifestyle and weight goals. Go back and forth (a day of pure protein, then a day of protein and vegetables, or 2 and 2, 3 and 3, etc.); for those with more weight to lose, choose a pattern up to 5 and 5. Walk 30 minutes daily to maximize weight loss. Increase oat bran to 2 tablespoons a day.
  • Consolidation – stay in this phase 5 days for every pound dropped in the first two phases to protect against rebound weight gain. Divide the time into two equal parts. During the first part, add a piece of fruit, two slices of whole grain bread and 1.5 ounces of hard cheese daily; once a week, eat a single serving of starchy vegetables, and splurge on a celebratory meal that includes an appetizer, an entrée, a glass of wine, and dessert. During the second half of this phase, bump up fruit and starchy vegetables to two servings, and have two celebratory meals. Keep taking 2 tablespoons of oat bran.
  • Stabilization – there are no forbidden foods in this phase, so it’s up to you to regulate yourself according to the new habits you’ve acquired. The three requirements: eat 3 tablespoons of oat bran daily; take the stairs whenever you can; one day each week eat only protein, just like in the Attack phase.


While the plan includes a source of fiber (oat bran) even when you’re only eating protein foods, this approach is a far cry from the most-repeated diet advice today: eat abundant quantities of fruits and vegetables.

Studies show high fiber intake can help protect against developing cardiovascular disease. (4) For those with large amounts of weight to lose, the Dukan diet could keep them in low-fiber intake phases for substantial lengths of time.

The National Institutes of Health recently conducted a 14-year study with 50,000 Japanese men and women. Those who consumed more fiber had a decreased risk of cardiovascular disorders. (5)

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine issued a statement that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables can help prevent and manage chronic health conditions like obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. (6)

Focusing on protein is likely to improve insulin response, so that’s good news for anyone with blood sugar problems. Keeping the carbohydrate content of meals low (or almost non-existent, as in the Attack phase) results in stable blood glucose levels. (7)

Besides weight loss, which cuts the risk of developing many chronic diseases, decreasing the amount of carbohydrates in the diet can reduce cholesterol levels and blood triglycerides. (8)

While cholesterol levels have been shown to drop when subjects consumed 20% of calories in soy products as their main protein source (9), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) continues to advise limiting saturated fats such as those found in animal foods like meat as the best way to control cholesterol. (10)

In a recent update for physicians, the USDA advises that recommending plant-based diets to patients should be considered a beneficial dietary strategy that can promote weight loss, drop cholesterol levels and reduce blood pressure (11), all of which are risk factors for developing heart disease.

While the Dukan diet is clear that following the rules, even in the Stabilization phase, is necessary for long-term success, fast weight loss often ends with weight gain up the road. Studies confirm that taking off weight slowly and steadily is more likely to result in keeping if off. (12)

Summary: If you’re determined to drop weight quickly and can shrink your nutrient choices while focusing mainly on protein, the Dukan diet is worth considering.

Vegeterian diet review

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Vegetarian diets come in a few different flavors, but none of them include meat, poultry, or fish.

Lacto-ovo-vegetarians, usually referred to as simply “vegetarians,” use dairy products and eggs. Vegans don’t eat anything with animal origins.

Gallup polls conducted in 2012 show 5% of Americans consider themselves vegetarians, down from 6% about a decade ago. (1, 2)

Some vegetarians make the choice primarily for health reasons, preferring to spare their bodies the challenge of digesting flesh food. Others may be motivated by moral and spiritual considerations, holding the belief that it’s wrong to kill and eat animals. Ecological and sustainability concerns can also be part of the equation for those who choose a vegetarian diet.


The National Institutes of Health reports that a study conducted at Loma Linda University tracked more than 70,000 people over the age of 25 for six years. Almost half the participants in the study were non-vegetarians. These subjects lived similar lifestyles in other aspects; for example, many of them abstained from drinking alcohol or coffee and didn’t smoke cigarettes.

