The Zone Diet
The Zone Diet plan stands apart from most weight loss diets. The Zone Diet is not a diet as much as a lifelong approach to making conscious food choices. The Zone Diet has a very strong basis in nutritional science, and was formulated with an understanding of the relationship between the food we eat, the chemical processes that food triggers and how those chemical reactions affect insulin response and body fat storage.
The Zone Diet plan was created by Dr. Barry Sears, a biochemist who was a research scientist at the Boston University Medical Center and MIT. Dr. Sears realized that the food we eat has a distinct chemical repercussion in the body and that we really need to treat food as we do any drug. If we eat in balanced proportions, we can achieve a relatively balanced chemical physical state, in which fat is burned (not stored) efficiently and our bodies are ideally nourished.
Chemically speaking, the Zone Diet targets carbohydrates, which when eaten, trigger the production of insulin, which is a hormone that, among other functions, tells the body to store fat. When we eat a meal that is proportionately high in carbohydrates, our insulin levels rise. The body has been signaled to convert those carbohydrates into fat and store them in your belly, thighs, buttocks and other areas of your body.
When we eat protein, a different hormone is produced, the hormone glucagons. Glucagon tells the body to release stored carbohydrates, which the body uses for fuel and metabolic energy. The goal of the Zone Diet is to eat meals that are properly balanced in carbohydrates, protein and fat so that the insulin and glucagon levels our Zone meal produces are not to high or too low. The zone of the Zone Diet is this balanced, ideal mid-range.
There is a third hormone that plays a key part in the Zone Diet. This hormone is released when you are in the zone. In other words, when your insulin and glulcagon levels are in the zone, eicosanoids are released. These are chemicals that act in the body like aspirin (without the gastric irritation), and are even more powerful anti-inflammatories than aspirin. So, a second benefit of the Zone Diet, in addition to weight loss, is the production of anti-inflammatory eicosanoids. Given that most health issues in the body have an inflammation component, this is a very potent and helpful benefit of the Zone Diet.
The Vegetarian Zone Diet
The premise behind Dr. Barry Sears' Zone Diet is that a proper ratio of protein, carbohydrates and fat will stimulate an ideal amount of hormones in the body that regulate fat burn and storage. A meal or snack too high in carbohydrates will stimulate the production of insulin, which essentially tells the body to store fat. Eating protein causes production of a hormone that tells the body to burn fat. A Zone Diet meal contains 30% protein and 40% carbohydrate, which creates in the body a balanced hormonal ratio that encourages the body to burn fat rather than store fat.
The Atkins Diet and low-carb diets work on the basis of this central principle of the Zone Diet. The Zone Diet, though not intentionally in its design, combines the best of the protein-rich Atkins Diet and the carbohydrate-low low-carb diets.
Given that the Zone Diet plan emphasizes protein in every snack and meal, how can the vegetarian approach the Zone Diet? It is really not a problem, and in fact, every vegetarian would probably benefit from learning and following the Zone Diet. A great deal of the protein sources in vegetarian diets are foods that contain both protein and carbohydrate. Beans are a primary example of this. The protein content of beans is lower than the protein content of meat or fish. Because of this, many vegetarians, though they follow a clean diet, may be encouraging weight gain because their meals contain a proportionately low amount of protein.
Dr. Sears has considered all of this and has written a book for the vegetarian, The Soy Zone. He offers these foods as ideal protein sources in the Zone Diet:
Soy protein powder
Unsweetened soy milk
Nuts and seeds
Other vegetable-based protein powders
Be sure to read the labels for nutritional details of these foods. Look for low carbohydrate to protein ratios. Some soy milk products, for example, contain more than double the carbohydrates of protein.
The Zone Diet is very compatible with a vegetarian diet, and will make one a better vegetarian by learning how to get enough high quality protein in the diet. Learn about how to make the Zone Diet a healthy diet. Read your labels and keep your protein and carbs in balance. Learn about the glycemic index of foods, and make most of your carb intake low glycemic foods.
Actually a very important part of your food improvement program is your exercise improvement program. Increase your level of exercise at this same time, especially walking! It doesn't have the emotional overtones that food does. If you're finally ready to get healthy, read Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D.'s 20-Day Rejuvenation Diet.