Getting closer to the Zone all the time

Last week the USDA announced its newest version of how Americans should eat. For the first time in more than 20 years, the USDA apparently stopped acting as the marketing arm of agribusiness by using a food pyramid (presented in 1992) and worse yet some abstract concept of an “eat-more, exercise-more” idea (presented in 2005). Now the USDA has turned to a plate format, which I have used for years. For comparison, you can see that the Zone diet recommendations are still a lot easier to understand than even the new and improved USDA recommendations as shown below:

The USDA proposes that half your plate (I’ll assume at every meal that you want to control the glycemic load of the meal) should be composed of vegetables and fruits. This is much closer to my Zone recommendation of filling 2/3 of the plate at each meal with vegetables and fruits. Both plates give a volume size to protein (and I’ll assume it is a low-fat protein source). The Zone plate appears to have a higher amount of low-fat protein consisting of 1/3 the plate instead of a quarter as found in the USDA plate. Of course if you add in the strange circle outside the plate that represents milk or cheese (both protein sources) back onto the plate, then you would probably get to about 1/3 the plate volume as low-fat protein.

Finally, what about whole grains on the USDA plate? From a glycemic-load viewpoint, whole grains have nearly the same impact on insulin response as refined grains, so you really don’t gain anything hormonally from having them in your diet. However, if you are at your ideal percentage of body fat, have no chronic disease, perform at peak levels, and are always happy and even-keeled emotionally, only then should you think about adding some whole grains to your diet. (Keep in mind that real whole grains are usually only found in storage bins or in the frozen product section of the supermarket, not in the processed food aisles.) But if you begin to gain weight, develop indications of a chronic disease, or don’t perform physically, mentally, and emotionally on a consistent basis, then take the whole grains out of your diet and go back to my classic Zone plate.

The one thing not mentioned in the USDA guidelines is the role of fat. On the Zone plate, I always say add a dash (that’s a small amount), but that dash of fat should be very low in omega-6 and saturated fats as both can accelerate cellular inflammation. I guess the USDA hasn’t had time to grapple with that more complex dietary concept. Perhaps they will another five years from now. But you don’t have to wait for their next guideline revision. Just follow the dietary guidelines on the Zone plate the best you can at every meal and snack. If you do, then you have done everything possible to maintain your wellness (as measured by your ability to manage cellular inflammation) for as long as possible. I guarantee you that will be the only real health-care reform program that you can count on in the future.

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.

26 thoughts on “Getting closer to the Zone all the time

  1. But both plates are saturophobic. USDA has been almost always a -traditional and healthy- saturated fats’ enemy, same that I see Barry Sears yet in 2011.

    When americans consumed so less Omega 6, before 1940, US Gov recommended natural butter. And nobody felt ill consuming butter nor coconut oil in other cultures. Low-fat yogur, skim milk…is the culture of chronic diseases. And nature does not produce low-fat yogurt nor skim milk. They are not whole and real foods. Think about this.

    I admire Zone a lot, but I am sad seeing this has not evolved in saturated fat topic as many original zoners have done. And I neved thought I could agree with Dr Weil in saturated fats issue, since he was for very long time saturophobic.

    Its very interesting seeing that Andrew Weil has evolved in saturated fats topic, he recently wrote: “You’re correct that my thinking on saturated fat has evolved. [...] Another study, published in the Dec. 21, 2010 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, showed that a natural substance in dairy fat, trans-palmitoleic acid, may substantially reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes (and, as result, of heart disease). The research team from the Harvard School of Public Health looked at more than 3,700 men and women age 65 or older in a National Institutes of Health funded Cardiovascular Health Study who had been followed for 20 years to evaluate risk factors for cardiovascular diseases in older adults. The investigators found that participants who reported eating more whole-fat dairy products had higher levels of trans-palmitoleic acid in their blood. Over the following years those men and women who had the higher levels of trans-palmitoleic acid were about 60 percent less likely to develop diabetes than those whose blood levels of trans-palmitoleic were lowest.

