The Zone Diet is one of the five most-discussed diets currently being endorsed. Developed by Barry Sears, a former researcher at MIT, it is based on maintaining insulin levels by striking a balance between carbohydrates and proteins at each meal.
Sears suggests that the major cause of obesity is an imbalance of insulin in the body. He maintains that the diet currently recommended by most medical institutions is high in carbohydrates and low in fats – a combination which he contends contributes to the production of too much insulin and results in obesity.
The Zone Diet is based on the concept of achieving a physiological state in which insulin and eicosanoids, two hormones, are maintained in zones that are carefully balanced. By controlling the balance of insulin and eicosanoids, you increase the loss of fat and decrease the likelihood of heart disease and diabetes, decrease inflammation and increase blood flow, and increase your physical and mental stamina.
The Zone Diet
The diet program of The Zone is designed to balance your intake of protein and carbohydrate at 1 part protein to 4 parts carbohydrate. It advises a moderate intake of carbohydrates, proteins, and fat in order to control insulin. It prescribes a maximum amount of low-fat protein at one meal at 3-4 ounces, which is nearly exactly the recommendation of the USDA and the FDA. The majority of carbohydrates on the Zone diet come from vegetables and fruits, with limited amounts of bread, rice, potatoes, and grains. Most fat intake should be from monounsaturated fats like olive oil, safflower oil, and other ‘heart-healthy’ oils.
While this sounds a good deal like the Atkins diet (restricting carbohydrates), the differences are very clear. Atkins recommends a diet high in protein without regard to fat, with the intent of provoking ketosis, a potentially unhealthy condition. High carbohydrate diets recommend increasing carbohydrate levels and inducing the production of insulin which, maintains Sears, increases weight gain. Instead, the Zone Diet recommends achieving an optimal balance of nutrients with moderate amounts of proteins, carbohydrates, and fat all playing a part.
The other component of the Zone diet worthy of note is the supplementation of the diet with fish oil. Fish oil, particularly pharmaceutical grade fish oil, provides omega 3 fatty acids which are an important component in healthy cells. Study after study in the past five years has confirmed the importance of fish and omega 3 fatty acids in the diet.
A sample meal on The Zone’s eating plan might include:
1 3 oz portion of broiled salmon
Spinach salad with apples and walnuts dressed with walnut oil and lemon juice
1/2 cup of brown rice
1 glass fruit or vegetable juice
The eating plan recommended by The Zone diet combines small portions of low-fat proteins, fats, and fiber-rich vegetables and fruits. It also suggests eating some protein with each meal or snack, and at least 3 meals and 2 snacks daily.
Who should use the Zone Diet?
As always, if you’re under the care of a physician for any chronic medical condition, you should consult them before embarking on any diet plan that substantially changes your eating habits. There are significant differences between the Zone Diet and that recommended for diabetics and heart patients, for instance. Overall, the recommended portions of foods and the balance between them are consistent with a healthy diet and are maintainable for a lifetime.