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The Zone Diet Analyzed

Celebrities including Jennifer Aniston, Madonna, and Demi Moore have used The Zone diet to achieve their highly admired svelte figures. But is this diet that takes into account hormones and balancing acts just another fad diet or can it actually produce w

Sound Science?

The American Heart Association (AHA) classifies The Zone as a high-protein diet, and has issued an official recommendation warning against such programs. The statement says such diets are not proven effective for long-term weight loss, and could actually be hazardous to health because they restrict intake of essential vitamins and minerals present in certain foods.

Although The Zone does not ban any type of food, the organization still frowns upon what it considers as the diet's flawed ratio. "If the protein's too high -- even if the fat is just right -- the carbohydrate [portion] must be too low in regards to evidence-based recommendations," says Robert H. Eckel, MD, the AHA's chair of the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism.

For healthy living and weight loss, the AHA recommends that daily calories come from 15% to 20% protein, 30% to 35% fat, and the rest from carbohydrates (about 50%). Eckel says the AHA's guidelines are based on scientific research, and are similar to those of other major health groups such as the USDA, the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Cancer Society.

Sears questions the AHA's view of The Zone. "It's hard to be a high-protein diet when you're actually consuming more carbohydrates," he says. "The Zone Diet is really a low glycemic-load diet that has adequate protein. You're looking to balance protein to carbohydrates to get the right balance of various hormonal parameters, particularly the hormone insulin."

Eckel finds the theory on insulin flawed, noting there's no scientific proof that the hormone plays a big role in weight regulation. In addition, he says Sears makes claims that are largely unproven about certain types of fat and their relationship to heart disease.

In the Realm of Good Health

The Zone isn't necessarily shunned by health organizations, but it isn't endorsed by many of them either. The AHA does recognize that the program has some elements that are favorable, such as being a lower-fat diet, compared with other high-protein, higher-fat plans.

On the other hand, the American Dietetic Association (ADA) sees it as a moderate contender in a crowded field of weight loss plans. "The Zone is closer to what most dietitians would recommend compared with some of the higher protein diets," says Althea Zanecosky, RD, spokeswoman for the ADA.

For overall health and weight loss, Zanecosky says it might be easier for some people to pay attention to some of the other major health promotions, such as the "5 A Day" campaign, which encourages the daily consumption of five servings of fruits and vegetables. The "3 A Day" program does the same for dairy, a source of calcium. Then there's the AHA's recommendation of at least two servings of fish per week.

These campaigns might be less complicated and less frustrating than calorie counting, says Zanecosky.

Reviewed on February 14, 2003

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