Want to lose Weight? Eat like our Paleolithic ancestors

A recent article appeared in the British Journal of Nutrition that gives an updated estimate of what diet (i.e. Paleolithic) our ancestors may have eaten during the time from their first appearance in Africa some 200,000 years ago until they started leaving Africa 100,000 years later (1). This is important because this type of diet until 10,000 years ago (with the advent of agriculture) was the nutritional foundation through which our genes evolved. Since our diet and gene expression are intimately tied together (2), understanding the dietary forces that molded how our genes respond to diet is important. This is particularly true since nutritional science has many conflicting interactions that make the study of a single nutrient often result in conflicting data. One such example is the study of insulin responses induced by the diet without studying the impact of fatty acid composition on insulin secretion and vice versa. This is why the study of Paleolithic nutrition provides a template to ask questions to optimize our current diet. In fact, I actually I stated this on page 99 of my first book, “The Zone” (3).

So what are the newest updates on the composition of the Paleolithic diet of our African ancestors? It appears the protein content was between 25 and 29 percent, the carbohydrates were about 40 percent and the total fat was about 30-36 percent. If that sounds familiar to the 30 percent protein, 40 percent carbohydrate, and 30 percent fat ratio in the anti inflammatory diet, it should. Essentially the newest estimate of the Paleolithic diet of our human ancestors in Africa is the anti inflammatory diet.

Equally important, it was estimated that the intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) was about 6 grams per day. This is similar to my recommendations in “The OmegaRx Zone,” published in 2002 (4). The dietary ratio of arachidonic acid (AA) to EPA was also estimated in this article and was found to be about 2. Since the dietary intake of these fatty acids would be reflected in the blood, then we can assume the AA/EPA ratio in Paleolithic man was about 2. This AA/EPA ratio is again strikingly similar to the recommendations in my various books about what the best AA/EPA ratio should be for optimal control of the cellular inflammation, which leads to the acceleration of chronic disease (4-6).

When you follow the Paleolithic diet (a.k.a. the anti inflammatory diet), you find almost instantaneous changes in hormonal responses (7, 8) and improved glycemic control (8,9) before there is any weight loss. And if you continue to follow it, you not only lose weight, but also burn fat faster (11-14).

Was I just taking lucky guesses on my recommendations for the anti inflammatory diet over the past 15 years? I would like to think they were not lucky guesses, but based on insight coming from my background in drug delivery technology that strives for a therapeutic zone for optimal results. The lucky part was having the perseverance to stay true to those insights. On the other hand, it is always nice to get validation even 15 years after the fact.

1. Kuipers RS, Luxwolda MF, Dijck-Brouwer DJA, Eaton SB, Crawford, MA, Cordain L, and Muskiet FAJ. “Estimate macronutrient and fatty acid intakes from an East African paleolithic diet.” British J Nutr 104: 1666-1687 (2010)
2. Sears B and Ricordi C. “Anti-Inflammatory nutrition as a pharmacological approach to treat obesity.” J Obesity published online September 30, 2010. doi: 10.1155/2011/431985. (2010)
3. Sears B. “The Zone.” Regan Books. New York, NY (1995)
4. Sears B. “The OmegaRx Zone.” Regan Books. New York, NY (2002)
5. Sears B. “The Anti-Inflammation Zone.” Regan Books. New York, NY (2005)
6. Sears B. “Toxic Fat.” Nelson Publishing. Nashville, TN (2008)
7. Ludwig DS, Majzoub JA, Al-Zahrani A, Dallal GE, Blanco I, and Roberts SB. “High-glycemic-index foods, overeating, and obesity.” Pediatrics 103: E26 (1999)
8. Markovic TP, Jenkins AB, Campbell LV, Furler SM, Kragen EW, and Chisholm DJ. “The determinants of glycemic responses to diet restriction and weight loss in obesity and NIDDM.” Diabetes Care 21: 687-694 (1998)
9. Lindberg S, Jonsson T, Granfeldt Y, Borgstrand E, Soffman J, Sjorstrom K, and Ahren B. “A Paleolithic diet improves glucose tolerance more than a Mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischaemic heart disease.” Diabetologia 50: 1795-1807 (2007)
10. Frassetto LA, Schloetter M, Mietus-Synder M, Morris RC, and Sebastian A. “Metabolic and physiologic improvements from consuming a Paleolithic, hunter-gatherer type diet.” Eur J Clin Nutr 63: 947-955 (2009)
11. Osterdahl M. Kocturk T. Koochek A, and Wandell PE. “Effects of a short-term intervention with a Paleolithic diet in healthy volunteers.” Eur J Clin Nutr 62: 682-685 (2008)
12. Layman DK, Boileau RA, Erickson DJ, Painter JE, Shiue H, Sather C, and Christou DD. “A reduced ratio of dietary carbohydrate to protein improves body composition and blood lipid profiles during weight loss in adult women.” J Nutr 133: 411-417 (2003)
13. Lasker DA, Evans EM, and Layman DK, “Moderate carbohydrate, moderate protein weight loss diet reduces cardiovascular disease risk compared to high-carbohydrate, low-protein diet in obese adults. A randomized clinical trial.” Nutrition and Metabolism 5: 30 (2008)
14. Fontani G, Corradeschi F, Felici A, Alfatti F, Bugarini R, Fiaschi AI, Cerretani D, Montorfano G, Rizzo AM and Berra B. “Blood profiles, body fat and mood state in healthy subjects on different diets supplemented with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.” Eur J Clin Invest 35: 499-507 (2005)

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

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About Dr. Barry Sears

Dr. Barry Sears is a leading authority on the impact of the diet on hormonal response, genetic expression, and inflammation. A former research scientist at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Sears has dedicated his research efforts over the past 30 years to the study of lipids. He has published more than 30 scientific articles and holds 13 U.S. patents in the areas of intravenous drug delivery systems and hormonal regulation for the treatment of cardiovascular disease. He has also written 13 books, including the New York Times #1 best-seller "The Zone". These books have sold more than 5 million copies in the U.S. and have been translated into 22 different languages.

