The Zone Diet Review: How It Works, Benefits, Pros and Cons
Developed by Dr. Barry Sears, the Zone Diet is a lifestyle eating strategy designed to help you reduce inflammation caused by your diet.
This plan claims to help you shed excess weight and sharpen your mental abilities by regulating the amount of protein, fat, and carbs you consume at every meal.
According to the diet’s official website, Dr. Sears has spent more than 40 years researching the ways that food impacts hormone functioning. To date, he has published more than 50 papers concerning the interactions between your diet, hormonal responses, and cardiovascular disease.
This research has culminated with the Zone Diet, an eating strategy equipped with anti-inflammatory supplements for better long-term health and to stave off heart disease.
Dr. Sears published The Zone, his original book about the plan, in 1995.
Is this eating strategy still relevant today? We’ll consider the facts so you can discern if it’s the right choice for you.
The premise of the Zone Diet is that chronic inflammation is the primary reason why you feel sick and weigh too much. Healthline explains that while inflammation is a natural process your body uses to both heal and defend itself, chronic inflammation is damaging and associated with health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
As such, following a low-inflammation diet will lead to better health, lasting weight loss, and even slow down the signs of aging. Followers are instructed to follow a specific ratio of macronutrients at every meal—40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat—and to eat every few hours to stave off blood sugar crashes.
» Recommended Reading: Anti-Inflammatory Diet: A Comprehensive Beginner’s Guide
This diet isn’t considered a quick fix, as it works best as a long-term lifestyle change to stop inflammation so that you spend more time in the “Zone.”
As Dr. Sears defines it, the Zone is a physiological state where you have optimized your control over inflammation caused by food. Three clinical markers shown in the table below indicate whether you are in the Zone. You must meet all three to be successful:
|Clinical Marker||Level for Zone||What It Means||How to Measure|
|TG/HDL ratio||Less than 1||This is the level of insulin resistance in the liver. It’s the ratio of “bad” fats to “good” cholesterol in your blood. Lower values indicate you have more good cholesterol.||This marker is usually included in standard blood work results|
|AA/EPA ratio||1.5-3||This is the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats. Lower values mean you have more omega-3s.||The Zone Labs online store sells a Cellular Inflammation Kit for $75.|
|HBA1c (Glycated Hemoglobin)||Less than 5%||This is a marker of your average blood sugar levels over three months. Higher levels are linked to greater risks of diabetes.||Your doctor can help you measure your blood sugar over three months|
The Zone Diet website states that less than 1% of Americans fall within each of these perimeters, meaning that 99% of us are living with diet-induced inflammation. By following its dietary guidelines, the diet claims, you can better control your results.
The Zone Diet requirements are straightforward; you need to balance out your ratios of macronutrients every time you eat with protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Unlike other diet plans with designated stages, you are meant to follow the same eating strategy for life.
Protein: One-third of your plate must be lean protein, which should total the approximate size of your palm. Egg whites, fish, poultry, low-fat dairy, beans, tofu, and lean beef are options.
Carbohydrates: Colorful vegetables like cucumbers, spinach, mushrooms, squash, and greens should cover two-thirds of your plate. Non-starchy fruit like apples, berries, and oranges is also permitted, so long as you limit options that are high in sugar, including bananas and dried fruit. You can also consume small servings of whole grains like oatmeal and barley.
Fat: A small amount of monounsaturated fat like olive oil, almonds, peanut butter, and avocados will round out the plate.
While nothing is banned on the Zone Diet, you should limit your consumption of the following items as much as possible because they are known to trigger inflammation:
- High-sugar fruits like bananas and dried fruit
- Starchy vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, and corn
- Refined carbohydrates like bread and pasta
- Most processed foods/ food with added sugar
- Soda, fruit juice, coffee and tea (water is the preferred beverage)
What you eat makes up just one aspect of the Zone Diet. Another component is taking supplements to reduce your instance of dietary-induced inflammation. Specifically, the plan suggests taking omega-3 (OmegaRX) and polyphenol (MaquiRX) supplements, both of which are available in the plan’s online store.
Likewise, when you eat is equally important as what in the Zone Diet. The goal is to avoid taking enough time between meals that your blood sugar levels drop, and you feel hunger pangs. For this reason, it’s best to eat within the first hour of waking and then at least every five hours after.