    In addition, the findings from two other studies conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health on the health effects of dairy products are intriguing. One found that consumption of low-fat dairy foods contributed to infertility caused by failure to ovulate, while consumption of full-fat dairy foods may help the problem. The second showed that drinking skim milk was associated with a higher incidence of acne in teenage boys. Given the results of these studies, I no longer recommend choosing low-fat dairy products” ‘Rethinking Saturated Fat?’ Dr Andrew Weil

    • Because nobody fell ill does not mean that saturated fat is good. Saturated fat is bad because it generates bad eicosanoids…period. The reason they did not fall ill is because the rest of their diet was generally good. Is it better than no fat at all?…yes! Dr Weill is wrong and only copies correct people to a small degree.

      Not evolved in saturated fats? I love it when people think saying evolved means you are correct. You know many evolutionary changes due not lead to better results. The milk issue is not incorrect because it is not a whole food it is not correct because it adds to an already high caloric plate. 2% milk is a great zone snack and if necessary a meal. Skim milk is not as good as milk with more fat, but whole milk has too much saturated fat.

    • Saturated fats can interact with Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR-4) to activate NF-kB increasing the levels of cellular inflammation. I consider omega-6 fatty acids to be far more inflammatory than saturated fats, but monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fats are far less inflammatory than saturated fats.

      Trans fatty found in dairy products are inhibitors of delta 6 desaturase, the first enzyme in the metabolism of linoleic acid into arachidonic acid. Reducing the levels of linoleic acid in the diet back to 1-2% of total calories from the current 8-10% is difficult, but essential if you want to reduce cellular inflammation. If you can achieve that reduction in omega-6 fatty acid intake, then the benefits of dietary trans fats becomes less apparent. Nonetheless, that does nothing to alter the binding of saturated fats to TLR-4.

  2. Of the two “plates” offered, the only one that could be universally understood everywhere – except in the 3rd world – is Barry Sear’s. The “dairy” represented in the USDA’s plate, clearly depicts the glass of milk that far too many people think is a healthy beverage to accompany their meal, instead of a real food…and highly nutritious one at that. As an expat Canadian living in Italy, the USDA plate would be…perplexing. I also have to say that as a “foodie/Zoner” (I know…but you CAN eat and cook “gourmet” and stay in the Zone…) once in awhile, a teaspoon of real, high grade organic BUTTER really does work magic…

    • Butter is exceptionally low in omega-6 fatty acids. Unfortunately it contains high levels of types of saturated fats that can interact with the TLR-4 receptor that can increase cellular inflammation. The only other fats that are even lower in in omega-6 fats are high-oleic sunflower and high-oleic safflower oils. These genetic mutants of sunflower and safflower oils that are incredibly high in omega-6 fatty acids. However, neither of these genetic mutants taste as good as butter. That’s why we use mixtures of butter and these high-oleic fats in our Zone Foods to reduce the levels of omega-6 fats to their lowest level without compromising taste.

  3. How do the Zone made and sold protein enriched breads (cinnamon rolls, cookies, etc.) fit on the plate?
    Are they considered a low fat protein?

    • The Zone Foods are squarely on the Zone plate. The protein is high quality protein extremely low in omega-6 fatty acids. The molecular baking technology that produces these food products causes a cross-linking of the carbohydrate to the protein that slows down the rate of entry of both into the bloodstream. This reduces the glycemic index of the carbohydrates to that of a strawberry and increases the satiety generation of the protein. The Zone Foods don’t contain the micronutrients of fruits and vegetables, but they generate far greater appetite suppression than a classic Zone meal. Adding lots of vegetables to the Zone Foods (i.e. ZoneFast recipes) solves that problem.

  4. It should surprise no one that you are ahead of the FDA knowledge curve. Thoughtful physicians have always intuitively and empirically used medicines “off label” to benefit their patients long before “science” or the FDA recognized the opportunity and caught up with the practice of medicine. Indeed, such behavior has been regarded as “clinical research”.

  5. Dr Sears,
    What is your opinion of coconut oil in place of olive oil? Also of almond meal used as pancake flour vs wheat flours? (I’m on paleo, thus no grains).