104 thoughts on “Want to lose Weight? Eat like our Paleolithic ancestors

  1. This may not be the appropriate place for this question but is there any ranking of the potency of various delta-5-desaturase inhibitors on this site? In Toxic Fat you mention that EPA appears to not be quite as potent of an inhibitor of the conversion of DGLA to AA as previously thought though it is absolutely critical to long term vitality for a number of other reasons. You site sesamin. I believe circumin is another known inhibitor. Are there others? How do they compare?

    Thanks for all you do Dr. Sears.

    • The best inhibitor of delta-5-desaturase remains the reduction the levels of omega-6 fatty acids in the diet. Easier said than done since omega-6 fats ave become so widespread in our food supply due to their incredibly low cost. Besides restricting adding extra omega-6 fatty acids, you should also eat protein sources very low in omega-6 fatty acids. One source are egg whites (which I eat a lot of), and the other is grass-fed beef is unfortunately very difficult to find as virtually every source of beef is corn-fed. In a paleolithic diet, the amount of omega-6 fats were about 1% of total energy (about 2 grams per day). Today, they are about 8% of total energy (about 16 grams). Couple the strict control of omega-6 fats with high-dose fish oil, then you have an excellent way to reduce AA levels that leads to a reduction of cellular inflammation.

  2. Pingback: Does the Zone diet (by Barry Sears) REALLY work!? « Weight Loss Routines

  3. Do you have a book that incorporates the zone with the paleo lifestyle eating…no grains and dairy or legumes? Recipes for the zone/paleo. I am a crossfitter and am trying to follow the zone/paleo lifestyle and need help with new eating ideas.

  4. Loren Cordain’s book, “The Paleodiet for Athletes” is a very good book especially compared to “The Palelo Soluton” by Robb Wolf. The only drawback is that neither book describes the balance of macronutrients that are required to for optimal hormonal results. A recent article in the British Journal of Medicine (Kupiers et al Brit J Med 2010) has done a more comprehensive analysis of Paleolithic diets and determined that the macronutrient balance were essentially that of the anti inflammatory diet including the levels of EPA and DHA that I have recommended for years. Frankly any Zone recipe that doesn’t include grains, starches, legumes, dairy products, or corn fed beef, pork, or chicken would be an appropriate PaleoZone meal. Generally just eat adequate amounts of animal protein or egg whites (30-35 grams of total protein per meal) to supply enough leucine (about 2.5 grams per meal), and then lots of vegetables with a little fruit and nuts and you have your PaleoZone meal. Finally take at least 2.5 grams of EPA and DHA and there you have it.

    • Thank you. As we begin to understand more about the impact of nutrients on gene expression, I often stand back in awe in how complex nutrition really is and the need to treat food like a drug to be taken at the right dosage and the right time.

  5. It’s great to see you endorse grass fed beef. I’d read about it in other places, but you just warned against eating too much beef. As I’m sure you know, there are online sources as it’s becoming more in-demand, though I also understand your books are read by many people who won’t go that far.

    What do you think of the organic or free range Omega 3 eggs now for sale even at my local supermarket? Are their yolks good to eat?

    However, I’ll soon be moving to a developing country and so far as I’ve seen, their livestock is still all grass fed. And their chickens run around so I’m presuming the yolks of their eggs are probably also high in Omega 3.

    • Although I am a fan of grass-fed beef (assuming you can find it), I am not a big fan of Omega-3 eggs because all the omega-3 fatty acids are in the yolk along with massive amounts of arachidonic acid making it self-defeating proposition. Organic eggs are good, but free-range eggs are better because of better care for the chickens. Nonetheless the yolks are still rich in arachidonic acid.

  6. I started zone diet a few years ago and failed then now again I started and am working on it .
    how many times I’ve read how easy it is, and wish they wouldn’t say that so many times. It isn’t easy!! But I’m trying, after at least 2 or 3 weeks, I’m no less weight and discouraged again. What do you advise?? George Erlandson I have your 3 in 1 zone book. I like it but wish I could put it into practice!

    • It’s not weight loss, but fat loss that is your goal. If your clothes are fitting better and your weight remains the same this indicates you are losing body fat and gaining muscle mass. This is the best of all possible worlds.

      If you are having trouble, I suggest speaking to one of new Zone Coaches.

  7. I personally love the combo of pre-agricultural Paleo foods and the Zone diet. The Zone diet balance is fantastic, but when I cut grains, legumes and dairy I went from 80% improvement to 100% – it really knocked my auto-immune and menstrual issues on the head, and made weight control easier than ever. My 79 year old mum too who has been zoning for 12 years added paleo food choices (i.e gave up grains) and had a tremendous improvement in 3 weeks in her small airways disease, and joint problems associated with Lupus.

  8. Every time that I read one of these informational gems that so clarifies the mysteries of weight control, I am reminded how fruitless governmental guidelines and manipulations are; they are doomed to limited impact without addressing the basic ills of the food supply and modern agra practices. I still hear, even in mainstream media, nutritional principles and assertions that are still so old school; but now, as I find out here, can no longer attribute them to the STONE AGE!!!

    • It’s not that the old ways are better, just that they represent our best estimates of how our diet shaped our gene expression. The remarkable thing about humans is not the number of genes (corn as twice as many), or uniqueness (our genes are only about 1% different than a chimp), but the rapidity of gene switching that gives our species such tremendous genetic flexibility to adapt to unique environments.

