Zone Diet

What is Zone Diet?

Food is like a drug, says Zone creator Barry Sears, a biochemist. You have to take the right dose at the right time. According to Sears, elevated levels of insulin coupled with omega-6 fatty acids cause you to pack on pounds because they generate other hormones that promote inflammation, which he believes is a chief driver of the obesity epidemic. The aim of the Zone Diet is to make sure your insulin and other inflammation-promoting hormones stay “in the zone,” not too high or low, by eating foods at every meal in the right proportions: 40 percent carbs, 30 percent protein and 30 percent fat. The body needs the right balance of these nutrients to stay healthy and slim, and operate at peak performance, Sears says.

Pros & Cons

  • All foods welcome
  • Frequent meals and snacks
  • Tedious portioning
  • Limited daily calories

How does Zone Diet work?

The Zone diet typically caps daily calories at 1,200 for women and 1,500 for men, in line with the dietary recommendations of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston for managing obesity and diabetes. That’s two-thirds to three-quarters of the amount generally recommended for healthy people.

  • You’ll eat five times a day: three meals and two snacks.
  • Each meal should contain 40 percent carbs, 30 percent protein and 30 percent healthy fat.
  • The only measuring tools you need are your hand and your eye, Sears says. When making dinner, for example, divide your plate into three equal sections. Put a low-fat protein such as chicken or fish in one section – no more than what can fit in the palm of your hand, which for most women equates to 3 ounces and for men is 4 ounces. Then fill the other two sections with colorful carbs (primarily non-starchy vegetables and limited amounts of fruits). Top it off with a dash of a healthy fat – olive oil, nuts or avocado, for example – and you’re set.

Although no food is off-limits, certain types are encouraged. Optimal protein choices include skinless chicken, turkey, fish, egg whites, low-fat dairy, tofu and soy meat substitutes. Carbs are either “good” or “bad,” and dieters are instructed to choose those that are low on the glycemic index, a ranking of how carbs affect blood sugar. Low-GI carbs are said to keep your blood sugar and metabolism steady – and you feeling fuller longer – while high-GI “bad” carbs do the opposite. Your best bets are vegetables (except starchy corn and peas), fruits (except bananas and raisins), and oatmeal and barley. Stay away from pasta, bread, bagels, cereals, and potatoes. And while small amounts of healthy fats are added to each meal, avoid fatty red meat, egg yolks, liver and other organ meats, and processed foods – all high in saturated fat.

Almost as important as what you eat is when. Meal and snack timing are crucial on Zone. If you don’t eat often enough, your blood sugar will dip, triggering hunger pangs. You should never go more than five hours without eating. Have breakfast within one hour of waking. If that’s at 7 a.m., for example, have lunch at noon, a snack at 5 p.m., dinner at 7 p.m. and another snack at 11 p.m.

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