Data collected included mortality rates for various types of vegetarians, as well as for those who included meat in their diets. More than 2500 deaths occurred during the trial; the vegetarians were 12% less likely to die of any cause than those who ate meat. (3)

Other studies have concluded that the rates vegetarians die from heart disease run about 20% lower than meat eaters; for those who include fish but not meat, the rate of heart disease deaths dropped by another 14%, settling at 34%. (4)

Vegetarians tend to have lower cholesterol readings and lower body mass index (BMI) levels. (5) The risk of developing coronary heart disease drops when these measurements are lower.

Other health risks vegetarians reduce by forgoing flesh foods include hypertension (high blood pressure), cancer, dementia, renal (kidney) disease, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis and heart disease. (6)


Most people who adopt a vegetarian diet eat eggs and dairy, which solves the issue of getting enough vitamin B-12. Since this essential vitamin is only present in animal foods, true vegans need a supplement to fulfill the body’s need for B-12.

When the body lacks vitamin B-12, red blood cells can become enlarged and malfunction; other problems arising from this shortage include muscle weakness, dementia and incontinence. (7)

Taking an informed approach to meal planning can address most concerns about including the variety of nutrients important for vital health. An update published by the National Institutes for Health encourages physicians to consider plant-based diets as a strategy to reduce the incidence of chronic disease in their patients; authors note that vegetarians who choose whole foods rather than processed foods are likely to experience positive long-term health outcomes. (8)

Meat-eaters usually wonder how vegetarians get enough protein, but Harvard Health Publication refers to research showing Western vegetarians acquire adequate protein through consumption of foods like nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains. Lacto-ovo vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy products easily meet recommended protein requirements by including these foods. (9)

Vegetarians in Western countries tend to get about the same amount of iron as meat eaters, although the length of time a person has followed a vegetarian diet can have some effect on measurements. (10) While both zinc and iron deficiencies have been noted in vegetarians living in impoverished countries (11), Americans adopting a vegetarian lifestyle aren’t likely to have issue with fulfilling these requirements.

With all the recent attention on low carbohydrate diets, anyone considering the vegetarian lifestyle will want to consider this aspect of food choices.

Many vegetables are low-carb options, including tomatoes, members of the cruciferous group (like broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, etc.), onions, bell peppers, green beans and cauliflower. All leafy greens are low in carbs, and most varieties of squash are also acceptable on a low-carb diet; winter squash are the exception. Hubbard and acorn are examples of starchy varieties of squash.

Fruits can be a little trickier, since higher sugar content rules out certain choices. Compare carbohydrate levels against your personal preferences; choose from fruits like strawberries, blueberries, and grapefruit. Other fruits with less than 15 grams of carbohydrate per serving are peaches, blackberries, cantaloupe and watermelon. (12)

Nuts and seeds are great choices that are low in carbohydrate and high in protein and fat. It’s best to eat a wide variety of foods from this category, and if some of these are unfamiliar to you, get adventurous and find out what you like: pumpkin seeds, walnuts, chia seeds, macadamia nuts, almonds, and hazelnuts will all provide dense, high-quality nutrition.

Some people do well with soy products and can include soy milk, tofu, tempeh and other foods made from soybeans in their diets. Adding edamame (the seed of the soybean plant) as a snack, or pouring soy milk over cold cereal could even help drop cholesterol levels. (13)

Chick peas, also known as garbanzo beans, are a low-carb legume. Choose healthy fats like coconut oil, avocado oil, and olive oil. When it comes to sweets, dark chocolate, which will be low in sugar despite its generous fat content, will be satisfying and still fit into a low-carb eating plan.


A thoughtfully planned vegetarian diet can satisfy your nutritional requirements at the same time as it allows you to respect the environment, as well as animal rights. It’s important to find the balance between your personal preferences and your body’s need for macro- and micro-nutrients.

The wide variety of choices available on a vegetarian diet make it easy to follow for those who have made the decision to forgo meats and other flesh foods. Including eggs and dairy products usually makes a vegetarian diet more palatable and versatile.

Studies of children raised on vegetarian diets indicate nutritional needs can be met for healthy growth, and when good eating habits are instilled at a young age, better habits in adulthood are likely to develop. (14)

If you’ve been considering a vegetarian diet, you’ll have to look hard to find drawbacks when it comes to building long-term good health.