  9. I think (sorry to be critical) that stating the Zone diet is the same as the Paleo diet of our ancestors is misleading. True – there are factors that the Zone diet uses from paleo diets namely the ratio of macro-nutrients and the Omega 6 : omega 3 ratio. But equally important and crucial to it’s success for health and fat loss and not noted in your article are food choices. Our paleo ancestors did NOT eat grains, legumes or dairy. In my experience as a nutritionist these are critical aspects of the paleo diet that give it it’s effectiveness.

    • The estimates of the composition of a Paleolithic diet is simply the starting point to make selective changes to determine which changes will maximize the control of cellular inflammation. This makes nutritional research more of an engineering project as opposed to a philosophy based on belief.

  10. Dear Dr. Sears:
    (EK 2 1 11) Having been trying to stay in the zone for the past 3 years or so it would be good for me to give a brief account of progress: A year and a half or more ago Carol and I had favorable Guelph blood test results. We had been doing fairly well. It is about 3 years now that we have been taking fish oil (4 grams daily, Lovaza). We take Lovaza because we can get it prescribed. I am 76 and going on 77 soon. Data to Dave some time ago was of most interest…much improved breathing and I no longer need to take anti-histamines. That is the good news. The bad news is that I had a lower GI bleed and diverticulosis diagnosed Sept. 2010. After two days at the hospital I recovered quickly even though about 2 pints of blood were lost! There was little pain or illness…the blood loss felt more like a purge or cleansing. Sure I was alarmed.
    Physicians did not worry about the lovaza and recommended I keep taking it but they do not say much about Lovaza. My diet has not changed because a zone diet is much like the diet they recommend for my condition (diverticulosis).
    I also need to say that I continue refusing to undergo recommended biopsies for my enlarged prostate. (I have not yet convinced myself to try Dave’s recommended herb, palmetto saw grass because physicians are not happy that herbs vary in potency and are not regulated.) Now I am beginning to tire in swimming twice a week and exercising and I am quite stressed about this, but still consider myself fit and in good shape. My 178 pounds at 5 foot 11 has not changed in 4 years.
    Question: A leaflet that comes with the Lovaza recommends I report any itching that may go along with taking Lovaza. Physicians do not answer me when I ask about this! They do not like answering about fish oil and always seem to kick the can to the next specialist…( I see an ENT physician because of itching and trouble with a hearing aid) also my ankles sometimes itch…possibly caused by lifting too much on chair, leg machines. I might try using knee guards on my ankles with the machine exercises. So, maybe my exercises have been more than moderate! Should I try cutting back to two lavaza capsules rather than 4? Thank you for your time and interest.

    Ed Kashuba

    • The itching may be due to a shutting of arachidonic acid into the leuotriene pathway by inhibition of the cyclo-oxygenase pathway by omega-3 fatty acids. 4 capsules of Lovaza will 3.2 grams of EPA and DHA. Cutting back to 2 capsules will provide 1.6 grams of EPA and DHA. The least amount you take of a supplement to give you benefits is always the best dose.

  11. Thank you! I had a question about certain drugs that slow the metabolism, is there a way to counteract this by nutritional modification. Thanks

    • Metabolism is simply the conversion of dietary calories into chemical energy. The anti inflammatory diet is very effective in this regard. This one of the reasons that you have more physical energy with less dietary calorie intake.

  12. Hi
    I have been following Robb wolfs info the past month
    I have not lost any weight or body fat?
    I am 52 5’4 and weigh 120 lbs. I feel and
    Look better at about 112-115 lbs. Would like to be under
    20% body fat.
    Any suggestions!

    • Cariline, I think your question opens the door for many other questions in turn? In what way are you following Robb’s info; to the letter? Casually? Do you get enough sleep? Are you healthy? Do you exercise regularly? How accurate is your above statement? After you consider these questions then you should have an answer. If not, maybe you need a trainer/coach!

    • I suggest you use work out what your zone blocks are and follow Zone ratio and food amounts. Some people lose weight following Robb’s book, but for many females in particular it is not portion controlled enough for weight loss.
      Personally I do have about 3 oz meat / fish etc at each meal, about 2 blocks of carbs, i.e 20 grams (only non grain, non legume carbs) and about double fat – and I lose weight on this and control blood sugar and appetite. I am 51, 5’2″ and weigh about 110.

    • I don’t know why you can’t follow, and stay, in the Zone. I lost 60 pounds in five months on the Zone. Why would I change anything? You know the saying… not broke etc.

    • I would suggest following the macronutrient balance of the anti inflammatory diet and probably in less calories. If you take into too many calories at any one meal that will also increase insulin levels.

  13. Hi,
    sorry for my English, I’m italian.

    I found this article very interesting but I’d like to ear your opinion about the fact that, even if our ancestros eated better than us they usually lived 20-30 years compared to our 60-80+ years

    Does diet affect so much quality and duration of life? Even if I find reasonable thesys exposed in the mean time I think man neer lived so long like nowadays

    thank you for your attention

    • Life expectany was lower because life was far more brutal. However, our genes remain in the Stone Age. The anti inflammatory diet was developed to optimize gene expression with the lowest level of calorie intake. Calorie restriction as I explained in The Anti-Aging Zone is still the best way to live longer especially if you are controlling cellular inflammation at the same time.

  14. Dr. Sears, Thank you. My husband and I are triathletes (now attempting the Ironman Level), avid CrossFitters, and Zone followers. We only recently have made the ‘tweek’ in our diet to lean toward a more Paleo-Zone by including grass-fed beef, free range chichen, more root veggies, and **reduced dairy intake (cheese and yogurt are difficult to abolish). The results have been amazing! On the Zone, my husband went from 205 to 170. His triathlon performance skyrocketed! I went from 150 to 130 and have found tremendous balance. We are slowly transitioning our kids to a Paleo lifestyle and have been teaching them all about the Zone along the way.
    I can not thank you enough for making this as easy as possible.
    The Zone is the missing piece for any athlete or anyone for that matter who is trying to get in shape. No matter how much you exercise, your diet is the key! Until people start to understand that, all the exercise in the world won’t change a thing.
    Thank you.

