The Zone Diet
Summary: Limit starches and sugars.
When they are eaten, always balance them with adequate protein and good
oils. Avoid hydrogenated oils (in processed foods and margarines) and
trans fats (in fried foods). An easy to remember (but hard to follow) diet
for weight loss, lower cholesterol, increased energy and mental well-being, and
improvement in many maladies is to merely avoid all products made with wheat,
processed corn, and potatoes, and use sugar only as an occassional condiment.
The Zone Diet was my first foray into alternative health matters
many years ago. It is debatable whether this is still considered alternative
health, but it certainly caused a stir in the mid 1990's.
Even today there are those still espousing the politically correct diet of low fat and high carbs,
including the AMA and the US government, who also still think that hydrogenated
oils are better for health than undamaged saturated oils (see Fats
and Oils.) The "French Paradox" is
anything but except to nutritional nincompoops.
I like the Zone diet with its moderate levels of protein, fats,
and carbs. There are higher protein diets like Atkin's, where few
carbs are consumed and unlimited proteins, fats, and oils (including cheese,
butter, and eggs) can be eaten. Diets like Atkin's are the fastest
way to lose weight and improve serum cholesterol levels. I have seen
someone do Atkin's diet strictly and drop one hundred points in bad serum
cholesterol in one month, while dropping serum triglycerides and increasing good
cholesterol levels a great deal. One should only do Atkin's if committed
to eating a lot of non-starchy vegetables to provide fiber and nutrients, drinking
plenty of water (see The
Water Cure), and taking digestive enzymes if needed, to prevent ill effects
on the digestive tract.
Following is an article on increasing energy levels and weight loss by balancing carb, protein,
and fat intake. Since I am lazy, I am merely reprinting it as an
explanation of the Zone Diet with a few minor updates and modifications.
In the years since I wrote it, I am realizing some of the many other benefits
that this type of diet provides, including greatly improving some degenerative and
To read more about how EFA usage in the body is affected by
protein and carb ratios, see Essential
Fatty Acid Metabolism.
Highlights on books are Amazon.com links where they can be
To improve energy levels, lose weight, stimulate the immune system and hormone
production, never eat carbohydrates alone. Try to get at least some fat, protein, and carbohydrate at every meal or snack. The ideal ratio for energy, as well as losing weight, is about 40% calories from carbohydrate, 30% calories from protein, 30% calories from fat. This is a ratio of grams of 9g carb to 7g protein to 3g fat. Getting close to this ratio is good enough - don't get a headache trying to be exact. After a while, a person will develop a sense of how much of what to eat to maximize energy levels. To read a technical discourse on this subject, see the book "The
Zone", by Barry Sears. Many other dietary recommendations are out that are along these lines, and can be found in "Paleolithic
Power", et al. Sears also has other less technical books on
the subject now including a good one called "A
Week in the Zone". Many find his original Zone book to be beyond
their grasp and do not complete it, although the technical stuff can really be
ignored if one is not interested in exactly how, for example,
prostaglandin (hormone) levels are optimized by the diet.
It can take a lot of protein and fat to offset a small amount of starchy
foods. Try to avoid sugars and starchy carbohydrates, like rice or bread, unless eaten with adequate protein and
fat, and even then limit their consumption a great deal. Otherwise, blood sugar levels rise too much, then fall too much, creating lethargy and in the presence of excess calories, weight gain. It is best to keep constant low levels of sugar in the blood. This can be done with even starchy diets if not much is eaten at one time. Mixing starches and proteins is not good for digestion but it does keep blood sugar levels down. 2% milk is a food which is pretty well balanced all by itself.
If sugar is used, a good one is turbinado sugar, which is made from raw sugar cane. A better one is Sucanat, which is made from raw cane juice, and contains many naturally occurring vitamins and minerals (lots more than even turbinado sugar). Besides being harmful by raising insulin levels too much (which even these "good" sugars do), refined sugar requires vitamins and minerals to be
digested and since it does not contain any it effectively leaches them from the body. White sugar is a source of solvents and this is
another reason to avoid it. The amount that a food raises one's blood sugar level is measured by the glycemic index. White sugar is the standard at 100.
Bread is worse, at 110.
This is from a post made to the internet regarding the zone diet:
On my "imperfect zone diet", I avoid hydrogenated oils and trans fats, but otherwise, eat as much fat as I want. I try to get at least some protein when eating carbohydrates. I use
protein as well as extra fat and fiber to lower the glycemic index (GI) of foods. For example, the GI of ice cream is very low (35) compared to fat free frozen yogurt (90), so is more
I try to ensure that protein and fat are included at every meal. After two weeks of following, weight will begin to come off for most people. If too many meals and snacks are included with excess carbs or inadequate protein and fat, one will not gain benefits of weight loss, increased energy,
improved circulation, and lower cholesterol.
