Zone Diet Analyzed

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Introduction

Rather than trying to lose weight dieting alone, many people prefer to sign up to an organized diet plan program that provides structure and routine as well as a guide on what to eat. Dieting this way can be more effective due to  increased accountability and a clear food plan – this is one such program.

Founded over 30 years ago by Dr. Barry Sears, The Zone Diet became very popular with celebrities in the 1990s. We’ve taken an insider look to explain everything you need to know about this popular weight loss regime which has no time limit and is supposed to be followed for a lifetime!

What Is The Zone Diet?

The Zone Diet was developed after Dr. Barry Sears lost several members of his family to heart-related conditions. He believed that inflammation within the body was the cause of most ill-health, and he decided to create a diet that would reduce inflammation and therefore, he believed, inflammation-related diseases.

Dr. Barry Sears says that by following diet, you will gradually enter “The Zone” – a physical state that promotes peak health and healthy weight. In order to be considered “in the zone”, you must fall within the approved thresholds of three different requirements.

The three values that need to be optimum to stay within the Zone are as follows:

  1. Have a TG/HDL ratio of less than 1: This indicates the level of resistance to insulin in the liver, and can be tested via a ‘cholesterol panel’ with your doctor.
  2. Have an AA/EPA ratio of between 1.5-3: This indicates, according to Sears, the level of diet-induced inflammation in the body and be tested with The Zone Labs’ own ‘cellular inflammation’ test.
  3. Have an HbA1c of 5%: This indicates the level of ‘advanced glycosylated end products tied to your blood glucose. This can be tested by measuring your blood sugars over a three month period.

Dr. Barry Sears goes on to claim that by keeping the above values within “The Zone” thresholds, you will be able to lose weight and excess body fat, maintain good health and wellness, perform better and enjoy better cognition and brain function.

We are also told that inflammation is what disrupts the body’s hormones and prevents the body from performing at its best – Dr. Barry Sears states that he formulated this diet to help the body maintain optimum performance and function.

Critics claim that it is too vague and complicated, and that participants are pressured into purchasing expensive and unnecessary supplements and the Zone branded products.

How Does It Work?

There are three parts to this diet:

  1. Following the zone diet regime itself.
  2. Regularly consuming “purified” polyphenol supplements.
  3. Regularly consuming “ultra-refined” omega-3 fatty acids.

We have broken down these three parts below, to give you some further understanding of this strangely complex diet.

The Diet Itself

The main part of The Zone Diet is focused on balancing different nutrients at each meal. These are:

  • Protein: Each meal should have protein filling one third of your plate and this should be roughly the size and thickness of the palm of your hand. Examples of lean protein include egg whites, tofu, chicken breast, lean mince, low fat dairy, fish and seafood.
  • Fat: Dr. Barry Sears recommends that each meal should have a small amount of fat, a ‘dash’. Acceptable fats include avocado, peanut or other nut butters and olive oil.
  • Carbohydrates: These should have a low glycaemic index, not starchy carbohydrates, and should fill up two-thirds of your plate. These carbohydrates should primarily be colourful vegetables and a little bit of fruit. Vegetables should be non-starchy (no white potatoes or corn) and low in sugar (no carrots, grapes, raisins or bananas). Grains should be avoided where possible and kept to an absolute minimum.

Starchy carbs and grains should be thought of as a condiment so if you really need some then you can have a small amount as long as you do not exceed your daily calorie limit.

Using The “Zone Food Pyramid” While On The Diet

This diet’s food pyramid has vegetables at the bottom, fruits above that, low-fat protein on the next level, monounsaturated fat above protein, and grains and starches at the top.

Dr. Barry Sears claims that by following this food pyramid as a guide for each meal your body will have a good protein and glycaemic balance for better hormonal control.  There are lots of Zone cookbooks available online as well as pre-packaged Zone ready meals for people who do not want to portion their food out or cook at home.

There are two ways of allocating your food portion sizes; you can either use the hand-eye method or the Block method.

The hand-eye method is where the dieter uses their hands and eyes to decide how much to eat. The five fingers on the hand remind the dieter to eat five times a day and to never go without food for more than five hours. Then simply use the rules above for dividing your plate into protein (33%) and carbohydrate (66%) sections.

The Zone Diet also has a Block method for calculating how many ‘blocks’ of a nutrient you can have per day, depending on your height, weight, age and hip measurements. This is done through a calculator on The Zone Diet website.

Each Zone block is made of a protein block, a fat block or a carb block.

  • Protein block: Contains 7 grams of protein.
  • Carb block: Contains 9 grams of carbs.
  • Fat block: Contains 1.5 grams of fat.

Women following the plan should consume no more than 1200 calories per day and men should consume no more than 1500 calories per day.