  15. I have been recently diagnosed with hypoglycemia. I am having trouble knowing what to eat and when. I have read your book ” The Zone” a few times and am wondering if this would be a good option for me? My doctor actually gave me two zone bars while in her office. If you could give me some advise it would be much appreciated!

    • The anti inflammatory diet was developed for controlling blood sugar levels. The latest dietary guidelines from the Joslin Diabetes Research Center at Harvard Medical School for treating obesity, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes are essentially those of the anti inflammatory diet.

      • Thank you so much for your reply! I will get my book back out and start the diet again. I was not diagnosed with diabetes nor am I obese, thats what is so confusing finding info on hypoglycemia! I hope I can get these carb/sugar cravings to stop!! uurrg… Once again thank you very much.

  16. Thanks for making the simple act of eating even simpler. Its so easy to overthink this. Too bad we are surrounded by non-Zone food sources (fast food, packaged food, TV commercials) loaded with sugar and fat.

    Maybe I’ll open a Zone restraunt… (“Welcome to Zonedonalds, can I help you?” “Yes, I’d like a 5 block chicken salad and a water to go, please.”)

  17. Doc, what are optimal hormonal results…these terms seem to be thrown around without evidence? and how do you measure these things pre and post the Zone profile?

    2nd – how many people would I have to give you examples of that follow a non-measuring macronutrient ratio in their diets and lose weight and get more fit in order to make it significant….as i have hundreds right now but can get that data for you if you wish…?

    • The goal of achieving hormonal balance is the reduction of cellular inflammation that can be measured. C-reactive protein is a clinical measurement of downstream cellular inflammation after the activation of nuclear factor kappaB (NF-kB). The AA/EPA ratio is a marker of upstream cellular inflammation. The higher the AA/EPA ratio in the blood, the more likely that NF-kb will be activated.

  18. The obvious question, since the link between hormones fed to our food animals, and our obesity seems clear, is why does the FDA continue to allow hormones to be fed to animals we will be consuming? It seems the FDA’s response to this is, “Since we plan on allowing genetically modified grains to enter the food supply (without consumer knowledge), we then wont know if American obesity epidemic is due exclusively to adding hormones to our food animals, or, if genetically modified grains will ALSO be a factor?”

  19. I have very recently turned to the Paleolithic diet after having such a difficult time losing weight. I have diabetes and was recently diagnosed with Osteoporosis. I am also a breast cancer survivor of 11 years. I am learning for the first time that I have a sensitivity to wheat gluten. I can’t believe that I have endured all of that bloating all of these years (I turn 50 next month), and I am sure that has lead to my obesity up to this point. I am finally happy to have some relief from those symptoms. I have only been on this diet for two weeks, and I haven’t lost a pound yet, but I feel so much better.

    There are so many people who suffer from the same symptoms that I had. We live in a society where grains rule, especially wheat and corn. How in the world are we ever going to get a grip on the growing obesity problem in this nation? If it has taken me so long to get to the point where I am, and I read a lot about my health, how are we ever going to get the word out about eating like our ancestors. Instead of our federal government spending so much on health care, I wish they would focus on the root case of the obesity epidemic and take action against the food manufacturers who produce foods that make us fat. After all, didn’t they do something similar to the cigarette makers. I see no difference. Both have very harmful effects.

    Dr. Sears, thank you for all that you do to get the word out.

    • We are just now beginning to understand how our food affects the most primitive part of our immune system (the innate immune system) that controls inflammatory responses. A Paleolithic diet simply provides the starting point to ask in which directions can alter our diet before we see an increase in the expression of inflammatory genes.

  20. I have been following the zone diet for 20+ months. I had arthritic issues with my hands that were never diagnosed after 4 years of seeing rheumatologists. Am am proud to say now, at age 48, I have never felt better! My hands are pain free, and I have way more energy than ever. Thank you Dr Sears!

    • As I mentioned to Mr. FitzGerald, it is your ability to control cellular inflammatory that should be the defining hallmark for any dietary system. That is universal. I can tell you of hundreds of professional and Olympic athletes that I have worked with that looked physically excellent, but had high levels of cellular inflammation.

    • One of the key components of science is attribution. The true Godfather of Paleolithic nutrition is Boyd Eaton. In my first book (The Zone) written in 1995, I devoted an entire chapter on stating how Boyd’s thinking shaped my own in developing the anti inflammatory diet. In particular, I stated “…this was reported in a 1985 article in the New England Journal of Medicine is the fact that almost to the percentage point Neo-Paleolithic diets have the same protein-to-carbohydrate ratio as a Zone-favorable diet.” That article was written by Boyd Eaton. That is called attribution when you refer to others who came before you. I further go on to state in The Zone, “to be genetically correct, man needs a modern version of a Neo-Palelolithic diet, a diet that’s based on his current genetic makeup.” My contribution to nutrition is how diet alters eicosanoids and how those hormones relate to cellular inflammation. An estimate of a Neo-Palelolithic diet is only the starting point to begin to make adjustments in those estimates to how best to manage cellular inflammation. I should mention that Boyd Eaton was one of the authors the British Journal of Nutrition mentioned in my blog. If you don’t wish to read Chapter 8 of the The Zone, then I strongly suggest that you read Boyd’s excellent book, The Paleolithic Prescription written in 1989.

  21. Dr. Sears:
    I have hundreds of examples of people migrating away from the Zone ratios and seeing dramatically improved results:

    Although your approach does have some merit, it completely neglects nutrient partitioning, macronutrient cycling or elements of our ancestral physiology such as intermittent fasting.

