Atkins and South Beach Diet Approaches
The Atkins and the South Beach diets offer different approaches to reducing insulin response levels. Both diets emphasize low carbohydrate consumption in order to avoid a high insulin response, which is thought to increase cholestrol levels and inhibit the body's ability to break down fats. Instead, the Atkins and South Beach diets attempt to achieve a lower and theoretically healthier insulin response by restricting carbohydrate consumption in different manners. Given this common objective, it is possible to compare the Atkins diet and the South Beach diet based upon their respective dietary requirements and insulinemic effects.
First, terminology important to understanding the theory behind both the Atkins and South Beach diets must be defined. Insulin response refers to the body's release of insulin as a reaction to the digestion of carbohydrates. Once carbohydrates enter the digestive process, they are broken into their constituent sugar molecules, absorbed by the small intestine, and then are transferred to the blood. These newly-absorbed sugar molecules cause the blood's sugar concentration to increase. The body responds to this increased sugar concentration by releasing insulin into the bloodstream, which carries the sugar to muscle cells to burn; excess sugar is carried to fat cells for storage1. The body uses these stored sugars for energy as needed throughout the day. Finally, metabolism refers to the overall process by which the body processes food and harvests energy.
Keeping these definitions in mind, the Atkins dietary approach might be described. It is a four-phase program that begins with an induction phase that lasts for two weeks. During induction, one eats fats and proteins liberally, consumes no more than 20 grams of good carbohydrates (i.e. fibrous vegetables) per day, and is allowed absolutely no fruit, bread, grains, starchy vegetables, or dairy products other than cheese, cream, or butter2. Phase two lasts 3-4 months and incorporates slightly more low carbohydrate foods (nuts and seeds), fibrous vegetables, and even berries3. Phase three typically last 2-3 months and introduces Atkins-acceptable fruit (identified in the Atkins diet plan) in small, controlled portions4. Phase four, which lasts for the rest of one's life, is similar to phase three, emphasizing limited, measured portions of certain carbohydrates and liberal amounts of fats and proteins5.
Basically, the Atkins dietary plan is premised on the idea that foods predominantly comprised of carbohydrates, such as bread and sugar, should be replaced by protein and fat (the other two major food groups6) and foods lower in carbohydrates, like nuts and olives. The Atkins plan holds that these latter foods, also known as good carbohydrates, produce a lower insulin response than would occur with higher carbohydrate foods7, also known as bad carbohydrates. Likewise, fibrous fruits and vegetables are...