    • Coconut oil is rich in tocotrienols that are unique isomers of Vitamin E. That’s good. However coconut oil is also rich in short chain fatty acids that can enter the body via the portal vein directly to the liver that accelerates the burning of stored carbohydrates thus generating ketosis. These saturated fats are stable to oxidation making them useful for cooking at high temperature. However, high-oleic genetic versions of sunflower and safflower oils have even greater stability to heat oxidation and are very low in short chain fatty acids.

      Almond meal has a good balance of protein to carbohydrate and the fatty acid composition is rich in monounsaturated fats and low in saturated fat. It is an excellent choice to work with for something like a pancake.

      • Are you sure you didn’t mean that coconut oil is rich in medium chain fatty acids? . So for someone who is trying to actually gain weight (apparently a novelty in this society), is coconut oil an unwise choice because it burns so many carbos?
        I hear so many good things about it and my paleo diet books certainly use it in abundance, so am wondering. 5’9″, 60 years old and about 136 lbs (no need to lose more weight – have lost about 10 pounds since being on paleo over 5 months).

  6. Dr. Sears,
    Thanks for your comment about EicoRX. I wondered if you’d comment on this regime?:
    4 OmegaRX
    1 EicoRX
    1 baby aspirin
    1 polyphenol
    Zone Diet
    I am a healthy 54 year old male, 5’7″, 136 lbs., work out daily, but strong history of cancer in my family, mother died at 44, brother at 37.

    • It would appear to a be good choice. However, I would always suggest using the Eicosanoid Status Report in the Resource section of to give further insight if even that level of EicoRx may be too high.

      Your concern about your family history justifies paying close attention to your diet just as my family history of early heart disease led me to the development of Zone diet.

  7. Thanks, Dr. Serars,
    Wow, the EicoRx must be pretty intense stuff for you to suggest that. If i determine through the status report that it’s too high, would you recommend 5 OmegaRX or just stick with the 4?

  8. If just one EicoRx capsule per day (30 caps per month) might be too much, why does Dr. Sears allow his Zone Living website to sell an individual a whole bottle of 120 capsules to take in a month or 4 per day – minimum – with no questions or concerns from Zone Living that the person might be taking too much?
    Moreover, when I developed cancer and I inquired as to how many more capsules I should take to fight the cancer, I was told by a Sears representative to take 8 capsules per day and I took 8 EicoRx per day and the Sears representative made no mention what-so-ever about what Sears fish oil capsules I should take or did not qustion if I was taking OmegaRx or EicoRx.
    Thank you Dr Sears for your irresponsible staff.

  9. Why is there no warning on the bottles of EicoRx that 1 capsules a day might be too much and
    why does the bottle facts recommend 4 a day with no warning that 1 might be too much?

  10. So after 5 days since my question, Dr. Sears obviously refuses to answer.

    I cancelled all the items I was receiving on a recurring monthy shipment from
    Zone Living and
    I will be not be using Zone products anymore thanks to Dr. Sears loss of
    credibility and disrespect to his followers.

  11. Hi, Jockobono,
    What fish oil and polyphenols are you going to use to replace the Zone products you were taking?

  12. Joe says: June 15, 2011 at 9:09 pm
    Thanks, Dr. Serars,
    Wow, the EicoRx must be pretty intense stuff for you to suggest that. If i determine through the status report that it’s too high, would you recommend 5 OmegaRX or just stick with the 4?
    _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

    Where is your character and respect for your followers, Dr. Sears?
    Joe is waiting for an answer from you, for sure. And I would also like to see your answer and explanation about one EicoRx being too much. Did you put your foot in your mouth again with another one of your mis-statements? Didn’t they teach you decency and politeness in your quest for your PhD?
    In dealing with your followers , YOU FAIL!

  13. I believe my statements have been very consistent over the past 16 years since the publication of The Zone.

    I tried to find Dr. Murray’s fish oil on iHerb and was unsuccessful.

  14. Hi, Dr. Sears,
    The fish oil in question is Natural Factors, recommended by Dr. Murray. The ratio is 400 EPA, 200 DHA as you use in your own. It seems that this fish oil is identical to your own in many ways. However, they do not submit samples for testing at the IFOS. I questioned the company as to why. The response was that IFOS is not quite up to snuff…What’s your take on the Natural Factors brand?

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