Estimating your meal ratios isn’t easy for beginners, so the Zone Diet recommends two strategies for better success: the hand-eye method and Zone food blocks.
The hand-eye method lets you rely on your hands and eyes to determine portion sizes. Your five fingers represent that you need to eat five times a day and shouldn’t go more than five hours without eating (except at night).
You will also visualize each plate of food as split into thirds, with one third designated to lean protein, two-thirds to complex carbohydrates, and a sprinkling of fat over the rest. This rough estimate is designed to be flexible enough for you to calculate your macros even when eating out.
The Zone food-block method is more technical, as it requires you to calculate your personal nutrient needs based on your weight, height, and waist and hip measurements.
Use this guide to calculate your number. The test results show you how many food blocks you are allocated each day. Men average 14 and women 11, so your number should make sense in that context.
Each meal will consist of three to five Zone blocks, and snacks equal one. How big is each block? Below are the grams of each nutrient that compromise each one.
- Protein: 7 grams
- Carbohydrates: 9 grams
- Fat: 1.5 grams.
Knowing these amounts and your daily intake requirements lets you make quick calculations to ensure your diet will keep you in the Zone.
Unlike many other diet plans, it doesn’t have to cost any money to commit to the Zone Diet.
All the information about the program is available online for free, and you can also borrow Dr. Sear’s books from your library to cut costs further. Furthermore, you don’t need to buy branded food to follow the diet, so your grocery bill should remain relatively unchanged.
Where you’re most likely to spend money is on the plan’s supplements. Though not essential for the diet, they are highly recommended, especially in the beginning weeks when you are adjusting yo a new way of eating and might be dealing with deficiencies. The two most recommended include the following:
OmegaRX (120 capsules, $55.95): Consists of purified oil from wild anchovies and sardines to promote brain and heart health through a high concentration of omega-3s.
MaquiRx (30 capsules, $49.95): Contains polyphenols found within the maqui berry to activate AMPK to regulate your energy levels and metabolism. This compound is also linked with appetite control, blood sugar support, and inflammation reduction.
Other supplement options include products for joint support, bone health, micronutrient intake, weight loss support, and blood sugar regulation. They cost between $14.95 and $44.95 per container.
All of these supplements are also available on a subscription basis for discounts of up to 20%. You can request a delivery frequency ranging from every 30-90 days.
It’s also possible to purchase pre-made food from the Diet’s online store. While not necessary for success, the company states that the nutrient ratios within each time have been formulated to optimize your ability to get in the Zone. Some of these food items included pasta, energy bars, nutrition shakes, breakfast cereals, olive oil, and protein powder.
All purchases under 10 pounds qualify for $6.95 standard shipping (others will be charged by weight).
Regarding returns, the company terms and conditions show that you can request a full refund (minus shipping) if you return the product within 30 days.
If you have further questions about the plan or your orders, you can message the company directly at (800)404-8171 or at email@example.com.
Now that we’ve fleshed out the details of this dietary approach, do we think it makes sense for achieving better health? This plan has withstood decades of innovation in the health industry and is still considered a smart way to lose weight.
What we appreciate about this plan is the focus on real food and making long-term changes. You won’t need to eat premade meals during the beginning weeks exclusively, and no food item is technically considered off-limits.
Also, following the Zone Diet correctly ensures you’re taking in large quantities of produce, which is something most of us can benefit from.
“Compared with other ‘miracle’ diets, the Zone diet is probably one of the easier to follow,” says Eddie Johnson, a certified fitness instructor and CEO of Anabolic Bodies. “This is because, unlike the Atkin’s diet, carbs still make up a significant portion of each meal. The difficulty is in choosing the right carbs with a low glycemic index.”
However, the plan does have drawbacks. First off, it makes bold health claims about the impact of diet-induced inflammation on your health, and Healthline states that there’s not necessarily strong evidence to support them.
Likewise, determining whether you are in the Zone requires long-term monitoring of nutrient levels in your bloodstream and even a $75 test sold by the Zone Diet. We also think splitting every meal into the correct ratios of carbs, protein, and fat may get cumbersome and lead people to give up.
Overall, though, this eating plan has a lot going for it for your health. The food it recommends is similar to the Mediterranean Diet, which we believe is one of the best overall diets to follow. We suggest following this plan’s eating advice and talking with your doctor about whether supplementing with polyphenols and omega-3s is smart for your health.