The Zone Diet Plan
Low - But Not No - Carb

Dr. Sears Zone Diet logo
What is The Zone Diet?

The Zone diet plan is an approach to eating, popularized by Dr. Barry Sears, that advocates balancing the ratio of carbohydrate, protein, and fat you eat at every meal. An ideal balance is considered "40-30-30":

  • 40% carbohydrate
  • 30% protein
  • 30% fat

The diet is based on a theory that excess insulin (a hormone that helps control your blood sugar levels), makes and keeps you fat and unhealthy. By consuming the "proper" ratio of carb, protein, and fat, you can control your insulin levels.

The Zone diet plan also involves cutting out most "bad" carbohydrates (breakfast cereals, rice, potatoes, pasta, noodles, bread, bagels, croissants, muffins, crisps, pastries, pies, chocolate, sweets, sugar, etc.), as these have the greatest effect on blood sugar and therefore insulin levels.

How The Zone Diet Plan Works

Eat carb, protein, and fat at every meal in the proper ratio.

This can be accomplished in one of two ways.

The first way is somewhat involved and technical and is best only if you're one who likes details or who is interested in learning a little more about nutrition.

To help you achieve a 40-30-30 balance at meals, the notion of "Zone Food Blocks" was developed. Each "block" of food contains a standardized amount of carbohydrate, protein or fat. You're allowed a certain number of "blocks" at each meal and snack. (If you're a "numbers fan," it works out to be approximately one gram of fat for every two grams of protein and three grams of carbohydrates.)

With help from any of the Zone diet plan books or the official Zone diet website, you can determine how many "blocks" you should have every day, and how they should be distributed throughout the day. And then you can use the website or books to help you put meals together or get some recipe ideas.


If it all seems too difficult to figure out but you'd really like to "get into the Zone," you can have fresh, gourmet chef-prepared 40-30-30 meals delivered to your door for a price via Chefs Diet meal delivery service (a page on this site). Doing so can be an education if you pay attention to the balance and portions of the meals.

Zone also offers its own brand of (processed) food products that can be used in a pinch if desired, although I wouldn't recommend a diet based on processed foods.


If your head is spinning at the thought of trying to figure out "blocks," don't despair! It is possible to approximate a 40-30-30 balance without being a math wiz or whipping out a calculator at every meal.

You can follow the basic principles of the diet without getting so technical. All you really need are your eyeballs.

Visually balance the proportions of food on your plate each time you eat

Picture this:

  • 1/3 plate protein
  • 2/3 plate carbohydrate
  • dash of fat

Protein

Include a lean portion of protein at every meal that's as big (and as thick) as the palm or your hand. It should fill up about 1/3 of your plate. Best choices include:

  • Skinless chicken
  • Turkey
  • Fish
  • Very lean cuts of meat
  • Egg whites
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Tofu
  • Soy meat substitutes

Carbohydrate

You eat carbs at every meal on this plan, but a distinction is made between "desirable" carbs and "undesirable carbs."

"Good Carbs"

  • Most vegetables (except corn and carrots)
  • Most fruits (except bananas & raisins)
  • Selected grains (oatmeal, barley, quinoa, brown rice)

"Bad Carbs"

  • Other grains and starches (pasta, bread, bagels, cereals, potatoes, etc.)
  • Selected fruits (bananas, raisins, etc.)
  • Selected vegetables (corn and carrots)

2/3 of your plate should be filled with these "good" carbs, with preference given to vegetables and fruits over grains.

While not as low as The Atkins Diet, The Zone diet plan is actually considered a "low carbohydrate diet," even given the fact you can eat 2/3 of a plate full of carbs!

Fats

Fats are also important to include at every meal, and a distinction is made in this category between "good" and "bad" as well.

Good Fats:

  • Olive oil
  • Almonds
  • Avocados
  • Fish oils

Bad Fats

  • Fatty red meat
  • Egg yolks
  • Organ meats
  • Processed foods (rich in trans fats)

Only small amounts or dashes of fat are needed. Limit portions of added fat to the size of your thumb or thumbtip.

Zone Diet Plan in simple terms:

  • 1/3 plate good protein
  • 2/3 plate good vegetables and fruits (or good grain)
  • A dash of heart healthy (good) fat (olive oil, avocado, nuts or seeds)

The Zone Diet PROS

  • Doctor developed
  • Nutritionally balanced
  • Recipes on the website (free when you register on the site)
  • Many of the recipes are easy to prepare
  • Low carb, but not "too" low
  • Fewer restrictions than other "low carb plans"
  • Encourages reduction of "junky," low nutrient foods and an increase in "good for you" fruits and vegetables.

The Zone Diet CONS

  • Figuring out "Zone Blocks" and how to eat precisely 40-30-30 can be confusing, involving a lot of math
  • Trying to eat out can be a nightmare
  • Zone diet plan products and Zone diet meal delivery can be expensive
  • It is possible to eat meals that are precisely 40-30-30 and not lose an ounce if you're still overeating total calories
  • The amount of weight the average person loses on this diet rates "below average" according to Consumer Reports
  • The theory that weight loss occurs as a result of managing insulin levels isn't sound
  • Some foods that really are nutritious are unnecessarily eliminated.

My Professional Opinion

I think the Zone Diet Plan is a reasonable way of eating. Adhering to the basic principles and balancing all meals with protein, carb and fat (and portion control) is smart and can be simple if you use your eyes and plate to guide you rather than relying on all the calculations.

What's more reasonable? Working with a Registered Dietitian (like me!) to design a diet built for one person (you!). Contact me.

Did YOU Ever Try The Zone Diet? Tell About Your Experience!

The best source of information on The Zone Diet is the people who have tried it. If you're one of them...

Did you lose weight? Were you able to keep it off? Are you still on it? How did you feel when you were on it? Would you recommend it to others?

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Here's what others think about this person's experience with the Zone Diet.

Loving and Leaving the Zone Diet Not rated yet
Back in 1996 ( it must have been the Zone Year) I read Barry Sear's book and found it really interesting. Even though it was somewhat technical, it made …

Worked for me! Not rated yet
I started the Zone about seven years ago after I had gotten way, way overweight. I liked it because it did allow me to eat things I liked, which were …

Loved being "In the Zone"  Not rated yet
Yes, eating "in the Zone" does have all the cons you mentioned. However, in 1996 I tried it for an entire summer and it was really great. Here are …

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