The Zone Diet: Is It Low Carb?

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the Zone Diet

I was surprised to see some members of one of the online health groups talking about the the Zone Diet recently. I took a look at it years ago and have Dr Sear’s book about the diet. As a Holistic Nutritionist I was always interested in diets that my clients were doing and what was popular.

If you’re looking for a diet to help you lose weight or maintain a healthy insulin level, the Zone Diet is something to consider. The diet, which encourages people to balance their intake of carbs and protein, also requires consuming a good amount of fats, just like the keto diet. But is the Zone Diet a low carb diet?

Related reading: 5 Simple Ways To Boost Your Metabolism To Lose Weight

In this article, you’ll find out more about the Zone Diet, how it works, its benefits, and whether it’s technically a low carb diet.

What is the Zone Diet?

Developed by Dr. Barry Sears, an American biochemist, the Zone Diet is the type of diet requiring followers to follow a specific ratio for consuming foods:

  • 40% carbs
  • 30% protein
  • 30% fat

Unlike the keto diet, which restricts the consumption of carbs to less than 50 grams per day or about 5-10% carbohydrate. The Zone Diet allows 40% of carbs. However, the carb component of the diet must have a low glycemic index.

Related reading: How To Cut Out Carbs Without Going Full Keto

After all, the Zone Diet aims to help people maintain a healthy insulin level. Foods with a low glycemic index provide a slow release of sugar into the blood, allowing you to stay full longer.

The protein component of the diet must be lean and low fat. Most of these must be monounsaturated.

Dr. Barry Sears came up with the Zone Diet after losing several family members to early deaths due to heart attacks. He believed he could also be at risk, so he looked for a way to avoid it, and that’s when he formulated the Zone Diet.

The purpose of the diet is to minimize chronic inflammation in the body since Dr. Sears believed it is the main culprit behind weight gain, diabetes, and many other health conditions.

Related reading: Is Keto Anti-Inflammatory?

Although it’s said that there is no scientific evidence behind the diet it’s now known that chronic inflammation in the body underlies many of the health issues mentioned above including cancer.

According to Dr. Sears,

“Inflammation is the reason you gain weight, become sicker, and age faster. Therefore, by reducing the inflammation caused by food, individuals can achieve better overall health.”

How Does the Zone Diet Work?

Unlike most diets, the Zone Diet does not require you to follow any specific phases. But, it requires followers to eat five times a day – three meals plus two snacks. This is how many people eat so it should not be too difficult.

However, and here’s the difficult part: each meal must not go beyond 400 calories. Also, it has to adhere to the recommended macro balance of:

  • 40% carbs
  • 30% protein
  • 30% fat

The key to preparing your meal is to divide it into three equal sections. This can be a single portion of low-fat protein like fish or chicken and for the other two sections, you simply fill with carbs.

Again, these carbs should be low glycemic. Opt for non-starchy vegetables and include a minimal amount of low sugar fruits. Top off with a healthy amount of good quality fat, such as avocado, olive oil, or nuts.

Related reading: What Are the Best Low Carb Vegetables?

No food is off-limits in the zone diet. However, certain types of foods are highly encouraged. As for the protein options, the recommendations are turkey, skinless chicken, egg whites, fish, tofu, low-fat dairy, and soy meat substitutes.

I would say that the poultry should ideally be organic and outdooor reared while any red meat should be organic and grass-fed. Eggs should also be organic or pastured. Fish should be wild caught and low mercury.

I would not advise eating soy meat substitutes as they are ususally made from textured vegetable protein (TVP) which is actually a highly processed product made from soy beans. It may be high in protein and fiber but the process can invlove the use of the solvent hexane which can get into the TVP.

Low fat dairy is not a whole food so I would not recommend that either.

As for the low-GI carbs, your best bets are non-starchy veggies, oatmeal, and barley. You must avoid white rice, pasta, bread, cereals, bagels, and potatoes.

Related reading: Is A Low Carb Diet The Same As Low GI?

The Zone Diet requires adding a small amount of healthy fats to every meal. Avoid egg yolks, fatty red meat, processed foods, liver, and other organ meats since these are high in saturated fat.

Related reading: Best Fats To Eat On A Low Carb Diet

As it’s known now that eggs are not a problem for health I don’t see why the yolks should be avoided. Again, if only the whites are eaten it is not a whole food. The problem with heart disease and diabetes is the carbohydrates and not fats.

How Do You Know If You’re Already in “The Zone?”

According to Dr. Sears, three clinical markers can help individuals determine if they are already “in the zone.” When you’re in the zone, your body is fully optimizing your hormones to help reduce inflammation.

Clinical Marker Zone Value What it Means
TG/HDL Ratio <1 Cholesterol Level
AA/EPA Ratio 1.5 to 3 Level of inflammation
HbA1c 5% Level of glucose in the bloodstream

These values are what Dr. Sears has recommended. But you must consult with your doctor, naturopath or nutritionist for further guidance on this.

How To Stick to the Zone Diet?

Dr. Sears designed the Zone Diet to be followed for a lifetime. However, like other diets, it can be a challenge to stick to.

There are two approaches to help you sustain the diet:

1. The Hand-Eye Method

The method requires using your hand and eyes to measure the food on your plate. Protein should make up ⅓ of the food on your plate and roughly about the same size as your palm. As for the carbs, they should occupy ⅔ of your plate and about double the size of the protein.

2. The Zone Food Block Method

The zone food block method requires calculating the exact amount of protein, carbs, and fat on your plate. For this method, you have to refer to the calculator from the official website of the Zone Diet. The calculator can help measure the right amount of macros based on your biometrics.

Is the Zone Diet Low Carb?

The Zone Diet advocates eating a regular meal. It does not restrict carbs to the degree that the keto does. There are different levels of low carb diets and the level of carbs in a  moderate carbohydrate diet varies from 26% to 44%.

In this respect it can be classified as a low carb diet as the amount of carbs allowed on the Zone diet is 40%. It is not however the same as a typical low carb diet due to the low calories allowed per meal.

Just like the Ketogenic Diet, the Zone Diet encourages the consumption of a certain amount of healthy fats and protein.

While the keto diet requires getting the body to get into a state of ketosis, the Zone Diet aims to put your body in the “zone state”, where your body fully optimizes your hormones to reduce inflammation.

In addition to the moderately restricted level of carbs allowed on the Zone Diet it requires followers to eat “favorable carbs,” and avoid “unfavorable” ones, such as bread, rice, pasta, cereals, etc.

Most low carb diets, such as the keto diet, aim to help people lose weight, although they also come with many health benefits. However, the Zone Diet was created to reduce inflammation and encourage healthy insulin levels to avoid chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and various heart related conditions.

Final Thoughts

Should you choose the Zone Diet over low carb diets? When it comes to this, you should choose the diet that best matches your lifestyle. The Zone Diet is ideal if you prefer a diet that is not very restrictive and you don’t mind calculating calories.

However, although the diet claims to have many health benefits, there is not enough evidence to prove that it can reduce your risk of chronic illnesses. But if you want to practice a healthy eating habit, the Zone Diet is a great way to get started since it encourages portion control.

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