Diet 101: The Zone Diet (a.k.a. 40-30-30 Diet)

The Zone is what made that whole 40-30-30 calorie combination popular -- that is, 40% of your calories come from carbs, 30% from fat and 30% from protein. This “magical” mix promises to lower risks for heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Here’s a closer look at the diet.

The Zone is what made that whole 40-30-30 calorie combination popular -- that is, 40% of your calories come from carbs, 30% from fat and 30% from protein. This “magical” mix promises to lower risks for heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Here’s a closer look at the diet.

An Overview

Dr. Barry Sears came up with the Zone Diet in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that his diet and book, Enter the Zone, became popular. Not too long after his first book became a bestseller, a slew of Zone-focused books cropped up, including Top 100 Zone Foods and A Week in the Zone.

The theory behind the Zone diet is all in the numbers: 40-30-30. Zone dieters balance their meals and snacks so that their calories come from a mix of 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein and 30 percent “friendly” fats. Sears theorizes that this caloric framework keeps your mind and body working most efficiently. Additionally, on his website, Sears talks about how his diet can reduce inflammation in your body, which, in turn, can help stave off serious illness (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.) while curbing weight gain.

But back to the numbers. When following the Zone, it’s essential to balance out the protein-to-carbohydrate ratio at every meal. It’s also important for Zone dieters to eat every four to six hours. You’re only meant to consume 800 to 1,200 calories a day, and there’s a long list of “unfavorable carbohydrates” that you avoid altogether. These no-nos include bananas, dates, sweet potatoes and cooked beets.

    The Zone Diet includes three stages:
  • Stage 1: A two-week phase during which you “enter the zone” and learn the plan’s basic principles (i.e. familiarizing yourself with the 40-30-30 formula).
  • Stage 2: You customize your meal plan and keep practicing meal combinations. This phase continues until you reach your goal weight.
  • Stage 3: A lifelong maintenance phase, during which you continue to follow the Zone formula.
The Costs

If numbers and tabulations aren’t your thing, this diet will be a toughie. Learning to eat in this specific manner takes time and practice. You must to pre-plan all meals — this includes shopping lists, trips to the market and lots of time in the kitchen. You also have to eat those meals at specified times, which can get annoying. To make it easier, there are numerous Zone meal delivery services, but they can cost a fortune!

The Zone experts also recommend numerous supplements; you can easily order them from the Zone’s online store, but they may not be a safe choice for everyone (some supplements and medications don't mix). Not to mention the fact that the costs add up and you have to remember to take them.

The Zone’s website has a plethora of resources, including an online community, recipes, tools (i.e. body fat calculator) and a store that sells its supplements, shakes, bars and specially formulated Zone foods. There is free online access to the site, but you need to enter your email address. I signed up for it a few years back, and I still get bombarded with Zone emails. For special membership, the initial fee costs about $20-30.

The Good
Here are some of the benefits of the plan:
    • Focuses on balancing out meals and eating lean proteins and healthy fats.
  • You eat five times a day.
  • Many accessible resources for information, recipes and foods.
  • Encourages moderate exercise.
The Not-So Good
Here are some of the pitfalls of that plan:
    • All meals and snacks must adhere to the specific combination of 40-30-30.
  • Calorie levels may be too low for some folks.
  • Very tough to stick to for the long haul.
  • Too many supplements suggested, which can get dangerous and pricey.
  • Some healthy foods are discouraged, including fruits and veggies.
The Bottom Line

The Zone sounds like a place I’d visit, but forget about staying forever. Following this diet perfectly is impractical. Many of the suggested recipes look delicious, and you can work them into a healthy eating regimen, but unless you’re a hardcore dieter, this might not be the right choice for you.

    Read up on other diets:
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