    To be sure Prof. Cordain’s book, The Paleo Diet for Athletes is outstanding, I’m curious if you could provide a QUANTIFIED analysis of the shortcomings of my book, the Paleo Solution especially since Prof. Cordain is my mentor in all this and wrote the forward for the book.

    • Robb,
      I just got your book and I really like it. I am in the process of raising awareness in regards to Paleo nutrition with a small crew of people in Denver. Help me understand, between your post and OPT’s post, I am gathering that the ratios are not as important as “what” you chose to eat, as long as it is paleolithic. Why? Please expand on this if you can.

      • The balance of what you eat determines hormonal responses that control our metabolism. In particular, you want the best balance of macronutrients that manages cellular inflammation that can be measured clinically. Once you have established that balance, then use the best food sources possible to maintain that balance. The best food sources were those available more than 10,000 years, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try other sources of more recent introduction as long as they don’t increase your levels of cellular inflammation.

    • Robb Wolf claims: “I have hundreds of examples of people migrating away from the Zone ratios and seeing dramatically improved results…”

      Provide the list so we can verify. Otherwise, you’re a blow hard.

      • So you want Robb to post the names of these people? Do a little Googling and you’ll see how many people excel in performance and improve bodycomp with unweighed/unmeasured Paleo after being on a Zone protocol.

        We’ve seen it time and time again at our gym. Read for yourself how normal people following the unweighed/unmeasured Paleo protocol experience dramatic changes (yes, Deb is 51) http://www.crossfitclackamas.com/success-stories/

      • I am another example of someone who does not weigh and measure and has seen BETTER results because of it. There are a lot of ways to screw up weighing and measuring, I know from personal experience. Perhaps you should try both, for a few months or more, before you criticize.

    • Not every one is genetically identical. That’s why the anti inflammatory diet is based on ranges of the balance of macronutrients (such as the protein-to-carbohydrate ratio, the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats, etc) that can best manage cellular inflammation to the greatest extent. Once a person determines those ratios that work for them, then they have the ideal diet to control cellular inflammation for a lifetime.

      • Can one manage inflammation if the carbohydrate sources are white bread and french fries?

        If so, how would you make up for malnutrition from the horrible food choices and the malnutrition to follow?

        Are you saying that someone can eat a certain amount of bad food and then make up for it by taking fish oil?

        It’s one thing to binge but would you condone any client to do this on a normal basis? If so, why?

        Also, are you saying that someone would use the same macronutrient ratio for a lifetime, regardless of their bodyfat percentage or training goal?

  22. “When you follow the Paleolithic diet (a.k.a. the Zone Diet)”
    Laughable at best doc. This is interesting info especially after looking over the “zone” meals and snacks on your website…

  23. Doctor Sears, I am glad to hear you support the Paleo Diet. I am curious where how Evander’s five French fries fit in? Thanks! And welcome to the pseudo-science side.

    • The anti inflammatory diet is based on the balance of macronutrients as estimated in Paleolithic diets. After that dietary reality sets in depending on what you will eat. If you are going to only eat foods that existed more than 10,000 years, the anti inflammatory diet provides the range of macronutrient guidelines of how to best balance those macronutrients at each meal. Evander Hollyfield was admandant about eating French Fries so I just give him the maximum he could eat with a meal without increasing cellular inflammation as long as the rest of the meal was balance. Do you think I would be crazy enough to tell the heavyweight champion of the world he couldn’t eat French Fries!

  24. Dr. Sears, I am confused. When did the Zone become about a paleo diet and food quality? I was at a talk you did in conjunction with CrossFit and you said that the major key to health was the balancing of macro nutrients in a “magic” ratio.

    Yet your Zone products have nothing to do with the paleo diet. And the molecular baking deal is non-sense.

    You sell products like your zone bar which are laced with the following ingredients. All major no no’s for the Paleo eater.

    Here is your cookie dough zone bar.
    Brown Rice Syrup, Corn Syrup, Chocolate Drops (Sugar, Chocolate Liquor, Cocoa Butter, Soy Lecithin, Vanilla), Sodium Caseinate, Soy Protein Isolate, Sweet Cream Layer (Corn Syrup, Fructose, Palm Kernel Oil, Milk Protein, Salt, Soy Lecithin, Natural Flavors), Whey Protein Isolate, Brown Sugar, Pasteurized Whole Egg Powder, Fructose Syrup, Chocolate Flavored Coating (Sugar, Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil, Cocoa Powder [Processed With Alkali], Soy Lecithin, Vanilla), Glycerine. Less Than 2% Of The Following: High Oleic Safflower Oil And/Or High Oleic Sunflower Oil, Butter Powder (Butter [Cream, Salt], Nonfat Milk, Tocopherols, Ascorbyl Palmitate), Peanut Butter, Natural Flavor, Chocolate Powder (Natural Cocoa Powder, Sugar, Chocolate Liquor, Cocoa Butter, Soy Lecithin, Vanilla), Salt.

    Where is the paleo diet in this? There is a major disconnect as what you are saying in public, writing on your site and book and what you are selling. How can you promote a paleo diet, yet have a food line promotes the opposite foods promoted by cordain and wolf? Or is just jumping on the bandwagon since we know the zone does not work?

    We know the weighing and measuring of food is just a trick for calorie restriction. That no matter how you balance you food in some “magic” ratio it will promote health no matter how you molecular bake it.

    Answer me this…if I eat a zone diet of 40% Fructose for carbs, 30% polyunsaturated fat and 30% gluten for protein can I be healthy? According to you yes. According to real world you will die a fat, cancer ridden soul.

    Sorry Barry you are no better than all the other crooks selling snake oil.

