Not so long ago, I was contacted with the opportunity to read Dr. Barry Sears’ latest book, the ‘Mediterranean Zone’*, and sample some snacks* that fit the nutritional content recommended by the Zone diet. By diet, I am referring to a way of eating and not a way of loosing weight. I immediately replied yes to this opportunity as I believe that I usually eat a Mediterranean diet due to my Provençal origins and I was very curious to learn more about the ‘medically improved’ version of it. I am in the Eurostar (or was at the time of starting to write this post) and just finished reading the book. I can understand why this book is a best seller and I am so excited to report my findings. So much so that ideas are flowing and I am going to try to calm down to give you a clear and concise review.
The book itself
You might or my not know my background but here it is. I have a PhD in stem cell research and I am now in medical school. I am thus used to reading scientific journals. This book is written by a researcher and is based on science. i.e. there is almost 100 pages worth of references on the topics, with some of the most up to dates ones from 2013. I was familiar with most of the topics described in the book, notably the inflammation pathway, but this book really helps to put it in the context of food and nutrition. To me, another pointer that Dr Sears knows his topic: he makes some incredible difficult processes really easy to understand. In any topics, I find that people who can explain and simplify them the best are the people who know the most about them. Half of the book is about the science behind the Zone and the rest is appendices full of building blocks to get you started, including lots of recipes.
The Zone diet.
This is not a calorie based diet, nor one that excludes some dietary food groups. It is one based, for each meal, on the breakdown of the three major food groups, carbohydrate, protein and fat macronutrients in a 40%-30%-30% ratio, respectively. The Zone also encourages the consumption of healthy fats such as Omega-3 and polyphenols.
How can you get started?
The easiest way to get started is to divide your plate in 3, fill 1/3 with lean proteins, fill the rest with preferably non-starchy vegetables and add a little amount of fat and to try to respect this ratio for each meal. I think that this is the most accessible starting point of the Zone. If you have been a long time reader, you might have read about what I called my “French diet” where I noticed that in France my plate would be full of veg and my starchy carb portion would come from a slice of bread on the side that I would eat if I needed to. The book then goes into more detail on how to help you tailor your dietary requirements according to your height, weight, lifestyle and training.
Is it sustainable?
The answer is yes. There is no food group exclusion and there is not one recipe suggested in the book that I could not make with the usual ingredients I keep at home. As you might have seen from my various WIAW, I eat very simple food. One of the suggested snacks in the book is even cheese and red wine.
Will I do the Zone?
YES! I should mention that I have tried in the past to track my macros back in May when I was trying to put on some muscles. After doing some research, you can see that the macros I came up with where not that far off from the ones recommended by the Zone, with a focus on proteins as I was trying to put on muscle. However I found tracking my macros tedious and stressful. I was still not hitting my macros completely and my meals were probably not well-balanced in macronutrients as some would be for instance protein-rich only as I was trying to “hit my macros”.
One thing I like about the Zone is that each meal is a chance of getting it right, especially if you just go with the simple approach described above to begin with. I am finding it really easy so far, probably because I am in France right now and this is more or less how I would eat anyway. The meal my mum cooked on Monday evening could not have illustrated this better.
I’ve had my suspicion that the type of food I eat could influence my moods and energy levels and I recently had the proof of that. I took part in a food study at the university where I was asked to answer a lot of questions about my moods and feeling prior to eating. I was then asked to eat a massive plate of pasta and some cookies and answer the same questions. I could see how much more lethargic and grumpy I was and that afternoon was so tough to focus, as I was not allowed drinking coffee etc. The researcher couldn’t confirm that this is what the exact purpose of the study was and won’t until it is finished but having to rate my moods and seeing the difference in my answers really struck a chord with me.
How are the snacks?
I am a grazer, I eat a lot of snacks and have tried many, including Nakd bars, quest bars or nuts. I can honestly say that the Ener Zona snacks are the ones that keep me full the longest. I guess that this macronutrient ratio really works for me. The chocolate bites are super satisfying. The vanilla waffles taste a bit more artificial, but definitely less than a Quest Bar would. Price-wise, don’t be put off by the fact that you might need to spend £54 on a box of snacks; the price per unit then becomes cheaper than some of the snacks mentioned above.
The other focus of the book is on the Zone being an anti-inflammatory diet and polyphenols are a big part of it. Polyphenols are found in fresh food such as blueberries, spices such as turmeric, which I am a big fan off, but also in dark chocolate and red wine! Anti-inflammation can also be achieved by a high intake of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in some oily fish but also chia and flax seeds. To help achieve the recommended intake, the use of supplements are recommended and the Enerzona snacks are also supplemented in these nutrients. During race season, I already supplement my diet with fish oil and turmeric but I might indulge in a bit more dark chocolate and red wine to top up my polyphenol levels 😉
In conclusion, The Zone convinced me, as I know that this is something easy to implement and my body responds very well to it. Since arriving in France and unconsciously eating more according to the Zone guidelines, I have not felt the need to snack once nor drink 2 coffees and several cups of tea during the day to sustain my energy levels.
Have you tried tracking your macros before?