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Zone Living

Breaking down the latest research on Anti-Inflammatory Nutrition
Written By: Dr. Barry Sears, Ph. D | Creator of the Zone Diet

Written by Sue Knorr
on February 06, 2015


Maybe you’re in the mood for some Chinese, Thai or Tex-Mex. What to do? If takeout comes to mind, why not forgo all those fat-laden, starchy carbohydrates that come along with it and make your own favorites? 


For starters, keep in mind a basic Zone meal is put together simply by choosing lean protein the size and thickness of your palm, filling the rest of the plate with non-starchy vegetables and some fruit if you like, and adding a dash of good, healthy, monounsaturated fat. If you’re wondering exactly what foods you should really put on your plate and whether you’ll like them, relax. These suggestions will have you covered.


Let’s begin by placing some cooked chicken breast on your plate. Cook your own ahead of time to have on hand in the fridge or buy pre-cooked to save time. Feel free to replace the chicken with any lean protein of your choice.   Vegetarians and pasta lovers can substitute a serving of cooked Zone PastaRx (60 grams dry pasta) and follow these same guidelines. Zone Orzo would also be an excellent choice. Bits of meat, fish or shellfish can be added to Zone pasta for extra flavor. To complete your meal, choose one of the following cuisines and then add some of your favorites to your plate from both the Vegetables and the Condiments lists. Remember to make sure one of your choices is a fat (e.g., olive oil, avocado, guacamole, nuts, etc.). Who knows, you might never want to order out again!


General Tips:

  • Load up your plate with as many non-starchy vegetables as you like. It's nearly impossible to overeat these vegetables.
  • Prepare vegetables ahead of time either by steaming or briefly sautéing them in a little olive oil. Make enough to have leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day. This cuts down on overall time spent in the kitchen and guarantees you’ll have plenty of delicious vegetables on hand to grab on the go. They may be added to any meal and reheated in no time.
  • When it comes to bottled sauces, a little goes a long way. Read the ingredients on the labels and chose the low-sodium versions with little to no added sweeteners and fats.



Choose from a wide array of vegetables, such as fresh cucumbers for marinated salads, colorful bell peppers, bok choy, red onion, celery, green beans, mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, eggplant, bean sprouts, napa cabbage, bamboo shoots, scallions and water chestnuts.



Enhance the flavor with additions like peanuts, cashews, garlic, ginger, peanut sauce, oyster sauce, egg, five-spice mix, chile pepper flakes, miso, tofu (can also substitute for the main protein in the meal), ground black or white pepper, reduced-sodium soy sauce, unsweetened rice vinegar and organic toasted sesame-seed oil. To make a quick peanut sauce, thin some peanut butter with a little water and soy sauce. It’s delicious over matchstick-cut cucumbers and Zone pasta.  Olive oil can be used to stir fry the vegetables. In this case, stick with a tasteless version like those labeled “light, for baking”.




Commonly used are eggplant, mushrooms, lemongrass, green beans, chives, garlic chives, scallions, spring onions, baby bok choy, bean sprouts, celery, daikon radish, broccoli, cucumber and edamame.



Try some garlic, ginger, sweet Thai basil, curry paste, fish sauce, fresh chile peppers, cashews, peanuts, cilantro, turmeric, coriander, dill, egg, apple pieces, lime or tofu (can also be substituted for the main protein in the meal). Pass on the coconut milk. Despite all the hype about its health-promoting properties, it contains saturated fat that increases inflammation. Ditto for reduced-fat coconut milk. Rice vinegar adds a tangy flavor but avoid the seasoned type. Same goes for mirin, a Japanese rice wine. It’s known for its sweetness and was originally used as a sugar substitute. Choosing regular rice vinegar without sugar and salt added lets you control the amount of seasoning in the meal. Again, use light olive oil for cooking to avoid unwanted competing flavors.


Southwest Tex-Mex


Chile peppers, mild to hot, and bell peppers of all colors are at the top of the list. Also look for fire-roasted peppers in the jar or frozen. Choose those prepared without added fats. Give more substance to you meal with tomatoes, black beans, kidney beans, onions, jicama and small amounts of corn. Try a side salad of thick match-stick-cut raw jicama tossed with a dressing of lime juice, a little agave syrup and a touch of sea salt.



Salsa goes without saying, and the choices are endless. Avoid the sweetened fruit varieties that are loaded with added carbohydrate. Pico de gallo, a.k.a. salsa fresca, can be found in the refrigerated fresh-foods section at the grocery store. Make the meal your own with additions like jalapeños, mole sauce, avocados, guacamole, hot sauce (hot-pepper sauce), cocoa powder, small amounts of shredded cheese, a few corn chips, reduced-fat sour cream or yogurt, lime, cilantro, cumin, oregano, coriander, cinnamon and chili powder.



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