Quick take on the top 4 diets

Here’s the skinny on four of the most popular diets in the country. Before embarking on any diet, talk to your doctor first.


Philosophy: High-protein, high-fat meals fill you up and burn fat as long as you restrict carbohydrates that would otherwise be burned first.

Creator: The late Dr. Robert Atkins, New York City cardiologist. The original Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution was published in 1972.

  • Legal foods: Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, high-fat cheese, butter, cream, oil.
  • Restricted foods: In phase one, all fruits, most vegetables except for certain leafy greens, all grains, sugar, milk. Some carbs reintroduced in next three phases.

Pros: Quick weight loss (initially water). No hunger. Large and satisfying portions.

Cons: High in saturated fat. Low in fibre, calcium, vitamin D, phytonutrients and antioxidants. Expensive to sustain. Risk of constipation, bad breath, headaches, gout, kidney stones.

What’s for dinner? The Atkins diet allows a high-protein, high-fat meal, such as steak with Béarnaiseauce and steamed broccoli.

South Beach

Philosophy: Eating lean protein, low-glycemic carbs and good oils such as canola leads to weight loss.

Creator: Dr. Arthur Agatston, cardiologist in South Beach, Fla., and author of the 2003 book The South Beach Diet. The Zone diet, the G.I. diet and the Sugar Busters diet are similar.

  • Legal foods: Lean meats, poultry, fish, low-glycemic vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini), low-fat cheese, olive and canola oil, some nuts.
  • Restricted foods: In phase one, all fruits, high-glycemic vegetables (potatoes, corn, carrots), milk, sugar, alcohol.

Pros: Quick weight loss (initially water). No hunger. Three meals and three snacks a day. Many carbs including whole grains reintroduced in next two phases.

Cons: Low in fibre, calcium, vitamin D. Recipes can be time-consuming. The May 2004 Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter lists many inaccuracies in the book, such as saying a baked potato with low-fat cheese or sour cream is less fattening than a plain one.

What’s for dinner? The South Beach diet emphasizes leaner protein and restricted carbs as in a dinner of baked fish, stir-fried vegetables and green salad.

Fit for life

Philosophy: Foods must be eaten in certain combinations or they “rot” as fat. Protein and most carbs can’t be eaten at the same meal; fruit must be eaten alone.

Creators: Harvey and Marilyn Diamond in the 1985 book Fit for Life. The Suzanne Somers diet is similar.

  • Legal foods: Proteins with vegetables. Carbs with vegetables. Fruit and fruit juices by themselves on an empty stomach.
  • Restricted foods: Protein-carb combinations such as cheeseburgers, cereal with milk, ham sandwiches. Fruit combined with anything else.

Pros: Emphasis on fresh, natural foods.

Cons: Mid-morning hunger (breakfast consists only of fruits and fruit juices). Risk of low protein and calcium. May be difficult to eat out.

What’s for dinner? Fit for Life suggests keeping protein and carbs separate, so meat is excluded in a meal of pasta with tomato-basil sauce accompanied by a fresh vegetable salad.

Weight Watchers

Philosophy: Monitoring intake by counting food “points” value instead of calories, combined with social support, leads to weight loss. Points are based on a food’s fat, fibre and calorie content.

Creator: Jean Nidetch, an obese New York City woman who started a weight-loss group with female friends in 1963.

  • Legal foods: All foods, as long as the total amount doesn’t exceed the day’s allotment of points.
  • Restricted foods: Nothing, unless the points quota has been met for the day.

Pros: Limits caloric intake. Encourages a balanced diet. Offers moral support.

Cons: Membership costs money. Counting points can be time-consuming. Regularly starving all day to save up points for evening binges doesn’t promote a higher metabolism or healthy eating habits.

What’s for dinner? Weight Watchers focuses on balanced meals based on a point system: broiled chicken, couscous with raisins,  and a vegetable medley.