    • Unfortunately that is not a product I make. It is made by Abbott Laboratories (the second largest drug company in the United States). If you look at that bar you will notice that my name isn’t on it. As Don King would say, “Only in America.” Please direct your statements to Abbott Laboratories.

  25. The Zone Diet is certainly not the Paleo Diet. While both programs have their merits, the Paleo Diet doesn’t allow sugar, starch, processed foods like the Zone allows.

    • The anti inflammatory diet is based on the percentages of macronutrients of an estimated Paleolithic diet. The only thing that really counts is how well a diet manages cellular inflammation. I always recommend using the best quality foods that you can find, however, whatever foods you do use they should follow the general guidelines of the anti inflammatory diet. The ideal diet would be the PaleoZone.

  26. So since when where Zone bars the choice of Paleolithic people? Appropriate ratios? Sure. Have you ever read your own ingredient labels? I’m sure your well aware of the money generated by supplements and to say that the zone diet is Paleo is a little kooky to me. Just sayin.

  27. Dr Sears,

    Given how The Zone diet is often positioned as being at the leading edge of nutritional science, I am somewhat surprised that it has taken you this long to embrace the paleo diet. Congratulations for doing so.

    I would just like to echo those that have already said they can provide evidence of people doing better transitioning from the weighing and measuring of the Zone over to the relative freedom of the Paleo diet.

    • I hopefully have tried to make it clear that it was the initial estimates of the macronutrient balance of a Paleolithiic made more than 25 years ago by Boyd Eaton that lead me to develop the anti inflammatory diet to control cellular inflammation. No one should blindly accept any dietary philosophy without trying understanding how nutrients control hormones, gene expression, and eventually cellular inflammation. Once you establish a rational framework based on published clinical studies, then you simply make the best food choices you can to maintain that framework. Hormonal response usually trumps food quality. But as President Regan said, “Trust, but always verify.” I try to verify the right dietary choice for personal based on the resulting ability to control cellular inflammation that is the underlying cause of chronic disease.

      • I think you will find, Dr Sears, that many of us are not blindly accepting anything, that some of us have spent, and continue to spend, large amounts of time reviewing literature (including clinical trials, peer reviews, etc) in the areas that you point to.

        Your statement that hormonal response trumps food quality is somewhat of an oxymoron given that food quality, in the modern environment that real people gather ‘food’ from, is likely the single largest determinant of hormonal response. Most people just simply do not have the resources to try and work out macronutrient ratios and calculate blocks… unless of course this is conveniently done for them, at a premium, using pre-ratioed franken foods (on that note, do you not get ANY royalties at all from Abbott Laboratories using ‘The Zone’? Full disclosure please).

        What people can do, simply and effectively, is purchase and consume real food – meat, chicken, fish, eggs, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, etc. By eating these foods, they will get the ‘appropriate’ hormonal response without having to weigh, measure, count, calculate, etc. Whilst you may well have based the principles of The Zone on your reading of Boyd Eaton’s early work, in practice, The Zone is anything but the paleo diet. For those of us working with real people everyday, including those who have followed both The Zone & Paleo diets, there really is no contest.

        Again, I commend you for (re)embracing the paleo diet, but until such time as you ditch counting and calculation, you will have a hard time convincing those of us who know better that the Zone is the paleo diet.

  28. Did all these paleolithic people weigh and measure their food? Did all groups eat the same amount of each macro-nutrient? It would depend on what was available.

    Your early books talked a lot about food quality and eye-balling portion ratios, and you have always been in opposition to a high-carb diet like the SAD. I find CrossFit Journal #21 (about the Zone) very useful to introduce people to the idea of controlling carbs. However, it seems now (especially in the CrossFit Journal) that you have set yourself up in opposition to Paleo diet proponents like Robb Wolf. Too bad, you could really team up to promote good food choices.

    Weighing and measuring junk food is like weighing and measuring crack for a lot of people — it’s just setting them up for failure unless we get them off sugar and grains.

    • The article in the British Journal of Nutrition that I mentioned in my blog simply outlines the current best estimate of what a Paleolithic diet may have consisted of. These estimates are a good starting point to determine how adjustments of those ratios will affect cellular inflammation. Ultimately hormonal responses come down to the marconutrient balance of protein, carbohydrate, and fat regardless of the food source. Recent additions to the human food supply will have lower or altered levels of micronutrients and possibly cause inflammatory responses. These food should be avoided.

  29. Dr. Sears,
    I have had a great deal of respect for you over the years and agree with many aspects of what you teach, I do think you have been ahead of your time on the functional nutrition approach to treating human wellness. I have used many of your teachings in my medical wellness practice especially the omega-3 teachings. I have counseled over 10,000 clients on nutrition and the hardest aspect of the zone has been the sustainability. I have found that the food quality concept of paleo is much more successful and clinically it works very well in all objective measures. I know it is hard to abandon concepts and allow science to lead to a maturing of your concepts but please do not become one of these zealots that clings to something because of the initial passion put into it. It has always been hard for me when I have been teaching something for years to come out and tell patients that I have been wrong but they need to understand that concepts are dynamic and constantly maturing.
    I have learned a great deal over the years from your teaching as well as Loren Cordains and Robb Wolf. Both of their books are excellent resources, I think that Robb’s presentation is much more mainstream and that is a big reason that the public has been so quick to embrace it. Your opinion is your opinion but I think that there is room for everyone to work together to finally come up with a functional nutrition plan that is truly the culmination of nutritional science.
    I hate to see this kind of sparring between two giants in the field of nutrition.

