According to Barry Sears, creator of The Zone Diet, “Enter the Zone”, and you will lose weight, fight the effects of aging, reduce the risk of chronic disorders, boost mental productivity and reach peak physical performance. Hollywood and sporting stars such as Jennifer Aniston, Renee Zellweger, Cindy Crawford, Charlie Sheen, Tom Cruise and Tiger Woods brought the Zone Diet into the mainstream in the 1990’s, making it almost as popular as the Atkins Diet and South Beach Diet. Followers of the Zone Diet claim you can lose at least 5 lbs in the first two weeks, after which you lose 1-1.5 lbs of weight every week.
HOW DOES THE ZONE DIET WORK?
“The Zone” is Sears’ term for proper hormone balance. The premise of the Zone Diet is that the correct balance of macronutrients, i.e. the right combination of fat, protein and carbohydrates at every meal and snack, will help facilitate proper hormone balance. This in turn will help regulate insulin and glucagon levels. The Zone Diet stipulates that excess insulin (a hormone that controls blood sugar levels) makes and keeps you fat. However, by carefully regulating your blood sugar levels and hence keeping your insulin levels in the “zone”, your body burns fat more efficiently and you lose weight. Furthermore, when you are in the zone, your body releases natural anti-inflammatory chemicals (types of eicosanoids), which Sears believes are heart- and health-friendly.
- Insulin is a storage hormone. Excess insulin makes you fat and keeps you fat. Insulin also promotes inflammation.
- Glucagon is a mobilization hormone. In other words it tells the body to release stored carbohydrates steadily, thus stabilizing blood sugar levels. Stable blood sugar levels is important for optimal mental and physical performance.
- Eicosanoids are hormones that have a complex and indirect control over many bodily processes in the body – mainly inflammation or immunity. The amounts and balance of eicosanoids in the diet will affect many bodily systems. A good balance of eicosanoids in the diet can improve health problems such as high blood fat levels (hypertriglyceridemia), cardiovascular disease prevention, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis and possibly psychiatric disorders
The Zone Diet involves a balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat at EVERY meal (i.e. not over the course of a day). The Zone Diet is essentially a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet that includes moderate amounts of fat. To achieve “The Zone”, every meal and snack should provide 40% of calories from carbohydrate, 30% from protein and 30% from fat. This is a 40:30:30 macronutrient ratio. A Zone meal starts with a palm-size portion of low fat protein, adds twice as much good carbohydrates and then a little good fat, which is approximately 1 gram of fat for every 2 grams of protein and 3 grams of carbohydrates ( known as the Zone 1-2-3 Method™).
- Low-fat protein: turkey, skinless chicken, fish, very lean meat and tofu.
- Good carbohydrate: most fruits and vegetables, oatmeal, and barley.
- Good fat: olive oil, fish oil, avocados and almonds.
30 minutes of exercise a day, 3 – 5 days per week is also recommend on the Zone Diet plan.
ZONE DIET DISADVANTAGES
The Zone Diet can be complicated and time-consuming if followed properly.
The Zone Diet recommends eliminating some nutritious foods, which are high in fibre, vitamins and minerals. Also, the American Heart Association, suggests that the Zone Diet can be high in meat, which is a source of dangerous quantities of saturated fat. There is a vegetarian Zone Diet, the Soy Zone. This zone diet is based around soy protein, which makes it more vegetarian-friendly.
ZONE DIET ADVANTAGES
Guidelines from the Joslin Diabetes Research Center (affiliated with Harvard Medical School) on treating obesity, type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes essentially represent the Zone Diet’s macronutrient ratios.1