Developed by biochemist Dr. Barry Sears, the Zone Diet involves eating a 40-30-30 ratio of carbohydrates, protein, and fats. Although it’s popular, many ideas are not backed by scientific evidence or clinical studies.
What Is the Zone Diet?
The Zone Diet was initially designed as an anti-inflammatory diet, often associated with weight gain, hormones, sickness, and aging.
The aim is to reach ‘The Zone,’ a metabolic state described by the Zone Diet creator as optimal for losing excess body fat faster, reducing weight, maintaining wellness, stabilizing blood sugar levels, and improving physical and mental performance.
How the Zone Diet Works
The Zone Diet has four ‘pillars.’
- Consume the fewest calories without making you hungry or fatigued.
- Maintain a healthy balance of inflammatory and resolution pathways by consuming omega-3 fatty acids.
- Consume dietary polyphenols (natural plant chemicals) to activate genes that produce antioxidant enzymes and anti-inflammatory proteins to slow aging.
- Control inflammation caused by gut microbes with fiber, polyphenols, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Exercise is not a requirement of the Zone Diet, but it is encouraged. The website has tips on pre-workout and post-workout fueling.
It’s recommended to eat three meals and two snacks each day. Meals should be every four to six hours, and snacks should be every two hours.
Women should eat 1,200 calories for weight loss, and men should consume 1,500 calories each day.
The Diet Plan
The Zone Diet plans are based on the following macronutrient ratios:
- 40 percent carbohydrates
- 30 percent protein
- 30 percent fats
- Eat colorful nonstarchy vegetables.
- Eat low-glycemic fruits.
- Avoid foods high in sugar, such as bananas and dried fruit.
- Avoid starchy foods, such as potatoes, corn, and peas.
- Eat lean protein, like meats, egg whites, fish, chicken, low-fat dairy, and tofu.
- Eat monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, avocados, and almonds.
Two supplements are recommended for the Zone Diet:
- Omega-3 fatty acids
Zone Food Blocks
Zone Food Blocks explains how much of each macronutrient you should eat each day.
One Zone Food Block is made of three mini-blocks:
- a carbohydrate block (9 grams)
- a protein block (7 grams)
- a fat block (1.5 to 3 grams)
Each meal or snack should have a 1:1:1 ratio of these mini-blocks. Use the Zone Food Block Guide to help you with this.
A snack always has one Zone Food Block, and the main meal has three or four.
So, a meal with three Zone Food Blocks would consist of three protein blocks, three fat blocks, and three carbohydrate blocks.
Using their calculator, you can determine how many Zone Food Blocks you need each day. On average, women eat 11 Food Blocks each day, and men eat 14.
The Zone Food Pyramid
The Zone Food Pyramid shows how much each food group you should eat.
On the bottom are vegetables; most of your consumption should be these.
The other components are fruit, low-fat proteins, monounsaturated oils, and grains and starches, which you should consume the least.
The Zone Diet doesn’t have a membership program, but you can purchase food and books on their website, such as:
- 120 Omega capsules: $50
- 10 ZoneRx Bar Dark Chocolate: $35.95
- 4 pack Zone PastaRx Fusilli: $53.96
- 30 ZoneRx Chocolate Shakes: $89.96
- The Resolution Zone Book: $22.99
Dos and Don’ts
- Focus on portions and get the recommended ratio of carbohydrates, protein, and fats ratio.
- Do eat breakfast every day within an hour of waking up.
- Don’t cut out any specific foods (unless you want to). Although some foods should be limited, the diet imposes no ban on eating your favorite foods from time to time.
- Don’t skip meals. It’s crucial to balance your intake of carbohydrates, lean protein, and fats throughout the day when following the Zone Diet.
Sample Diet Plan
Here’s what two days of Zone meals might look like.
Breakfast: Apple Orange Breakfast Shake (apple slices, oranges, almonds, 2% milk, Zone Protein Powder)
Lunch: Barbecue Chicken Salad (extra virgin olive oil, chicken breast, bell peppers, onions, cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, barbecue sauce, lettuce, cabbage)
Dinner: American Casserole (Zone PastaRx Fusilli, olive oil, turkey breast, tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, green beans, tomato sauce, seasoning, basil, mozzarella cheese)
Applesauce, low-fat cottage cheese, and almonds
Low-fat Colby cheese and a plum
Breakfast: Apple Pie Spiced Oatmeal (oats water, pumpkin spice, Zone Protein Powder, applesauce, stevia, pecans, extra virgin olive oil)
Lunch: Bean and Sausage Orzo (Zone PastaRX Orzo, tomatoes, olive oil, watermelon, onion, chicken sausage, garlic, cannellini beans, cilantro)
Dinner: Antipasto Salad (lettuce, celery, carrots, mushrooms, onions, bell pepper, garbanzo beans, tuna, low-fat mozzarella cheese, sliced turkey, extra-lean ham, basil, olive oil)
Chocolate Parfait (cocoa powder, vanilla, agave nectar, non-fat Greek yogurt, raspberries, blueberries, walnuts)
Health Benefits and Drawbacks of the Zone Diet
Although the Zone Diet hasn’t been extensively researched, it has a few known benefits.
Contributes to Weight Loss
In a study of 30 overweight and obese women, participants lost about 6.9 kilograms (7.4 percent of their body weight) after six months of following the diet. This is clinically significant weight loss.
Reduces Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Type 2 Diabetes
Participants experienced reductions in waist circumference, LDL cholesterol, and insulin levels in the same study.
This is believed to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
The diet creator, Dr. Barry Sears, makes some claims that aren’t backed by science.
For example, no studies suggest the Zone Diet improves mental focus and productivity, reduces hunger, or improves physical performance.
‘Food Blocks’ Can Be Complicated and Confusing
The ‘Food Blocks’ method can be challenging and time-consuming to use.
A more accessible alternative is the ‘Hand Eye’ method, where you fill one-third of your plate with protein, two-thirds with carbs, and add a small amount of fat. However, the downside to this is that it’s less accurate.
The Bottom Line: Is the Zone Diet a Healthy Way to Lose Weight?
The Zone Diet encourages eating many healthy foods and balancing your protein, carbohydrates, and fats for what the creator sees as optimal health. Although you’ll likely lose weight and body fat quickly due to the large calorie deficit, there isn’t enough evidence to conclude how safe and effective this is in the long term.
Meagan Morris is the editor in chief of Celebribody. She's veteran health and wellness editor with over 15 years of experience. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Yahoo Health, Cosmopolitan, SELF, and Women's Health, among others. She spends most of her time writing, but her favorite part of the day is spent under a barbell doing squats.