Most vegetables are good, except starchy ones like corn, rice, and potatoes, which must be balanced because of excessive carbs, as should
wheat products. Generally, avoid sugars and limit starches. One can still occasionally eat high carb starchy items,
but balance it with plenty of protein and fat. Fruits are generally high in
sugar but many contain fructose and fiber which make them okay to eat, even
It is important to include fat with every meal or snack if possible. In the
Zone diet, the body learns how to burn fat for energy, instead of carbs.
The body burns fat more efficiently. Many people have a very hard time including enough fat when starting off since they have been conditioned to think of eating fat = getting fat. If one does not include enough fat, though, the body will not learn to burn it, and the effect of the diet is to make one hungry and
depressed with little other effects.
It is possible for someone with normal or elevated insulin response to eat a low fat diet with high amounts of carbohydrates and still maintain weight and health, but only when caloric intake is severely limited. Exercise can also keep blood sugar levels down, but a lot is required to offset a
high-carb / low-fat diet. When eating zone favorable, twice as many calories can be consumed in a day as when eating
low-fat / high-carb, in my experience, and exercise is not even necessary, but always helpful.
Eating zone-like is not for everyone. It is estimated that 25% of the US population does not have elevated insulin response to carbohydrates. These people are usually naturally slim, and
don't need the zone diet. Some of them report feeling depressed and lethargic when eating in the zone. This is understandable. They already regulate blood sugar levels well and balancing with protein and fat keeps the insulin level too low. For the rest of the population, blood sugar rises excessively after eating too many unbalanced carbs, then falls too much, creating lethargy, and in the presence of too many calories, weight gain.
Following are examples, showing good and bad daily diets (for me). It is very difficult for people to believe that the first example is healthier than the second for most people in the US. It is very hard to reprogram oneself to eat a healthy diet when the popular
low-fat / high-carb mantra contradicts the best method.
Favorable daily diet example (for me). Promotes weight loss, low blood sugar, low blood pressure, low serum cholesterol:
Breakfast: Nuts, eggs, or cheese. Fruit.
Snack: Almond butter on an apple.
Lunch: Meat and mayo on single slice of bread. Raw vegetables.
Snack: Walnuts and yogurt, or balanced bar, like Pro-Zone
Dinner: Meat and lots of vegetables with butter.
Snack: Ice cream.
Drink no juices or sugary drinks without balancing. Drink 2% milk whenever desired since it is already pretty much
balanced (but is not for everyone). Juice [like
pineapple] with some oil [like olive] and vanilla protein powder works well for a
snack or meal.
Unfavorable daily diet example (for me). Increases weight gain, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high serum
cholesterol. I used to think this was "eating healthy."
Breakfast: Bagel, apple, orange.
Snack: Nutrigrain bar.
Lunch: Subway turkey sandwich with vegetables and mustard. Pretzels.
Snack: Fat free fig newtons or fruit.
Dinner: Low fat vegetables and rice or potato. Low fat meat.
Snack: Frozen yogurt or ice milk.
From the short discussion of some zone and balanced bars in Problems
I used to scarf down Balance Bars, Luna Bars, Genisoy,
Spirutein, Zone Perfect, and other soy-based bars,
sometimes two a day. And eat tofu once a week or more, and occasionally
snack on soynuts. I still do eat some soy, but have cut back on my
consumption a great deal. I will eat a Balance Bar or other soy bar in a pinch, but now
avoid eating them on a daily basis. For balanced nutrition bars, I look
for ProZone, which are whey protein with fruit leather sweetener and medium
chain triglycerides as the main
oil, plus 5g of fiber per bar. It is an excellent formula if one does well
on whey. Coffee Cappuccino flavor is the best, Chocolate Raspberry is
okay, but I think the plain raspberry without the chocolate coating does not
taste that great. Some of the ProZone bars like the Cashew are not balanced -
read the label. At the start of 2002 ProZone are, remarkably, the
only bars I have found without soy protein that do not add questionable
ingredients like petro-and other-chemicals or use corn syrup or non-vegetable
glycerin (could be animal or petrochemical source) as a major sweetener. There are even some
so-called " health bars" that contain hydrogenated oils!
Check the labels before buying.
Official Zone Diet Website has some good starter information, and has
information on all the Zone products. Zone Perfect
Meals are now available at Super Target (department store and supermarket
combined). Most of them are excellent and a reasonable cost too when
puchased at Target.
