Trendy South Beach Diet draws vegetarians into low-carb craze
By CORALIE CARLSON
Associated Press Writer
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- The South Beach Diet is known for producing svelte bikini-clad bodies on its namesake sands, but now the diet's promise to melt away belly fat is drawing an unlikely group into the low-carb craze: vegetarians.
For years low carb and vegetarian diets have been on opposite ends of the eating spectrum - when an Atkins dieter orders a bunless burger, a vegetarian orders a burgerless bun.
But Dr. Arthur Agatston, a Miami Beach cardiologist who created the South Beach Diet, said he developed a vegetarian version of his plan long before it became a best-selling book and diet to the stars.
Now about 4,000 vegetarians use his diet's Web site, which offers meatless meal plans and recipes. Vegetarian Times magazine featured the diet in its January edition. And vegetarians inundate Agatston with calls when he appears on radio and talk shows.
"I have been surprised that so many vegetarians have called," he said.
He isn't the only one.
"I get, 'What do you mean? Isn't that low carb? How do you do low carb and be a vegetarian?'" said Deborah Pavek, a 42-year-old vegetarian in Salt Lake City who lost 13 pounds after nearly two months on the diet.
David Patlak, a 6-foot-5 retired Coast Guard officer who has kept off 50 pounds on Agatston's plan, said: "People are shocked that I'm this tall and I'm a vegetarian. Then they're even more shocked when I say I'm on the South Beach Diet."
Part of the allure may be that South Beach allows more carbs - followers prefer to call it a modified-carb plan instead low carb - than some other diets.
"I haven't done Atkins because I don't eat meat and there's no way I could eat all that tofu," said Jann Marks, 45, of the Chicago suburb of Darien. She's lost 15 pounds on the South Beach Diet.
So what does a South Beach vegetarian eat?
Lots of vegetables, beans, legumes and soy products. Fruit and whole grain foods - like whole wheat pasta and old-fashioned oatmeal - are allowed in moderation in the second and third phases of the diet.
If the vegetarian eats eggs and dairy products, those are allowed too - as long as dairy is low-fat.
Here's how it works: The first phase is the most restrictive, cutting out all fruit, bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and baked goods. It lasts for two weeks and promises eight to 13 pounds of weight loss.
Vegetarians might not see such dramatic weight loss in the first phase, said South Beach dietitian Marie Almon, because they are eating more carbohydrates than meat eaters.
In the second phase, dieters lose one to two pounds a week and slowly reintroduce fruit and high fiber, complex carbohydrates to their diet.
Once dieters reach their ideal weight, they move to phase three. At this point, they should naturally make healthy food choices, and eating a few bites of dessert is OK.
Dawn Jackson, a dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, said the South Beach Diet is generally healthy - even for vegetarians - because it helps people make better food choices.
But she offers two suggestions: Don't follow the first phase, which she says is too restrictive, and, don't read the book. She said the diet causes weight loss because it is a low-calorie plan, not because of sugar intake, as the book says.
"Most of the time, for a vegetarian, the best bet is to take their current diet and just make modifications to it," Jackson said.
Vegetarians might be turning toward the popular diet because, like other Americans, many are getting fatter.
"It is more in the era of processed carbs that people say they're a vegetarian and they're still overweight," Agatston said. "People thought they could have all the rice they wanted."
Rice isn't the only problem.
"Ice cream is vegetarian," said Lynne Forti, 41, of Middleboro, Mass., who dropped 10 pounds in two months on the South Beach Diet. "There's a lot of things that are vegetarian that aren't necessarily good for you."
For the 48-year-old Patlak, who lives a mostly vegetarian lifestyle but occasionally eats South Beach's famous stone crabs, a family history of obesity and a sugar-filled diet contributed to his weight ballooning to 300 pounds.
"We were just eating sugar," Patlak said of him and his wife, Maryanne. "Whether it was in root vegetables, whether it was in vegan chocolate, or it was in vegan desserts."
Now he says he's replaced the root vegetables with green leafy vegetables, and the vegan deserts with a homemade yogurt-based pudding.
"I really lost the weight and kept losing it," Patlak said.
He said the diet gave him the confidence and motivation to make other changes in his life, and now he's running for Congress in South Florida as a Democrat seeking to challenge incumbent Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican.
"I don't know if I'd be running for Congress if it weren't for this diet," he said.
Pavek said she gained 45 pounds in three years after she moving from New York to Salt Lake City, where she found a candy jar on every desk at her new office.
The South Beach Diet helped her replace pasta and crusty french bread in favor of big salads, veggie burgers wrapped in low-carb tortillas and snacks of peanut butter with apples or celery.
"I walked into work one Friday and I was in a pair of jeans I had not been able to fit into for the last three years," said Pavek, a quality assurance analyst at a technology company.
Marks said the diet helped her pay attention to what she was eating and she's easily adapting to whole-wheat bread and bunless veggie burgers.
"It's very easy, it's very possible," Marks said, "and I'm not eating a ton of tofu."http://www.heraldtribune.com/apps/pb...5290503&Page=3