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The Zone Diet

zone diet

‘’Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.´´ Wise words spoken by Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician who lived around 400 BC.

The Zone diet promotes the idea that by regulating your food intake you can heal or prevent disease in the body. It promises that you can lose weight without feeling hungry, balance your hormones and regulate your body by means of your diet. It proposes eating proteins, fats and carbohydrates in a certain ratio, 5 times a day. It does not promise dramatic, rapid weight loss, but rather steady loss of body fat and restoration of the body’s natural balance by keeping it in ``the Zone´´. This is an area of optimal nutritional balance where the body functions at its best level. It is a steady insulin level which reduces fluctuations in sugar levels. This should cause a sense of satiety (fullness) so that you do not overeat.

The Zone diet is promoted by biochemist Dr.Barry Sears, a pre-eminent expert on the regulation of hormonal responses using diet. He was formerly a research scientist of Boston University School of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has spent 30 years studying lipids (fats).

The Zone diet proposes 3 meals and 2 snacks a day, eaten in the correct proportions. The ratio of protein to fat to carbohydrate is 30:30:40. No food is completely banned but the emphasis should be on low-fat proteins, monounsaturated fats and wholesome carbohydrates.

Good proteins would include skinless chicken, turkey or fish rather than red meat. Fatty red meat and egg yolks are less acceptable. Vegetarians and vegans could eat any plant-based protein such as lentils, chickpeas (garbanzo beans) or other legumes. Natural fats and oils are encouraged, such as olive oil, almond and avocados.

The intake of carbohydrates should be limited and thought of as a side dish, rather than a main component of a meal. It is not suitable to eat all carbs at one meal, and all protein at another. Something from each group needs to be present at each meal.

High-sugar or starchy fruit and vegetables such as bananas, raisins, corn or carrots are considered unfavourable. You should eat within an hour of waking, never go for more than 5 hours without a meal and eat a snack before bedtime. Sticking to the rules means you will be staying in the Zone.

An easy way to regulate your intake is to divide your plate into 3 sections. Fill one-third with a portion of protein the size and thickness of your palm. Fill the other two-thirds with non-starch fruit and vegetables, and add a dash of monounsaturated fats.  It has been suggested that the hand is used as mnemonic tool. Five fingers mean eat five times a day, and no longer than five hours between meals. The size and thickness of the palm is the measure of the amount of protein allowed. Two fists give an indication of the amount of favourable carbohydrates to eat (or one fist of unfavourable carbohydrates).

Calorie counting is part of the diet. Women can take in 1200 calories per day, and men 1 500. This will result in an initial weight loss of ½ -1½kg in the first week. Weight loss will not be dramatic but the diet promises the loss of fat, not muscle or water, and a noticeable difference in the tightness of your clothing.

The diet recommends consistent, moderate exercise such as walking for 30 minutes a day. This can be supplemented by 5-10 minutes of strength training.

One of the benefits of this diet includes encouraging people to eat healthy, unprocessed foods. Vegetarians and vegans will probably find this an easy diet to follow as their diet is fruit and veg-based without animal proteins or animal fats.

Other special diets that are covered in the Zone diet are gluten-free and low-salt. The restrictions on wheat, barley and rye make it easy for those on gluten-free diets to follow. The emphasis on fresh ingredients rather than processed foods means that it is simpler to control the intake of salt.

This diet falls between the USDA-recommended food pyramid which focuses on high-carbohydrate intakes, and the high-fat Atkins diet.

However, like many other diets, its efficacy is not comprehensively proven. Limiting any food group may result in nutritional imbalances and shortages which could result in sickness and disease. It may be time-consuming to prepare the correct foods each day. Some may find it complicated to work out amounts needed. Fresh ingredients may be more expensive and difficult to obtain. Ketosis results from the body using fats for energy when insufficient carbohydrates are present. This may be dangerous. This diet is not recommended for anyone with kidney disease, pregnant or lactating women.

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