I met Dr. Barry Sears in the late '80s when a mutual friend suggested that I visit his laboratory 20 miles north of Boston. At that time I was participating in triathlons, and Dr. Sears was working with elite athletes from the Stanford University swim team and the NFL. I was interested in diets, and he was an expert on the hormonal effects of food and how it could enhance performance and health.
His 1995 New York Times bestselling book, "The Zone," had an 800 # in Appendix A, and the quote: "My scientific reputation is on the line when you follow a Zone-favorable diet as I have outlined. If you would like additional information, have any questions, or have difficulties with a Zone-favorable diet, call 800/404-8171, and a member of my staff will work with you." His staff was his brother, Doug, and since the calls were overwhelming, they asked me to help out. Wow, that was almost 20 years ago, and what an experience it's been. It has been fascinating seeing Dr. Sears challenge the establishment; I'm sure he felt like Rodney Dangerfield, the comedian, who said, "I don't get no respect." Like all pioneers you take a few arrows in the back, and Dr. Sears received his share. Here's a short list of the critics he's had to fight:
- Tufts University Diet & Nutrition Letter - 1996 "Entering a High-Protein Twilight Zone." They never read the book! It's not high protein. The Power Bar Company – The Zone's popularity has finally caused a long overdue backlash from the scientific community. The American College of Sports Medicine, The American Dietetic Association, the Women's Sports Foundation, and the Cooper Institute for Aerobic Research have made their concerns known in a recently published brochure titled "Questioning 40/30/30." (May of 1999)
- The American Heart Association (AHA) "Consume More Omega-6 Fatty Acids," an AHA Advisory on omega-6 fatty acids that was published in Circulation 2009. The authors were trying to make the case that it's OK to consume a lot of omega-6 fatty acids. However, they neglected to point out in their article that a comparison of their dietary recommendations to a much lower omega-6-fatty-acid diet in patients who already had suffered a heart attack had already been published in the same journal 10 years earlier. The results? A 70-percent reduction in cardiovascular death and heart attacks in the low omega-6 fatty-acid group.
- Harvard Heart Newsletter - (2014) A meta-analysis "Association of dietary, circulating, and supplement fatty acids coronary risk." Meta-analysis is taking a large number of studies (often done under very different conditions), pretending they are all valid and then coming up with a conclusion. When you do a meta-analysis on epidemiology studies, it's like trying to separate a piece of filet mignon from a sausage.
- Sports Medicine (1999) "The notion that a 40/30/30 diet can alter the pancreatic hormone response (insulin) in favor of glucagon is unfounded." Dr. Sears: "It is a sad commentary that I have to answer the ‘critique' of an individual who had a very limited understanding of the published scientific literature and the clinical trials that support the Zone Diet."
- The USDA – Spent millions to test Atkins and the Ornish diets, but not the Zone. Why?
- The Great Nutrition Debate – USDA food pyramid put into place without any clinical testing to support it!
- The Berkeley Wellness Newsletter – (2006) "the Zone is based on unfounded biochemical claims"
The following are a few responses from Dr. Sears defending the Zone.
On The Power Bar Company:
The PowerBar Company distributed a pamphlet entitled, "Questioning 40/30/30" supported by an educational grant from their company. Since they are manufacturers of a high-carbohydrate bar, this pamphlet was produced in response to a growing number of people purchasing Zone-like bars. In that pamphlet a number of untruthful statements were made about the Zone, but I expect a glorified candy-bar company to resort to such behavior in hopes of maintaining revenues. A year later the PowerBar Company introduced their newest product, the Protein Plus PowerBar. Although the original PowerBar was designed for active athletes, this new bar is also being marketed to active athletes. I don't get it. Which bar is designed for active athletes? In addition, the ratio of protein to carbohydrate in the ProteinPlus PowerBar is exactly within the range that I described in The Zone more than five years ago. This makes the ProteinPlus PowerBar a Zone Bar! I accuse them of being hypocrites when it comes to their marketing practices. Of course, I really wouldn't expect anything less from a candy-bar company.
