The Zone Diet
The Zone diet was developed by Barry Sears, PhD, and The Zone became a best-selling diet book. The idea behind the Zone diet is that those who follow it will reset their metabolism, warding off heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic health conditions.
“This diet is higher in fat and protein than traditional low-fat dietary recommendations,” says Nancy L. Cohen, PhD, RD, professor and head of the department of nutrition at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. The Zone diet “includes protein such as meat and poultry at every meal, plus whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. It limits milk and many dairy products, fruit juices, and many grain foods such as pasta and rice,” adds Dr. Cohen.
The Zone Diet: How Does It Work?
The Zone diet restricts calories while encouraging you to change the balance of the foods you eat in order to lose weight. On the Zone diet, you will get 30 percent of your calories from protein, 30 percent from fat, and 40 percent from carbohydrates. The carbohydrates favored by the Zone diet include beans, most fruits, whole grains, and vegetables. In contrast, many diets heavily emphasize carbohydrates and cut back on fat.
Each meal or snack on the Zone diet is carefully balanced so that you eat a small amount of protein along with your carbohydrates. This balance is thought to control insulin levels, which ultimately leads to a thinner you, according to Sears’ argument.
The Zone Diet: Sample Diet
Here is a sample dinner that you might eat on the Zone diet:
- 4.5 ounces lean hamburger meat
- 1 slice low-fat cheese
- 1 slice each of tomato, lettuce, and onion
- 1 piece whole-grain bread
- Small fruit serving
The Zone Diet: Pros
There are several benefits to the Zone diet:
- Variety. The Zone diet offers more variety in comparison to other high-protein diets. “It is not as restrictive as some high-protein diets and offers foods from most food groups,” says Cohen.
- Ease of use. As designed diets go, it is relatively easy to follow once you are aware of which foods to limit.
- Frequent meals. The Zone diet recommends eating small meals five or six times a day.
- Healthy fats. Although the Zone is not a low-fat diet, it “promotes healthy fats and discourages saturated and trans fats,” notes nutritionist Judy Penta, BS, CHHC, a certified holistic health counselor and certified personal trainer with Patients Medical in New York City.
- Sugar control. By limiting refined sugars and emphasizing whole grains, proteins, fruits, and vegetables, the Zone diet can “help stabilize blood sugar and limit cravings,” says Penta.
- Achievable weight loss. Most people who follow this diet can lose weight, says Penta.
The Zone Diet: Cons
There are some concerns for people on the Zone diet, including:
- Calcium intake. The Zone diet does not favor dairy products. “It will be difficult to get enough calcium on this diet if milk products are limited,” notes Cohen. Many non-dairy foods contain calcium, but you will have to watch your calcium intake on this diet.
- Missing nutrients. “Food restrictions can result in a lack of fiber, vitamin C, folic acid, and several minerals,” says Penta.
- Inflexible dietary balance.The 30-30-40 breakdown is recommended for all people, but some dieters may require a different nutritional balance to be healthy and lose weight, says Penta.
- Kidney risk. A high-protein diet can put stress on the kidneys, which may be risky for some people.
- Expense. Some people may find it costly to meet the requirements of the Zone diet.
- Moderate to high fat. Although the fats favored by the Zone diet are healthy fats, the American Heart Association warns that the diet may be too high in fat for those who need to monitor their blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Caloric restriction. People who strictly follow the Zone diet will be eating less than 1,200 calories per day, which may result in hunger and difficulty sticking to the diet.
- Long-term commitment challenge. Cohen worries that this diet may be hard to stick to. “It may be difficult to follow for a lifetime, as it restricts many common foods such as rice and pasta,” she says.
The Zone Diet: Short- and Long-Term Effects
Weight loss is often the goal for people on the Zone diet and, in the short term, weight loss is achievable. Long-term claims that the diet can reduce heart disease and diabetes risks have not yet been supported by research.
In a study that compared the nutritional elements of the Zone diet with 15 other popular weight-loss diets, the Zone ranked as one of the top five, tied with the diet based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Pyramid.
The Zone diet is a popular, high-protein diet that can yield weight-loss results, although you may have to pay attention to overall nutritional requirements while following it.