Sears has his own separate website, too.
Zone Home has a lot of articles, information, and links on The Zone diet.
reprint from Michael Murray's newsletter (signup for this
free newsletter at: http://doctormurray.com/)
A Quick Look at
Because of the harmful effects of carbohydrates of
blood sugar control, some popular diets have led
people to believe that the best way to eat is to avoid
carbohydrates almost entirely. I don't agree with this
approach. In fact, based upon results from short-term
clinical trials as well as large population-based
based studies, diets that have a higher intake of
quality carbohydrates are consistently associated with
lower risk for diabetes, obesity, cancer and heart
disease. The best approach is to focus on quality
carbohydrate sources using the glycemic index and the
glycemic load index.
The Glycemic Index
The glycemic index (GI) refers to how quickly blood
sugar levels will rise after eating a certain type of
food. To determine a food's GI rating, measured
portions of the food containing 50 grams of
carbohydrate are fed to at least 10 healthy people
after an overnight fast. For example, to test boiled
spaghetti, the scientists give their subjects 200
grams of spaghetti, which according to standard food
composition tables provide 50 grams of available
carbohydrate. Finger-prick blood samples are taken at
15-30 minute intervals over the next two hours to
construct a blood sugar response curve. The area under
the curve (AUC) is calculated and reflects the total
rise in blood sugar (glucose) levels after eating the
test food. The scientists compare this response with
the volunteer's response to a reference food, which
may be either glucose or white bread. The GI rating of
the test food is calculated by dividing the AUC for
the test food by the AUC for the reference food (white
bread or glucose) and multiplying by 100. The average
of the GI ratings from all ten subjects is published
as the GI of that food. Foods with a lower glycemic
index will create a slower rise in blood sugar, and
foods with a higher glycemic index will create a
faster rise in blood sugar.
Clinical Research with
the Glycemic Index
Evidence from clinical studies also shows that
replacing high-glycemic-index carbohydrates with a
low-glycemic-index carbohydrate sources will improve
blood sugar control. Simply replacing products made
with white flour and potatoes with whole grain,
minimally refined products can have dramatic impact on
improving blood sugar levels and is associated with a
lower risk for both diabetes and cardiovascular
disease. One of the key reasons may be the whole grain
foods are rich in magnesium while this vital nutrient
has been stripped away in refined flour. In one
analysis, the protective effect of whole grain
consumption was lost when the relative risk was
adjusted for magnesium intake.
To provide some general guidelines, here is a chart
listing various foods and their glycemic index
Table 1 -
Classification of Foods by Glycemic Index Scores
Raisins, dates, and other dried fruits
Potato and other starchy vegetables
Most cold cereals (e.g., Grape Nuts, Corn
Flakes, Raisin Bran, etc.)
Bread (white flour)
Whole Grain Breads
The Glycemic Load
One of the shortcomings of the glycemic index is
that it only tells us about the quality of the
carbohydrates, not the quantity. Obviously, quantity
matters too, but the measurement of the glycemic index
of a food is not related to portion size. That is
where the glycemic load (GL) comes into play. The GL
is a relatively new way to assess the impact of
carbohydrate consumption that takes the glycemic index
into account, but provides much more accurate
information than the glycemic index alone. A GI value
tells you only how rapidly a particular carbohydrate
source turns into blood sugar. It doesn't tell you how
much of that carbohydrate is in a serving of a
particular food. You need to know both things to
understand a food's effect on blood sugar.
For instance, watermelon has a GI of 72 compared to
glucose, but the amount of carbohydrate in a 1/2 cup
of is only 6 grams. The GL calculated by multiplying
the amount of carbohydrate in a serving of food
multiplied by that food's GI (as compared to glucose)
as a decimal. Therefore, to calculate the GL for a 1/2
cup serving of watermelon we would multiply 12 times
72 to equal a GL of 4.3. Compare this to 1/2 cup of
Grape Nuts(tm) that also has a GI of 71 and but
provides 47 grams of carbohydrate yielding a whopping
GL of 33 or 1 cup of white rice that also has GI of
72, but provides 36 grams of carbohydrate so its GL is
26. So, while the GI is important it is not as
critical as the GL. A GL of 20 or more is regarded as
high, a GL of 11 to 19 is medium, and a GL of 10 or
less is low. The higher the GL the greater the stress
Table 2 -
Examples of GI, GL, and insulin stress scores of
|Carrots, cooked, 1/2 cup
|Peach, fresh, 1 large
|Watermelon, 1/2 cup
|Wholewheat bread, 1 slice
|Baked potato, medium
|Brown rice, cooked, 1 cup
|Banana, raw, 1 medium
|Spaghetti, white, cooked, 1 cup
|White rice, cooked, 1 cup
|Grape Nuts(tm), 1/2 cup
|Soft drinks, 375 ml
Clinical Research with
the Glycemic Load
Research studies are just starting to utilize the
GL as a more sensitive marker for the role of diet in
chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. The
preliminary results are showing an even stronger link
in predicting chronic disease than the GI. For
example, when researchers from the Nurses Health Study
used GL measures to assess the impact of carbohydrate
consumption on women they found that high-GL diets
(and, by extension, high GI foods and greater total
carbohydrate intake), correlated with even more
significantly greater risk for heart disease than the
GI because of lower levels of protective
HDL-cholesterol and higher triglyceride levels.