    • It’s not sparring, just a disclosure on greater clarification setting up future clinical investigations. I believe there are upper limits on macronutrient intake as well as macronutrient balance that will optimize cellular inflammation. That is a clinical parameter that I focus on and that can also be measured in human trials. I firmly believe that the anti inflammatory diet’s balance of macronutrients (which is similar to estimated balance of a Paleolithic diet) and using food sources only available 10,000 years will optimize the management of cellular inflammation. However, how much more than using the same balance with more recently introduced food sources remains to be studied. Lindbergh’s studies of a Paleolithic Diet vs a Mediterranean diet is instuctive, yet it doesn’t answer the question if the food sources used in the Mediterranean arm of his study with the same macronutrient balance of the Paleolithic diet would have been statistically different. Those of types of clinical questions that remain to be answered.

      • I agree with you on the balance aspect of the equation but can we not teach that with free eating plans? Sure, giving people the free eating option with the Paleo style foods could lean them more toward omega-6 balance but why not just emphasize the omega-3′s and mono’s as the better choices. I have seen the studies on the paleo vs. Mediterranean on calorie intake with free eating, no WAM. Average Paleo consumption is 1380 kcal and 1800 kcal for Med with both having equal satiation. Why not have the free eating paleo plan and emphasize the omega-3 consumption and minimize the omega-6? Also, I do not see Paleo eating as instructions to eat only the foods a caveman would eat, it’s more functional nutrition where even more modern day foods can fit as long as they meet functional criteria.

  30. Wow. “When you follow the Paleolithic diet (a.k.a. the Zone Diet)”. I suppose this is the same bad science your nutritional supplements and franken-foods are based on because the Paleolithic diet is most certainly NOT the Zone Diet. Trying to glam on to the groundswell of Paleo movements, books, articles and superstars using actual data and science by noticing some macronutrient similarity is laughable.

    • If we don’t rely on science, then what should we based decisions on. Nutritional science, especially how it affects hormonal responses and cellular inflammation is complex, but that doesn’t mean one should ignore it. It should be used as a tool to expand our dietary decisions.

    • Of course you can as long as you balance the glycemic load of those five French Fries with adequate levels of high quality protein and add enough fat rich in omega-3 fatty acids to counterbalance the omega-6 fatty acids in the French Fries.

  31. #1 – counting macronutrients would be pretty hard for paleo man since they had no numbering system. (sarcasm)

    #2 – no one (especially here) understands, much less follows a real paleo diet so spare me the elitist crap. You might claim to be so, but all you do is pick and choose what you follow to some varying degree… I love you “90% paleos.” (See #3 below) Nothing against anyone here, but for numerous independent reasons, it’s impossible to do unless you are a member of an undiscovered tribe in south america…. and if you are, then you’re a liar because you couldn’t be reading this.

    You know no more about Paleo man’s diet than we know about quantum computing. It’s all theory and changing every day (as someone mentioned above). But somehow, you read one book and you’re all experts. The only legitimate discussion here would be between Robb Wolf and Dr Sears … they actually are the leaders in this field and have (gasp) performed research in this field and can debate the issue at an intellectual level based on facts … although showing pictures of people’s transformation is hardly “science.” I would hope the pics were accompanied with a tome of medical data. But I don’t get to read that … no, I get to read all the crap you experts post (so here’s mine, too).

    But guess what? Even if either one really does work, and it is the miracle approach we’ve been waiting for – you’ll be long gone before we really understand the long-term effects on a given population. On that note, I would argue eating a paleo “diet” would be highly dependent on your genetics. Eg, while we can all agree McDonald’s is off the menu for everyone, the diets of native africans and eskimos was probably a little bit different. And since we’re pretty much all genetic mutts now, that muddies the water even further.

    #3 – If you want to be paleo, you don’t “cycle” anything unless it is related to the seasons and your annual pilgrimage to warmer climates. And enough of this “I am going to do my “fasting cycle” next week” BS. If anything, you should create a random number generator between 0 and 6 and upon waking, see what it gives you – that is the number of times you get to eat that day. Then, when it is time to eat, go do some PT before every meal. No refrigerators back then… You want a salad … go walk for 20 mins and do air squats before you eat. You want meat? Go sneak around your local park for about an hour, run 3-4 sprints, throw some heavy rocks and eat about an hour later. <- This is me hating gimmicks and making fun of the terminology used to sell books.

    #4 – These discussions are great for the advancement of the science, but should be reserved to those who actually “do” the science

    #5 – Bottom line … there is no perfect solution right now, so stop acting like there is. If it is healthy for you and you can stick with it, have at it.

    #6 – I have patented the above ideas so don't try to steal my "new, breakthrough fat burning and healthy lifestyle" program. I plan to sell it off loosely based pseudo-science and make millions on crossfitters.

    …. Flame on.

  32. Might as well weigh in here. I read the original book and cooked my steel cut oats every morning, avoided the AA in eggs & meat and #fail-ed miserably from hunger.


    While Robb Wolf was not my first entry into Paleo (this is after gaining about 50 pounds since I had read The Zone — and oh, Atkins was a triple failure before that) he was the 2nd or the third. But you know what? I didn’t even have to buy a book (I bought Robb’s out of gratitude, actually) and I still lost 60 pounds, am the strongest of my life at 50, and have kept 90% to the “diet” for over three years.

    I also blog. Here’s the dozens of stories of people who NEVER count calories, blocks, or watch their ratios (and many more stories in the comments of each post).


    What animal in the world does that?

    Bottom line: get the food right, which would never include Zone, Atkins, SlimFast, Weight Watchers or any other kind of processed product or bars, shakes and whatever else, and you might be surprised at how you never count anything and yet get leaner, stronger, with more energy and, more strength.