Polyphenols

Polyphenols are another key component to the regime. Polyphenols are chemicals that have a large presence of phenol structural units. According to the diet creators, having a good level of polyphenols is important for controlling the composition of the bacteria in our digestive systems as well as for engaging anti-aging and anti-inflammatory genes.

The Zone Diet has its own brand of polyphenols that are available for purchase, with the following claims:

  • Calorie Restriction without Hunger: Helps activate the enzyme that optimizes metabolism so you can maintain high energy levels.
  • Improved Gut Health: Help support the composition of beneficial bacteria, thereby improving overall wellness.
  • Gene Therapy: Helps activate the body’s antioxidant, anti-aging and anti-inflammatory genes.

There are four kinds of polyphenol product in the online store. These are:

  1. MaquiRX: 100% Maqui berry extract with delphinidins provide antioxidants with anti-inflammatory and anti-aging benefits.
  2. PolyphenolRx Plus: An exclusive blend of 17 fruits and vegetables, plus Maqui berry extract to provide both antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits.
  3. PolyphenolRx: An exclusive blend of 17 fruits and vegetables provides antioxidant benefits.
  4. SeaHealth Plus: An exclusive liquid blend of 14 fruits and vegetable extracts with 72 trace minerals coming from sea vegetables.

There is not a Daily Recommended Intake for polyphenols and health claims have not been supported by sufficient scientific research – it is for this reason that health-related claims with regards to polyphenols have been banned by the FDA.

Conversely, some polyphenols are commonly considered to be anti-nutrients that interfere with the absorption of certain nutrients such as iron and other metals, as well as binding to digestive enzymes and other proteins.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 fatty acids are the third component to the complete Zone Diet. Omega 3 fatty acids are important for heart health, brain function, vision, athletic performance, behavior and mood regulation.

The Zone Diet online store sells the following Omega 3 product:

  • Sears’ OmegaRx 2 Fish Oil capsules: 2000mg of EPA and 1000mg of DHA per serving.

How Effective Is The Zone Diet?

This diet can be effective in helping people lose weight thanks to its calorie reduced, wholefoods based meal plan. It is essentially what most experts would call a VLCD; most dieters can expect to lose an average of 1-1.5 pounds of fat per week, which is a healthy level of fat loss, along with extra mass in water weight thanks to the low salt diet.

The zone diet is however supposed to be maintained for a lifetime, which may be a challenge due to the lack of salt, fat, sugar, alcohol, caffeine and artificial ingredients that people may want as a treat.

Exercise Is Required To See The Full Benefits Of The Diet

It is recommend that participants engage in moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day, as well as 5-10 minutes of strength and resistance training.

Obtaining Membership

Online membership is free and your shopping bill shouldn’t increase too much as the recommended foods are everyday foods that you would expect to buy in a healthy weekly shop, however the supplements from The Zone Diet website are expensive, with snack bars retailing for over $3 each and a single package of pasta selling for $15.

You can opt to have your meals delivered to your door, which costs $50 a day for three meals plus two snacks. The ‘Enter The Zone’ guide book for beginners costs $17.50.

Meal Plan Examples

Here are two examples of how a Zone Diet day can look for two different participants:

Diet Meal Plan 1:

  • Breakfast: Two scrambled eggs with spinach, peppers and tomatoes along with herbal tea.
  • Snack: A Zone Diet snack bar
  • Lunch: A large tuna salad with a small amount of whole grain brown rice, plus an apple.
  • Snack: A homemade smoothie ice lolly made from kale, almond milk and raspberries.
  • Dinner: Grilled chicken breast with steamed broccoli, cauliflower and green beans sauteed in olive oil.

Diet Meal Plan 2:

  • Breakfast: Tofu scramble with onions and mushrooms plus a small amount of avocado.
  • Snack: Vegetable crudites with a small amount of hummus
  • Lunch: Cottage cheese with sweet potato and red pepper soup, plus a handful of berries.
  • Snack: An apple and a teaspoon of almond butter
  • Dinner: A portion of The Zone Diet protein pasta with chargrilled Mediterranean vegetables.

Conclusion

The Zone Diet seems to be an overly and unnecessarily complicated diet, but there are ways to engage with the program and lose weight without buying expensive supplements or going for medical testing.

The low-calorie diet based on whole foods and encouraging protein and vegetables as the main source of energy will help people lose weight even without using any of the other components of the zone diet.

This diet may be good for people wishing to stick to a structure and eating routine as well as decrease their intake of salt, sugar and processed food.

Hannah Canavan
Hannah Canavan
Staff Writer & Fact Checker at DietProbe
Hannah is a health and lifestyle journalist with a passion for veganism and nutrition.
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Fact Checked


This article has been reviewed and fact-checked by a certified nutritionist, and only uses information from credible academic sources.