- Leeds AR. Glycemic index and heart disease. Am J
Clin Nutr 2002;76:286S-9S.
- Wolever TM, Mehling C.
High-carbohydrate-low-glycaemic index dietary
advice improves glucose disposition index in
subjects with impaired glucose tolerance. Br J
- Fung TT, Hu FB, Pereira MA, et al. Whole-grain
intake and the risk of type 2 diabetes: a
prospective study in men. Am J Clin Nutr
- Willett W. Manson J, Liu S. Glycemic index,
glycemic load, and risk of type 2 diabetes. Am J
Clin Nutr 2002;76(Suppl.)274S-80S.
- Liu S, Willett WC, Stampfer MJ, Hu FB, et al. A
prospective study of dietary glycemic load,
carbohydrate intake, and risk of coronary heart
disease in US women. Am J Clin Nutr
An article posted to the Electroherbalism listserver regarding "balanced" bars.
I am a fan of protein and "zone-like" bars as quick snacks for on the go as well as occasionally in my kid's lunch box. The only problem is finding suitable ones when the criteria is the following: No soy, corn syrup, wheat, hydrogenated oils, artificial sweeteners, or petrochemicals (glycerine can be from petrochemical or animal source if it does not state it is from vegetable source).
It has become nearly impossible to find a bar that meets these criteria - almost all of them contain soy protein except the whey bars you find in the body building section which are typically chock full of petrochemicals, artificial sweeteners, or other questionable ingredients.
Here are some good ones I have found along with their websites and email addresses.
Nutribiotic ProZone bars are the only ones I could find until recently, and they are still hard to find. (Nutribiotic is best known for their grapefruit extracts and they also have an excellent line of other supplements, especially their vitamin C products.) ProZone bars are sometimes carried at a local health food store near me, and at a good price: around $1.40 each. Oddly, I have never seen them anywhere near this price online - they typically cost around $20 for a box of 12 and as much as $2 each. Plus, it is best to buy them "in person" anyway since if they sit on the shelf for more than a month, they get stale (gently squeeze to make sure they are not).
ProZone bars are good for those who do well on whey. Most are balanced 40-30-30. The mains weetener is fruit leather and this also provides 5g of fiber. The primary fat is medium chain triglycerides with a small amount of borage oil powder. They come in two chocolate covered versions - cappacino and choc-raspberry, plus mango peach and raspberry. Some ProZones bar flavors like the almond crunch do not have whey protein and are not balanced so read the label if a zone-like bar is desired.
I recently came across two other zone-like bars that meet the criteria - Betty Lou's, Inc, and Aunt Candice Foods. These are both rice proteinbars sweetened with FruitTrim (rice syrup and grape juice). The Aunt Candice peanut butter chipbar states it is vegan. I don't know if the Betty Lou bars are. Some people do not do well on vegan rice protein products since they are sensitive to the aspergillus enzymes used to remove the starch from the rice.
Betty Lous, Inc.
The Betty Lou Brownie Bar is a 40-30-30 with 2g of fiber with the main fat source as almond butter. It also contains CitriMax, a garcinia cambogia extract rich in HCA (a weight loss supplement). Betty Lou's, Inc also makes other protein-rich products including those with whey. I paid $1.25 for this bar.
Aunt Candice Foods
Aunt Candice Foods makes a number of bars but the only one I have seen in person is the Peanut Butter Chip. It is approx 40-30-30 although others listed on the website (peanut butter chip is not) are not quite this ratio, but are close enough. Looks like it has 3g fiber. I paid $1.70 for this bar. Aunt Candices also makes non-protein snacks like cookies plus baking and pancake mixes, all wheat free.
These are the only three products I have found. Pretty pitiful considering the huge number of zone-like bars out there that only three meet the above criteria.