THE ZONE DIET
The Zone Diet, created by Dr. Barry Sears, is based on a somewhat scientific approach to eating, which, at its core, focuses on controlling and balancing out certain hormonal levels in the body which is thought to be the key to optimal health and body weight. When one can achieve this positive balance of hormones in the body via the diet, they are said to be “in The Zone”
The Zone Diet’s basic premise is that with the right balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats, you can control three major hormones produced in the body: insulin, glucagon and eicosanoids.
- Insulin – A sugar-storing hormone. The benefits of controlling insulin are: achieving proper blood sugar levels, increasing fat loss, decreasing the likelihood of cardiovascular disease, and potentially greater physical and mental performance. On the other hand, excess insulin has the potential to make an individual overweight and keep them that way. It can also accelerate a negative process in the body called silent inflammation.
- Glucagon – A mobilization hormone that tells the body to release stored glucose sugar (as glycogen) from the liver as needed and at a steady rate, leading to stabilized blood sugar levels. This is also key for optimal mental and physical performance.
- Eicosanoids – The the hormones that ultimately control silent inflammation. There are inflammatory and non-inflammatory - producing eicosanoids. They are also master hormones that indirectly affect a vast array of other hormonal systems in the body.
Like The Paleolithic diet, The Zone Diet consists of consuming moderate amounts of protein, but in this case, from either animal or vegetarian sources. The diet, however, emphasizes consuming protein from lean meats and omega 3 rich (‘good fat’) protein sources, such as: wild salmon, wild cod, and high omega 3 eggs. In addition, protein is the cornerstone of every meal and is accompanied with moderate amounts of low to moderate glycemic carbohydrates, such as: berries, apples, green leafy vegetables, watery vegetables (i.e., celery), root vegetables (i.e., daikon), beans; lower glycemic grains such as: quinoa, and whole oats; and ‘good’ fats, such as: olive oil, fish or fish oil supplements, and some nuts and seeds.
For further information on carbohydrates and the glycemic index, please see the Nutritionist article Sugar
For an easy way to remember and implement the carbohydrate (carb.) to protein portions of The Zone Diet , use an ‘eye-estimate’ to remember that the dense (i.e., grain-sourced) carb. portion should be twice the size of the protein portion or that the carb. portion should be about the size of a fist, (i.e., a bowl of quinoa), and the protein portion should be about the size of a deck of cards. Very low glycemic carbohydrates, such as leafy green vegetables, can be eaten as desired. The fat portion, if in oil form, should be about the amount in a large dinner spoon or 1 tablespoon; or if in the form of nuts or seeds, it should be ‘a small handful’. ‘Less favorable’ or higher glycemic carbohydrates, such as brown rice, pasta, bananas, bagels, etc., should be eaten in smaller portions.
The Zone Diet is also called the 30-40-30 diet because the protein intake is 30% of total calories, carbohydrate intake is 40% of total calories, and the fat intake is around 30% of total calories, with saturated fat intake approximately 10% to 30% of total calories depending on whether The Zone Diet participant consumes more or less fish, poultry, red meat, or vegetable-based proteins for the protein portion of their diet.
How does one increase insulin levels?
Eating too many fat-free carbohydrates or too many calories at any one meal can cause insulin levels to go way too high in the body and unfortunately too many Americans eat like this. It is excessive levels of the hormone insulin that can cause a person to become overweight and to stay that way. In addition, we know thru countless livestock and cattle ranching examples, that the best way to fatten cattle is to raise their insulin levels by feeding them excessive amounts of low-fat, high glycemic grain, just as it is the most efficient way to do so in humans.
Pros: Some of the benefits for implementing The Zone Diet into one’s life, or, as some say, living in The Zone, include the fact that it can help regulate blood sugar levels, regulate ‘good vs. bad’ hormonal responses and therefore reduce inflammation. In addition, the diet emphasizes consuming: lean meats; wild fish; fresh, high fiber vegetables; and fresh, high fiber, low glycemic fruits. These foods are more nutrient-dense than processed foods with higher levels of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and omega 3’s than the typical western or standard American diet (S.A.D.) of high glycemic refined sugars and grains, refined dairy products, and refined oils and other ‘bad fat’ by-products. Dr. Sears suggests that these common western foods, especially in improper macro-nutrient proportions, are responsible for the current epidemic levels of cardiovascular disease, cancer, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and osteoporosis in the US and other westernized populations. On the other hand, eating ‘in The Zone’ will have the positive and opposite effect and will minimize or prevent the aforementioned negative health conditions. 
In addition, The Zone Diet is much less restrictive in total carbohydrate intake than a very low carbohydrate diet, such as The Atkins diet, which became popular throughout the United States around 2003. Dr. Sears claims that diets specifically designed as "low carb" miss the point. According to him, they ignore the importance of moderation and hormonal balance and the positive influence these two have on digestion, energy levels, inflammation, and fat burning.
Most importantly, The Zone diet, when executed according to its guidelines, is very safe; is easy to implement, at home or dining out; is easy to stay on; and can actually be more of a ‘way of life’ eating pattern (which I highly recommend) than a typical frustrating and restrictive short-term diet!
Cons: There are a few arguments brought up against implementing The Zone Diet in terms of health. They include too high of percentage total fat intake as well as too high of saturated fat intake from a predominantly high animal-based protein diet to be healthy, such as cardio-protective, for an individual.   In addition, other researchers question whether lowering high glycemic food intake, lowering insulin levels and balancing out blood sugars is what really helps an individual lose body fat, or is it that the diet also tends to be lower in calories like many other diet plans are? According to Angelo Tremblay, an obesity expert at Laval University in Ste-Foy, Quebec, the question isn't whether carbohydrates can raise insulin levels; it is whether keeping insulin "in The Zone" will help you "lose weight permanently," as Sears's book promises. In fact, studies suggest that if you're already overweight, excess insulin may actually keep you from gaining more weight.
John Friedstein, CN