There are plenty of low carb, high protein, and low fat diets, but few diets focus on balancing a healthy portion of carbs, protein, and fat.
However, the zone diet is one of the few diets that does just this to positively influence your body’s response to foods.
Created by Dr. Barry Sears in 1995, the zone diet introduces a ratio of 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat at every meal. Two snacks should be eaten every day, and you should never go longer than five hours without eating something.
This may sound like complicated may, but in reality the zone diet is really easy to follow. To balance the ratio correctly, you simply have to eat foods like:
• Low fat proteins like skinless chicken, egg whites, or other meats in portions similar to the palm of your hand.
• Choose carb sources mostly from vegetables and fruits.
• Limit fat intake to sources like olive oil, nuts or seeds, avocados, etc. The key is to eliminate trans fats and mostly saturated fats.
Sears claims that following these guidelines will normalize weight, stabilize blood sugar levels, and provide the perfect amount of fuel to keep mental acuity at peak levels throughout the day.
There are potential anti-inflammatory properties that may be appealing to this diet. This approach of dieting controls anti-inflammatory hormones and genes, which may reduce overall body inflammation and have a host of other benefits. Cutting and limiting foods that cause inflammation also may decrease the risk for developing chronic issues like heart disease, obesity, hypertension, and many more.
As said before, you may be able to stabilize your blood sugar as well. This is primarily because the zone diet forces you to consume carbs that are low on the glycemic index, which will reduce your insulin response to the food you eat. You’ll also feel fuller for a longer period of time.
Getting in “The Zone”
At first, calculating the percentage of fat, carbs, and protein for each meal can be a bit difficult. However, Sears claims it’s not as difficult as it may seem.
The ratios are more of a guideline than an exact science, and they don’t have to be dead on to produce the same desired effects. You should eyeball your plate and estimate portions though and that should help you follow the diet.
You should also pay attention to when you eat since you should never go too long without eating. Five hours is the maximum time in between meals, with the exception of when you sleep.
If you decide to use the zone diet for weight loss, then Sears recommends consuming 1,500 calories a day if you’re a man and 1,200 a day if you are a woman.
Similar to many other popular diets, the zone diet follows a pyramid illustration to show you what to eat.
• Vegetables make up the base of the diet, and you should consume mostly water-rich, non-starchy veggies.
• Fruits are the next level with a focus on variety. Make sure to switch it up every day.
• Lean proteins are next, with a focus on lean meats, fish, egg whites, legumes, and soy products.
• Mono-unsaturated fats from vegetables are next. This includes foods like nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil.
• Grains and starches are at the top, and only small amounts should be included.
Dr. Sears believes that the more “white foods” you eat, the more inflammation you will create in your body. This includes white breads, rice, pasta, and potatoes.
More About the Diet
The biggest problem with the zone diet is that it doesn’t contain dairy products, and dairy products are arguably the best way to take in calcium.
Consuming more leafy greens, nuts, and seeds, and soy products should be able to provide you with enough calcium per day. In the event they do not, you can take a calcium product to keep your body supplied with enough calcium.
Unlike the paleo diet, the zone diet does not eliminate grains completely, although it does limit them to a great extent. Vegetarians and vegans may find the zone diet more difficult, if not impossible to follow because of this.
However, limited grains serves one purpose – to limit the consumption of inflammatory foods. A review published in the NIH found that even whole grains can cause inflammation since they are still processed and often contain artificial ingredients.
What Does Science Say About the Zone Diet
The zone diet does focus on fruits and vegetables, which offers significant health benefits. For example, getting at least 30 grams of fiber daily is shown to aid in weight loss, drop blood pressure, and improve the body’s insulin response.
Fiber may also protect against various gastrointestinal disorders, and the zone diet is rich in fiber.
It is also rich in polyphenols, which are antioxidants that are abundantly available in fruits and vegetables. These antioxidants are said to reduce the risk for developing many chronic issues like heart disease and even some cancers.
Finally, diets with lower carbohydrate consumption have been shown to reduce abdominal fat faster than high-carb diets. This type of diet also improves insulin resistance, and may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
A recent report issued by the NIH summarizing findings regarding diets like the zone diet indicate that long-term studies are still needed to determine whether the zone diet ensures proper nutrition, although we don’t see how it would not provide the body with essential nutrients.
If you can manage to live without dairy products, and aren’t a big fan of grains, then following the zone diet should be easy. Since it focuses on fruits and vegetables, the zone diet may provide you with a number of benefits, like weight loss and improved digestion.
The zone diet may seem complicated, but in reality it’s a fairly balanced diet. Plus, since you don’t need to exactly measure portions, it isn’t difficult to follow this diet at all if you decide you’d like to try it.