On The USDA testing diets, but not the Zone:
The USDA is definitely a skilled political animal. They announced that they plan to spend millions to test the Atkins Diet and Ornish Diet for safety and weight loss. Here you have two diets that are both highly unbalanced, and no one can stay on them for more than a very short time. Why would the USDA test out these two programs that are guaranteed losers? The answer is to make the USDA Food Pyramid look better in comparison. The fact they don't plan to test the USDA Food Pyramid against the Zone Diet is because this study has already been conducted by Harvard Medical School. Every time the USDA Food Pyramid is tested compared to the Zone Diet under highly controlled conditions, it fails metabolically, hormonally, and in terms of fat loss. So, by testing two exceptionally radical diets, the USDA never has to declare that it is inferior to the Zone Diet. After all, what politician would ever admit they were wrong?
On The Great Nutrition Debate – The Lone Voice of Reason:
The U.S. Government finally recognized that its dietary recommendations must be changed when they brought together the leading diet experts to ask why Americans have become the fattest people on earth. I opened my remarks with the following statement: We have a spreading epidemic in our country that threatens to destroy our entire health-care system. Currently more than 55 percent of the adult population is overweight, obesity has increased by 50 percent in the past seven years, and more than 300,000 deaths every year can be attributed to excess body fat. Unlike the other dietary experts, I presented the scientific rationale of why obesity is such a killer of Americans: Elevated levels of insulin cause heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, and it is excess insulin that is the molecular cause of obesity. I presented the peer-reviewed clinical data by independent investigators (including Harvard Medical School) that the Zone Diet reduces excess insulin, accelerates fat loss, and reduces cardiovascular disease. When compared to diet extremes, such as high-protein diets like the Atkins program, or very high-carbohydrate programs, like the Ornish Diet, the Zone Diet was a refreshing voice of reason. This is because the Zone Diet is a life-long program based on balance and moderation with the specific goal of maintaining the hormone insulin within a zone: Not too high; not too low. Finally, I also took aim at the U.S. Government Food Pyramid that was put into place without any clinical testing to support it. I strongly suggested the Zone Food Pyramid with its base consisting of vegetables and fruits should replace the grains and starches in the government's food pyramid. I summarized my comments with the statement: We have the drug to eliminate obesity. That drug is food. The only question is whether or not we have the will to use it.
On The Berkley Wellness Newsletter:
In 2006 they voiced skepticism about any diet other than a high-carbohydrate diet and criticized the Zone Diet because of its "unfounded biochemical claims." They say that high-protein diets are simply not good for you. Yet in that same issue, there's a story on higher-protein diets that says, "No one knows what the optimal protein intake is, but according to the Institute of Medicine, which advises the government about nutrient needs and other health issues, the 'acceptable' protein range is 10-34 percent of daily calories." The Zone Diet recommends about 30 percent of calories as low-fat protein, which means it is in accordance with the Institute of Medicine, even if the Berkeley Wellness Letter doesn't like it. Apparently the editor of the Berkeley Wellness Letter has never read any of my books because if he had, he would realize that the amount of protein consumed on the Zone Diet is similar to what the average American is currently eating in absolute terms because the total calorie consumption is reduced. Interestingly, in 2005 the Joslin Diabetes Research Center at Harvard Medical School announced its newest dietary recommendations for treating obesity, pre-diabetes, and type 2 diabetes. These recommendations were basically the tenets of the Zone Diet. Although the Berkeley Wellness Letter might not like the Zone Diet, apparently Harvard Medical School and the Institutes of Medicine do. That's good enough for me.
Arthur Schopenhauer, a German philosopher, said: "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident.
Today, the Zone is accepted as a program that reduces excess insulin, accelerates fat loss, reduces cardiovascular disease and lowers cellular inflammation, the underlying factor of all chronic conditions. It is a program that can be followed for a lifetime.
Take nobody's word for it. I challenge you to try the Zone. It may just change your life!