With great pleasure that I give my welcome to dr. Barry Sears, famous biochemist and author of important diet and lifestyle best sellers, translated all over the world such as “Mastering the zone” and “ The Omega Rx Zone“. It ‘s my first interview in English and I hope You will forgive me some mistakes.
The interview will be proposed both in english and italian.
Let me tell something personal… In the early 2000’s I passed through a really bad time from a physical point of view. I had even abandoned the sport that I loved so much because of some hypoglycaemic crisis … Passing in front of a window of a bookstore, I saw the book cover written by Barry ” Mastering the Zone” and I bought it. From that moment my life changed, I was able to return to play sports and my results had a significant improvement. So, after twelve years I can say finally: Thanks Barry!
Angelo – Hello Barry, how are you? Can you give us a brief overview of your career?
Barry Sears: my research career started out in studying the biophysics of lipid and the development of lipid-based intravenous drug delivery systems for cancer drugs. About 35 years ago, I realized that lipids could also be used as powerful drugs for the treatment and prevention of inflammatory diseases. This realization lead to the development of the anti-inflammatory Zone Diet to treat chronic disease.
Angelo – many endurance athletes show significant improvements in the first 3 months joining the Zone diet and then have a gradual decline until real crisis from lack of carbohydrates. How do you explain this and what strategies do you propose?
Barry Sears: as I mentioned in Mastering the Zone, the biggest problem for an elite athlete is losing too much body fat. Below a certain level of body fat, the energy needed for recovery and muscle repair becomes more limited. This is why athletes need slightly more fat in their diet to maintain adequate body fat stores (about 10% for males and 15% for females) for optimal performance, recovery, and repair of damaged tissue.
Angelo – Many authors assert that more is held low insulin more is better. How do you comment this?
Barry Sears: insulin controls your metabolism. You need to maintain a zone to optimize the coordination of the fate incoming calories and rebuilding of damaged tissue. The Zone Diet provides a dietary blueprint to maintain that zone.
Angelo – To keep around 40% carbohydrates joining a paleo-zone, fruit becomes an important food to reach this amount?. What is your personal view on the fructose?
Barry Sears: I prefer non-starchy vegetables as the primary source of carbohydrates because of their lower glycemic load. Most fruits are about ½ glucose and ½ fructose (just like table sugar). With their convenience, you also get a higher glycemic load in the diet that makes insulin control more difficult. Fructose is fine in moderation and especially when combined with polyphenols as you have in fruit. The primary problem is its potential malabsorption if you consume too much fruit thus causing gastric distress in the colon. This is more common in women than men.
Angelo – What is your perspective on the paleo diet and intermittent fasting? In particular, the latter is in complete contrast with the Zone diet but more and more authors consider it a successful strategy to prevent obesity and purify the body.
Barry Sears: the best academic estimate of the Paleo Diet is that is virtually identical with the Zone Diet in macronutrient composition (Kuipers RS et al. “Estimated macronutrient and fatty acid intakes from an East African Paleolithic diet.” Br J Nutr (England), Dec 2010, 104(11) p1666-87). Intermittent fasting forces the body out of a constant hormonal zone. Metabolism works best with constant hormonal balance.
Angelo – What is your point of view on the supplementation of vitamin D?
Barry Sears: if your blood levels are low, then consider supplementation. However, the results using vitamin D in intervention studies for the treatment of chronic disease has been rather pathetic to date.
Angelo – the “zone diet” industrial products that we find in Italy abound in vegetable proteins such as pea or soy: the considered alternatives to those animals. What would you update, if you consider it necessary, in your book “The Soy Zone”?
Barry Sears: pea protein was not available at the time of the writing of The Soy Zone. In addition, the quality of non-meat vegetarian meat substitutes has dramatically increased in the decade since its publication. However, egg whites remain the ideal protein source for high quality protein which is fine for lacto-ovo vegetarians.
Angelo – the “Italian Zone” allows some bread and pasta: Do you really believe that in “zone” those foods are a good choice?
Barry Sears: the world would easily survive without traditional bread or pasta. That being said, I have developed Zone bread and pasta products in the US for treatment of diabetes with excellent clinical results. However, there is a big difference between Zone pasta and bread and regular pasta and bread.
Angelo – Let’s talk about saturated fats, cholesterol and arachidonic acid, do you believe a less restrictive approach to these nutrients?
Barry Sears: saturated fats and arachidonic acid can both can generate inflammatory responses compared to monounsaturated fat. The goal of the Zone Diet is to control inflammation, not create it. 80% of your blood cholesterol comes the liver, not your diet. However, excess insulin increase cholesterol synthesis in the liver. Following the Zone Diet allows maintains moderate insulin levels thus controlling blood cholesterol levels.
Angelo – In your book “The Omega Rx zone” you proposed a table to self-evaluate the omega 3 supplementation (link). Your opinion is still valid? Do you have an update?
Barry Sears: Since its publication more than a decade ago, there is now a much more effective test for optimizing omega-3 fatty acid intake. This is a finger stick test that determines the ratio of AA/EPA in the blood. This AA/EPA ratio is primarily used in research studies on inflammation, but the test is available in Italy to general public.
Angelo – Would you add anything to the interview? Future projects, useful links…
Barry Sears: my next book, The Mediterranean Zone, will probably be available in Italian next year. It describes the ongoing discoveries of the role of diet, omega-3 fatty acids, and polyphenols in the control of inflammation and genetic expression. My personal research is highly focused on reducing neuroinflammation in severe brain trauma and ocular diseases. In other words, I am spending my research efforts rising the dead and curing the blind using food (and in particular the Zone Diet with high-dose omega-3 fatty acids and polyphenols) as a drug. That’s where I started my scientific journey into diet 35 years ago, and it looks like that’s what I will be doing for the rest of my life.
I thank dr. Barry Sears for this precious interview, for his time and advices!