The Zone diet


The Zone diet aims to reduce inflammation and encourage healthy insulin levels. It may help people balance their intake of protein and carbohydrate.

It also encourages people to consume healthful fats and antioxidants, including omega-3 fats and polyphenol antioxidants in supplement form.

The diet recommends limiting caloric intake, but does not restrict calorie intake to a specific amount.

Supporters say it can help a person lose weight, enhance their mental and physical health, and slow aging.

What is the Zone diet?

Dr. Sears developed the Zone diet to reduce so-called dietary inflammation.

Inflammation plays a role in many conditions and diseases, ranging in severity from mild gastrointestinal or digestive issues, to type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and other diseases.

The Zone diet involves some basic rules:

  • Eat a meal or snack within 1 hour of waking up in the morning.
  • Start each meal or snack with a low-fat protein, followed by foods containing healthful carbs and fats.
  • Eat small, frequent meals during the day, every 4–6 hours after a meal or 2–2.5 hours after a snack, whether hungry or not.
  • Consume plenty of omega-3 and polyphenols, as they have anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day.

Carbohydrates: Fruits and vegetables provide healthful carbs. People should avoid starchy foods and choose items that are low on the glycemic index (GI).

Low GI foods take time to digest and are less likely to cause a blood sugar spike after eating. Carbs should make up two-thirds of any snack or meal. People can eat a small amount of grains, but most carbs should come from non-starchy vegetables and fruit.

Fats: Olive oil, nuts, and avocados provide healthful fats.

Polyphenols: These are a type of antioxidant. Antioxidants help the body neutralize free radicals. Free radicals result from natural bodily processes and external sources, such as an unhealthful diet and smoking. As these molecules build up, they can cause oxidative stress. This can lead to inflammation and cell damage, which can increase the risk of diseases, including certain cancers. Fruits and vegetables are good natural sources of antioxidants.

Omega 3: Studies suggest that omega-3 fats may help reduce or manage inflammation, although more evidence is needed to confirm precisely how it can help. Oily fish, such as sardines, are a good source of omega-3 fats. The Zone diet recommends taking polyphenol antioxidant supplements and fish oil supplements daily.

Before every meal or snack, a person should assess their hunger level. If they are not hungry, and their mind is clear, they are in “The Zone.”

A person following the Zone diet can help keep the levels of diet-induced inflammation in their blood constantly balanced by choosing certain foods and avoiding others. He adds that it is blood chemistry, not diet philosophy that defines the Zone. To reach the Zone, he says, a person must control their hormones through their diet.

Meal plan

The Zone diet prescribes a number of recipes.

Orzo is a type of pasta that is in the shape of barley grains.

A typical meal plan for a day could be:

Breakfast: Breakfast hash made with bacon and vegetables, or cocoa berry butter smoothie for vegetarians

Lunch: Zone PastaRX Orzo (a low-carb orzo) with chicken and green beans or curried spinach with tofu for a vegetarian option

Dinner: Almond chicken with vegetables or barbecue tempeh and vegetables for those who follow a vegetarian or plant-based diet

Snack: Blackberry shrimp salad or asparagus artichoke salad for a vegan option

What can I eat?

Guidelines include eating three meals and two snacks every day. Each meal must have some protein, about the size of a small chicken breast, and each snack should also contain some protein.

People should balance their carbohydrate, fat, and protein intake in the following proportions:

  • One-third protein
  • Two-thirds carbohydrate
  • A dash of unsaturated fat

Sources of protein include:

  • poultry
  • fish
  • beef
  • low-fat dairy
  • pulses, such as beans and lentils
  • nuts and seeds
  • tofu
  • eggs

Sources of fat include:

  • nuts and nut butters, including peanut butter
  • olive oil
  • avocado

Source of carbs include:

  • vegetables
  • legumes, such as beans, peas, and lentils
  • fruit

These provide starches, natural sugars, and fiber.

Recommended carb sources

The diet recommends including the following foods:

  • fruits and berries
  • non-starchy vegetables, such as spinach, asparagus, mushrooms, broccoli, and green beans
  • pulses, for example, lentils and beans
  • oatmeal
  • barley

It recommends avoiding:

  • soft drinks
  • candies
  • baked goods
  • white or wheat bread
  • starchy vegetables, including potatoes, corn, squash, and peas
  • rice
  • pasta

Food blocks

People who follow the diet will need to decide how many blocks of food they need each day. The blocks help a person obtain the right balance of nutrients for the diet.

One block is:

  • 7 grams (g) of protein
  • 9 g of carbohydrate, minus the fiber
  • 1.5 g of fat if a meal includes meat, or 3 g of fat if it is plant-based

The number of blocks a person needs will depend on various factors, such as their sex, activity levels, and whether they need to lose weight. An average female will need around 11 blocks and an average male around 14.

Four pillars of the Zone diet

The Zone diet also has four pillars. Bringing these together can make the Zone part of a person’s way of life.

A person should:

Restrict calories without hunger or fatigue: If a person consumes more calories than they need, the body will convert this extra energy to fat, and excess fat can cause problems in the body. One way to do this is to avoid high-calorie, processed foods.

Manage inflammation levels in the body: Short-term inflammation is a natural reaction that is part of the body’s immune response. However, chronic inflammation can adversely impact health in many ways. Supporters of the diet say “you need some inflammation, but not too much.” Followers of the Zone diet may take supplements to help achieve suitable levels. However, the diet does not appear to specify precise levels of inflammation, and a person can only know how much is present by taking a blood test.

Use dietary polyphenols to activate genes to enhance wellbeing: This involves eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and possibly taking supplements.

Control inflammation that comes from gut microbes: Do this by consuming polyphenols, omega-3, and fermentable fiber.

Balancing these aspects should help a person achieve and maintain a healthy body and mind. A person should aim for a lifelong strategy rather than a short-term diet.



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