The Zone Diet is a diet that recommends reducing the intake of carbohydrates, to ensure healthy insulin levels, and plenty of consuming omega-3 fatty acids and polyphenols, to prevent "diet-controlled inflammation." The benefits will include healthier weight, less sickness and slower aging.
Dr. Barry Sears, who developed the diet, claims that it is closely linked to ideas of human evolution
Human genes change as their environment changes. This takes hundreds of thousands of years. Therefore, 100,000 years is a relatively short period in evolutionary terms.
Just 8,000 years ago, grains, bread, and pasta were not part of the human diet.
The Zone diet takes this into account and provides a diet plan based on what foods we should eat, according to our genetic makeup.
Contents of this article:
What is the Zone diet?
If you keep your insulin levels under control, you are in "the Zone."
For the last few hundreds of thousands of years, people have mostly eaten food from two food groups:
- Lean protein
- Natural carbohydrates, such as fruits and fiber-rich vegetables.
Spears argues that human genes are still those of the hunter-gatherer, rather than the farmer.
Farming is a relatively new phenomenon, as far as our genes are concerned. In other words, our genes have not yet adapted to consuming farmed products.
Although our genes are programmed to gather fruit and vegetables and catch the occasional prey, people are now consuming large quantities of very dense, highly processed carbohydrates, such as grains and products made from grains.
Pasta, bread, corn flakes, bagels, and so on are generally made from highly processed carbohydrates.
People are not programmed to consume large amounts of processed carbohydrates. When they do, unpleasant biochemical reactions occur within the body.
According to the Zone, the consequences of eating a high proportion of processed carbohydrates include:
The Zone Diet takes into account the human genetic makeup. According to Dr. Sears, the Zone Diet provides the fuel the body really needs for optimum health.
Dr. Sears believes that people get the wrong information about nutrition from friends, family members, weight-loss companies, government bodies, and the media.
Most typical weight-loss programs aim to cut down on fat. As a result, says Spears, people are consuming too much carbohydrate. This causes insulin levels to spike, bodies to accumulate excess fat, and people to become unhealthy.
As people opt for fat-free chips, low-fat cookies and muffins, fat-free ice creams, and so on, they end up consuming more and more carbohydrates. He compares this with eating spoonfuls of pure sugar.
Dr. Sears points out that after 30 years of trying to eat low-fat foods, people have become fatter, rather than leaner.
Controlling carbohydrates is key
The more carbohydrates people consume, the more insulin they secrete. Insulin turns excess carbohydrates into stored fat. Dietary fat does not trigger insulin secretion.
Eating low-density carbohydrates, dietary fat, and protein in the right proportions can help to control insulin production.
Maintaining insulin levels within what Dr. Sears calls a "therapeutic zone" makes it easier to burn off excess body fat, and to keep it off permanently.
Through the Zone, he says, it is possible to improve mental focus and enjoy increased energy and vitality.
Keeping insulin levels within the therapeutic zone means staying in The Zone. That is why this diet is called the Zone Diet.
The Zone Diet has four "pillars," or aims, that each individual must bring together to make the diet part of their way of life.
- Restrict calories without hunger or fatigue
- Maintain appropriate levels of inflammation in the body
- Use dietary polyphenols to activate genes for improved wellness
- Control the inflammation caused by gut microbes.
Adherents should balance carbohydrates, fats and proteins in the following proportions:
- 40 percent carbohydrate
- 30 percent fat
- 30 percent protein.
The idea is that by roughly balancing these proportions in each meal, a person's health and weight will improve.
Calorie consumption on the Zone
In the Zone diet, calorie intake does not have to go down, but what the person is eating has to change.
Fruits and vegetables are good, but not if they contain a lot of sugar or starch.
Guidelines include eating three meals and two snacks every day.
Each meal must have some protein, about the size of a small chicken breast, and each snack should contain some protein
The carbohydrate portion of a meal or snack should be about twice the size of the protein portion. Most of the carbohydrates should be from vegetables, lentils, beans, whole grains, and fruits. These are "favorable" carbohydrates.
A small proportion of the carbohydrates can come from brown rice, pasta, dry breakfast cereal, bread, bagels, tortilla, carrots, fruit juices, and fruits such as mango, grapes, raisins, banana and papaya. These are "unfavorable" carbohydrates. Corn and potatoes are to be avoided, because they contain too much starch.
The meal or snack should also include some fat. Suitable fats are those found in avocado, olive oil, fish oils, and nuts.
Rules of the Zone diet
The Zone diet involves some basic rules:
- A meal or snack should be eaten no later than one hour after waking up in the morning
- Interval between meals should be 4 to 6 hours
- A meal should be eaten between 2 and 2.5 hours after a snack, whether the person is hungry or not
- The individual should consume eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day.
The meal or snack should start with a low-fat protein. Then the person can add good carbohydrates with a low glycemic index, such as vegetables and fruits, and good fats, such as olive oil or avocado.
Typical meal protein should weigh about 4 ounces for men and 3 ounces for women.
Before every meal or snack, the person should assess their hunger level. If they are not hungry and their mind is clear, they are in The Zone.
What is wrong with the Zone diet?
Critics of the diet point out that fewer carbohydrates can lead to a lower fiber intake. Potatoes and whole grains are important sources of fiber as well as carbohydrate.
Cholesterol has been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The recommendation to avoid certain fruits and vegetables has been questioned.
The AHA urges people to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables and to include, for example, bananas and raisins with breakfast. They call on people to check the ingredients of canned, dried, or frozen foods, however, to minimize the intake of added salt and sugar.
Diabetes UK lists as a "myth," the idea that certain fruits are bad, noting that "Grapes and bananas, like all fruit, make a very healthy choice."