Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Zone Diet

The Zone diet was developed by Barry Sears and depends on getting your nutrients in certain ratios. Sears, a biochemist, claims that keeping within 'the zone' balances the hormones and helps us achieve optimum health.

What Does It Involve?

You have to eat so that you have a balance of approximately 40% calories from carbohydrates, 30% from protein and 30% from fat at each meal. Smaller, more frequent meals are advised. There is no particular limit on the calories that you eat.

Sears recommends this for a typical Zone diet meal: "Eat as much protein as the palm of your hand, as much non starchy raw vegetables as you can stand for the vitamins, enough carbohydrates to maintain mental clarity because the brain runs on glucose, and enough monounsaturated oils to keep feelings of hunger away."

Plans are provided but even a small change from them can send your ratios off, so if you want to plan your own meals you would use a nutrient tracker. These are provided at many free websites such as nutridiary.com.

Why Does It Work?

Sears says that this nutritional balance is best for the body and will help it achieve its ideal conditions including achieving and maintaining a normal weight.

Studies seem to bear this out. A TV show called Scientific American Frontiers ran a comparison of various popular diets. While this study was not managed under strict scientific research conditions, the Zone diet came out best, both in terms of weight loss and of building or maintaining muscle mass. It may be particularly good for men who tend to be more concerned than women about not losing muscle mass when they lose weight.

This diet will represent a small cut in fat intake for most people. The average American gets about 35% of calories from fat and that figure is probably higher for people who are overweight. Some people go as high as 65%. At 30%, the body will not store fat, but will use all that it takes in.

However, the Zone diet would not be described as a low fat diet. Sears criticizes low fat, high carbohydrate diets, claiming that high grain consumption is what causes people to gain weight.

The main the Zone diet would be difficult for vegetarians to follow, but Sears has published a more vegetarian friendly version called 'The Soy Zone'.

Any Negatives?

Although calories are not counted or restricted, the diet has been criticized as being just another low calorie diet in practice. For example, Sears has apparently said that the Zone diet is not a high protein diet because a person would eat only a normal amount of protein a day, around 60g for the average woman. This would give her 240 calories. If this is 30% of her daily calories, she would consume only 800 calories per day. This is extreme calorie restriction: she would require more than twice that amount to maintain her weight.

Sears has also been criticized for apparently not following his own diet. According to Dr Joel Fuhrman in 'The Eat To Live Diet', Sears has said that he himself has around 100g of protein a day. If he were in the Zone this would give him 1330 calories per day. He is a tall man and on 1330 calories a day he should be losing around 2 pounds per week (300 pounds in 3 years), but he apparently says that he has lost only 35 pounds in 3 years. Fuhrman concludes that he must be taking in around 2300 calories a day and cannot therefore be in the Zone: he must be eating a higher percentage of either carbs or fat or both.

Nevertheless there are plenty of people who are happy with their results on the Zone diet including various Hollywood stars.

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