    • There is a difference between intuitive eating and nutritional science. The review article in the British Journal of Nutrition was written by the leading academic experts in paleolithic nutrition. Their conclusion provided their best estimate of the macronutrient composition of a Paleolithic diet. That macronutrient composition was virtually identical to the anti inflammatory diet. Nutritional science provides guidelines that can be analyzed in controlled clinical trials. Intuitive eating does not provide such guidelines. The only controlled trials on the Paleolithic diet have been done by Staffan Lindeberg. Although small trials, the results are instructive. First it should be noted that recipes were provided to all subjects, so there was very little intuitive eating involved since research subjects tend to follow directions. In the study using cardiovascular patients with impaired glucose tolerance or diabetes, there was no statistically significant change between groups in fasting glucose levels, HbA1c levels, body weight, fat mass, or lean body body mass. However, there was a statistically significant difference in their post-prandial glucose response. In a cross-over trial with type 2 diabetic patients, there was no statistically significant changes in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, C-reactive protein (a crude marker of cellular inflammation), systolic blood pressure, post-prandial glycemic response or insulin resistance (as measured by HOMA). There were statistically significant changes between the groups in HbA1c, TG, HDL, and fasting glucose levels, and weight. In other words, the changes in these trials were far from consistent. What was consistent was that the Paleolithic group was eating less carbohydrates than the control groups. I suspect that if both groups had consumed the same macronutrient composition and same number of calories (regardless if they were following Paleolithic, Mediterranean, or other food choices), that the clinical changes between groups would have been minor, if any. This is because hormones trump intuitive eating. A Paleolithic diet does remarkably limit the potential food changes thus making it easier to follow the macronutrient guidelines of the anti inflammatory diet. When doing nutrition research with humans you have to use a defined macronutrient balance with a defined calorie limit to study human physiology to get consistent clinical results. And the real result you want is a reduction of cellular inflammation. Without science to help guide you, all you have religion.

  33. Dr Sears: I strongly respect your theories and the best results I see in myself. Only one comment respect our ancestors. They eat a similar balance diet as “The Zone”, but all I have read indicates that they did not have that balance meal by meal. In fact is the opposite, they eat a lot of one thing (said fruit from a tree) and then, hours after (may be days after) a lot of meat after hunting an animal, and so on. My theory is that as long as you get the Zone proportions right in a full day or couple of days time, it is OK. I am not sure that the proportions should be kept meal by meal.

    • Hormonal balance is based on consistency. The more you can control the macronutrient balance at a particular meal, the better the hormonal outcome for the next 4 to 6 hours. This is much easier to achieve now than it was 10,000 years ago. On the other, we have a number of recent additions to the human food supply over the last 10,000 years that are not nearly as compatible with our genes as where the more limited food choices in Paleolithic times. The more your food choices mirror those available 10,000 years ago, the easier it is to follow the anti inflammatory diet on a meal to meal basis and thus maintain hormonal consistency throughout the day with the goal of better managing cellular inflammation.

  34. I tried and failed to follow the zone diet as published. I found the zone bars left me hungry again very quickly. Zone food generally did this too.

    Also my LDL cholesterol went through the roof. Abdominal obesity became a problem.

    Now I realize why. Zone bars and the zone diet generally are high in fructose. Fructose causes all these problems. I switched to low GI starch based carbs and the problems went away. I have lost 8cm off my waist in a few weeks, my weight is plummeting, and my appetite is back to normal.

    You need to revisit your advocacy of fructose as a low GI sugar. While chemically it is a sugar, metabolically it is closer to a toxic form of fat. See eg http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19151107

    I think this is the last 9 yards needed to make the zone diet really perfect.

    PS your email validation routine is broken.

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  36. I first heard about the Zone Diet from the book “Expanding Your World” by David Gordon and Graham Dawes. The authors performed a modeling project to elicit the strategies used by a guy named Lenny to get on and stick with the Zone Diet to maintain his health with Type II Diabetes.

    Last year, I had a blood sugar scare. My glucose tested at 160-180. Found out I wasn’t waiting nearly long enough to take my readings. However, this wasn’t before being on Zone Diet for a few weeks.

    I did Zone Diet for 6 weeks. Mainly focused my eating on the cottage cheese fruit salads, and chicken breast and black beans.

    Over that 6 weeks, I dropped 15 lbs, which isn’t too shabby, but not impressively fast either. It was a nice pace. More impressive though (to me) was that I dropped 3 full inches off my waist.

    My pants started falling down just with me standing there, much as the original 1995 book claimed. I didn’t have lots of money on hand to buy new pants, so I did the next best thing and bought a pair of suspenders. Win.

    Once I found out that my blood sugar scare was completely unfounded (way too much Dr Pepper every day didn’t help), I lost my driving motivator and fell off the Zone Diet. Subsequently gained back the 15lbs.

    I recently went back on because I’m tired of being fat. in the past two and a half months now, i’ve dropped 13-15 lbs, depending on what time of day I weight myself. And my pants are starting to be loose again. I was actually in the closet the other day talking to my suspenders saying “Get ready to go back into action, old friend!”

    Anyway, my point is this: I’ve had several people tell me that Zone Diet doesn’t work. But then they ask “Have you been losing weight?”

    It works. End of Story.

  37. Pingback: Lean Meat Recommendation on Paleo Diet | Paleo Village

  38. Pingback: Barry Sears attacked for calling Zone Diet 'paleo' | Mark's Daily Apple Health and Fitness Forum page

  39. There are many favorable aspects of the Zone diet — I followed it for 10+ years and had great energy levels, good mental focus, balanced moods, etc. However, despite adherence to the Zone principles, I always had 40+ lbs. of excess fat that I just couldn’t drop. Discovering paleo eating and lifestyle has made all of the difference for me — I’ve discovered that intermittent fasting has been the key to finally dropping the excess fat. For some people, you need to allow your digestive system time to rest, and allow your body to burn off fat, which, at least for me, simply doesn’t happen if you’re constantly eating every few hours, as the Zone plan requires.

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