Dr. Sears’ Zone Diet

Overview

Barry Sears’ Zone Diet is a popular lower-carbohydrate eating plan that encourages participants to balance their daily calories between complex carbohydrates and lean protein. By eating this way, Sears claims, you can lose weight and reduce chronic inflammation, helping to prevent disorders, such as diabetes and heart disease.

The Diet

Sears introduced the diet in 1995 in his book “The Zone.” He has modified the eating plan over the years, but it still works out to roughly 30 percent of calories from protein, 40 percent from complex carbs and 30 percent from fat. This differs from the U.S. Recommended Daily Intakes of 60 percent carbohydrate, 10 percent protein and 30 percent fat.

In a typical Zone Diet meal, lean protein (such as range-fed beef, chicken breast, seafood, low-fat dairy or tofu) takes up about a third of the plate. Complex carbohydrates (vegetables, fruit, selected grains or reduced-carb pasta or bread) take up two-thirds of the plate. A small amount of healthful fat, such as olive oil, completes the meal. In recent years, Sears has branched out beyond diet books to sell prepackaged meal plans, reduced-carbohydrate pastas and baked goods and dietary supplements.

Rationale

Sears, a former research scientist at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, approaches food as a drug. On his website, he claims that the Zone program can reduce inflammation, an underlying cause of chronic disease, and also turn on anti-inflammatory genes that help repair cells. He describes “the Zone” as that healthy state in which your body’s hormones are in balance.

Pros

Its greater emphasis on protein aside, the Zone Diet encourages eating the kind of healthful foods recommended by everybody from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the Mayo Clinic–lean meats, reduced-fat dairy, healthful fats and plenty of fruits and vegetables. In the January 2009 issue of “Obesity Reviews,” researchers from the Center for Obesity Research and Epidemiology in the United Kingdom wrote that following a low-carbohydrate/high-protein diets for six months to a year is at least as effective as eating a low-fat diet when it comes to losing weight and preventing cardiovascular disease.

Cons

Low-carbohydrate diets might work better in the short term than over the long haul. A research team led by Marion Vetter, M.D., medical director of the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders at the University of Pennsylvania, tracked 132 obese men and women for three years, as they followed either a reduced-calorie diet with less than 30 percent of calories from fat, or a low-carbohydrate diet. They reported in the March 2, 2010, issue of the “Annals of Internal Medicine” that those on the low-carbohydrate diet lost weight more quickly, but gained nearly all of it back, while folks on the low-fat diet continued to lose weight, slowly but steadily. The low-carb diet in the study resembled the Atkins Diet, which generally includes more fat than the Zone Diet.

Considerations

People find it difficult to follow a low-carb diet for longer than six months, Vetter has said. Carb-lovers might find it easier to stick with the Zone Diet, because it offers lower-carbohydrate versions of starchy favorites, such as cookies, bread and pasta.

About this Author

Virginia Van Vynckt worked as a writer and editor at the “Chicago Sun-Times” from 1978 to 1995. She has co-authored seven cookbooks, worked as a Web developer, and published “Our Own,” a book about older child adoption. She has a B.A. in journalism from Indiana University and a digital design certificate from Sessions.edu.