Is The Zone Diet Good Or An Old Fad That Needs To Go Away?

We will take a good hard look at virtually every aspect of the zone diet in the article below. However, suffice in saying that, overall, the zone diet is not that much better or worse than many other diets. It did outperform two other diets that we will discuss, but for the most part it’s relatively average.

Disclaimer: The following is for educational purposes only. We are not advocating a change in dietary, health or exercise protocols. Please seek the advice or council of your nutritionally educated health care practitioner prior to engaging in any dietary or exercise changes.

What Is The Zone Diet?

Dr. Barry Sears and his sister developed the diet using clinical data from their research they had been conducting on macronutrient profiles and inflammation. They hypothesized that balancing macros would balance hormones, prostaglandins, blood sugars and lower inflammation. They then developed a ratio of protein, fat and carb consumption that they felt optimized this state. Since they wanted to keep you in a particular macronutrient zone, they labeled it the zone diet.

How Does The Zone Diet Help You Lose Weight?

The theory is that by balancing the bodies hormones via macronutrient control you would lower inflammation and thereby allow the body to lose more body fat than other dietary methods.

This sounds great until you discover that cooked meats whether they be chicken, pork, red meat or fish stimulate blood sugar elevations to the same or in some cases greater extents than do complex carbohydrates. They also are the primary drivers of low grade systemic inflammation.

According to the latest research as of the time of writing, the amino acid leucine when obtained from animal sourced proteins raises the insulin response to serum blood glucose by as much as 66%.

When you think about it, that’s astounding. When the researchers looked to other dietary compounds to see if one or more might equal this level of forced response, no others could be found by this group of research scientists.

This means that leucine might be the strongest metabolic trigger for increasing the body’s insulin response to simple sugars or those foods that break down quickly into simple sugars.

The researchers didn’t test the response against other long chain glucose polymers (complex carbs) which would have been a very nice data set to have to compare the two.

So, we don’t know the leucine driven insulin response to complex carbs. However, we do know that as those complex carbs get broken down into simple sugars I.E. blood glucose that in the presence of animal sourced leucine they will trigger this huge jump in insulin.

What does this mean?

It means that we have been looking at dietary protein consumption and the types of proteins (or their sources) all wrong.  

Here is a quote from one of the studies in their conclusion:

“In this large population-based cohort, we observed that a diet higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods was associated with lower insulin resistance, and a lower risk of pre-diabetes and T2D, suggesting a protective role of a more plant-based opposed to a more animal-based diet in the development to T2D, beyond strict adherence to a vegetarian or vegan diet”. (10) in sources below.

What all these diet companies including the Zone are missing is that animal based proteins including dairy increase insulin output in response to carbohydrate consumption.

This alone blows most of their so-called science or rationale out of the water. They simply don’t know any better, they are not aware of the facts surrounding this issue and so keep teaching the same strategies that don’t work any better than anyone else’s.

There are multiple studies vetting the zone diet against Atkins, Pritikin, Keto and more. These studies if honest and not funded by a party interested in a particular outcome and willing to fund the research to support it, all show that for the most part these diets are basically all the same.

Yes, that’s correct.

There is very little difference between the outcomes of these diets and most diets today for that matter.

So, how do you lose weight on any of these diets including the zone diet?

Simple, you eat less and or burn more than you need to maintain the weight. So, that means you maintain a caloric deficit and stick with it.

Those are the two main things that make any diet work.

In fact, without them no diet will work, ever. There is no magic solution to the age-old problem of calories in calories out. You have to either eat less or move more, shortcuts really just don’t exist.

What Are The Zone Diet Macros (Macronutrients)?

The zone proponents say that the magic of their dietary program is that you stay in this mystical zone of 30/30/40 which is 30 percent protein, 30 percent fat and 40 percent carbohydrate.

On the surface this may sound rather balanced and in truth it is. It’s far more balanced than the SAD (Standard American Diet) is by a very big margin.

However, for the average non weight training individual there is an argument to be made that 50% of your calories should come from carbohydrates and that only 20 percent should come from fat.

If you are a bodybuilder looking to get ready for a show, then 50 percent protein and 20 percent fat would likely be more appropriate.

If you’re a long-distance runner, then you would want to up your carbohydrates so out of skew with the zone philosophies that you would not be able to count yourself a part of this group no matter what.

Runners in that category are usually consuming 70 percent or more of their calories from carbohydrate to fuel their long runs.

Is The Zone Diet Good For Cross Fit Trainers?

Yes, as a matter of fact it is. The diet is one of the very few that balances enough carbohydrate to have the energy you need to fuel those grueling workouts. It also provides enough protein to allow you to build the muscle and strength that you’re obviously looking for. It keeps enough fat in your diet to allow you to have properly functioning hormones and hormone manufacturing.

Most of the diets out there only look at the weight loss component. This diet however, takes a much more balanced approach to dieting which is perfect for cross trainers.

Having said that, if you’re finding that you’re not putting on enough muscle fast enough then all you need to do is up the protein percentage from 30 percent to 40 percent and drop the fat by 10 percent.

