The very question – can one be a vegetarian and still eat according to the South Beach Diet – is very likely based on a misconception. This food regimen is often mistaken for the Atkins diet, particularly since they have certain underlying premises in common. But the differences between them are what makes it much more possible to be a vegetarian on the South Beach than on the Atkins.
Both of them – the more recent incarnation of the Atkins as well as the South Beach – base much of their thinking on the Glycemic Index. This is the index, developed in the 1980s, that measures how much of a blood sugar spike comes from various types of carbohydrates.
But the way the Atkins diet uses it is much different. The reasoning is that the body must be removed from its dependence on carbohydrates, and switch over (at least for a while) so that it’s burning up the body’s excess fat as an energy source instead. And there is a lot of meat protein allowed, even encouraged, on this diet. It’s easy to see why one would wonder about vegetarianism, if they think this is the sort of diet they’re talking about.
However, when it comes to the South Beach diet, the answer to the vegetarian question is pretty much, “Well, why ever not?” This diet can easily be adjusted to a vegetarian emphasis.
Think about it. The South Beach deals with both carbohydrates and fats. On the carbohydrate side, most of those would be coming from fruits, vegetables, and grains, with only a little (if any) from meats and fish. Aside from the meat and fish, this is what a vegetarian would be eating anyway.
What about the side of the equation dealing with fats? A vegetarian might be eating processed foods with trans or saturated fats, and would need to get rid of them in favor of the healthier types of fat. There are many vegetables and nuts that contain this kind of fat. The originators of the diet, however, do recommend supplements of Omega-3.
And in fact they suggest a possible calcium supplement as well, depending on how many calcium-rich vegetables are consumed. But certainly the protein needs of vegetarians can be met with products like tofu, as well as beans and other vegetables.
In most cases, going on this diet as a vegetarian will be much easier and less drastic than it is for other people. In a way, half the job has been done already. The main difficulty – and also the main reason why even vegetarians have been getting fatter in recent years – is the processed foods. Taking these out of the diet will have the same results for vegetarians as for anyone else.
Another problem might be that some vegetarians rely a little too much on certain carbs – pasta and rice, for example – to make up a meal in which meat is not a prominent feature. But adjusting to a diet that has more unprocessed vegetables, fruits, and legumes, and somewhat less pasta, would again not be as difficult for vegetarians as for a lot of others in a meat-oriented society.
Far from being an obstacle to eating according to the South Beach diet, vegetarianism might simply be regarded as one of the steps toward that way of eating, a step that’s already been taken.