This should provide enough protein to adequately stock your body’s nitrogen pools so that there are ample amino acids to combine into protein structures.

In fact, cross fit and that type of training style is one of the things the zone diet is actually best suited for.

Is The Zone Diet A Fad Or Sustainable?

It may have fallen out of favor with some people because they are constantly bombarded with diet offers. You know how it is, you see at least 3 or 4 new fad diets every year and the vast majority of them just don’t work. The zone diet on the other hand is quite sustainable because it’s main focus is all about balance.

The main takeaway here is that you understand one thing, and that is, diets are only as sustainable as the adherence of the participants. If you get on a diet and stick with it, you’ll likely have far greater success than someone who jumps from diet to diet hoping to find the magic bullet that just doesn’t exist.

Find a diet that you’re comfortable with and stick with it. That’s really the key to it all, consistency IS the magic.

Now, just because you’re being consistent doesn’t mean that you should not vary the diet in a method consistent with modulation. You just can’t keep eating the same number of calories, the exact same foods and maintain the exact same exercise program all while expecting to change.

That’s just not going to happen. So, you will have to modulate your diet and exercise routines to be sure to keep your body guessing and thereby struggling enough to be stimulated to change. This stimulus is needed whether you’re losing weight or gaining muscle.

Is The Zone Diet Effective?

This diet is just as effective as any diet. The real question is, will you be able to stay on it? The zone diet like any other is predicated on caloric restriction or expenditure. I.E. You need to take in less or burn more than your metabolism requires for maintenance, it’s just that simple. Or is it?

Well, if you just stay on the same number of calories for too long your body will adjust to that and see no reason to change.

It’s like this; if you have the same job for 20 years doing the exact same thing every day, why would you change? And, if you did, would the boss even allow it? Because you’re perfectly suited to this job, you can wear the same clothes all the time, look the same, take breaks at the same time every day etc.

If this is the case you are the antithesis of change, there is no reason, no motivation, nothing.

If this is you while dieting, you’re all but guaranteed to hit a plateau where you will just stop losing fat or body weight and stay the same.

Why?

Why not?

You have not given your body a reason to adapt and if you don’t it most certainly won’t.

This means that you need to constantly be changing up your diet and workout regime to keep things fresh and give your body the new stimulus needed to force it to adapt, which really means change.

How Much Weight Can You Lose On The Zone Diet In A Month?

Supposing that you’re familiar with the fact that a pound of fat equals 3,500 calories you know that if you have a 500 calorie per day deficit created by either diet, exercise or both that it will take you 7 days or 1 week to lose that pound of fat. So, in one month you would lose 4 pounds of body fat.

Are there ways to accelerate that amount of fat loss? Sure, there are, here are a couple you can experiment with.

Adding in longer distance walking. Long walks burn off significant calories and really make a huge difference over the course of a month or longer.

Being sure to train each body part once per week with resistance training. When you add more muscle to your body you create a bigger engine. This engine must consume. So, if your calories are lower but caloric needs go up due to increases in lean tissue more calories are burned at rest, at play or in the gym.

If you incorporate both of these into your regime, you’ll become a fat burning furnace.

Unless you’re already running marathons, you should always attempt to add in more exercise to burn off fat faster, rather than continually reducing calories.

Continual calorie reduction is a losing game, because very soon you run out of calories to remove.

Does The Zone Diet Help To Relieve Inflammation?

Just a little, but really not all that much, let us explain. They balanced the macronutrients in such a way as to clinically lower inflammation over other macronutrient profiles which did give them a statistically significant drop. The thing they didn’t do was to look at the types of foods people would be eating.

To give this as an example: let’s say you wanted to test whether the insulin spike of sucrose could be blunted with different macro profiles.

So, you have one meal that is 30 percent sucrose, 40 percent fat and 30 percent protein vs the other meal being 30 percent sucrose 40 percent protein and 30 percent fat.

You then claim that your product is the best thing out there at lowering insulin spiking.

But what if you just told people to stop eating sucrose and replace it with vegetables instead. This would obviously get better results, right.    

So, when you’re telling people to eat animal fat, butter, red and other meats you could have dropped your inflammation scores by possibly 90 percent over the meat and animal fat dieters if you have them replace that with plant origin proteins and fats.

This means that, while the zone diet did lower inflammation over other animal centric diets, it could have had off the charts results using the same macronutrient profiles with plant foods instead.

Since, according to Deepak Chopra (one of the top natural physicians in the world) 90 to 95 percent of all diseases start from chronic low-grade inflammation, the lowest inflammation diet would be the far superior diet.                                                                                                   

 Sources

1. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/met.2004.2.24

2. https://europepmc.org/article/med/11834107

3. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07315724.2003.10719271

4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0271531704000478

5. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/200094/

6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0026049515000864

7. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/joim.12543

8. https://www.metabolismjournal.com/article/S0026-0495(08)00312-0/fulltext

9. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/147/3/281/4584732?login=true

10. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10654-018-0414-8