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"The Zone" is Sears' term for proper hormone balance. When insulin levels are neither too high nor too low and glucagon levels are not too high, then specific anti-inflammatory chemicals (types of eicosanoids) are released, which have similar effects to aspirin, but without downsides such as gastric bleeding. Sears claims that a 30:40 ratio of protein to carbohydrates triggers this effect, and this is called 'The Zone.' Sears claims that these natural anti-inflammatories are heart- and health-friendly.
Additionally, the human body in calorie balance does not have to store excess calories as fat. The human body cannot store fat and burn fat at the same time and Sears believes it takes time (significant time if insulin levels were high because of unbalanced eating) to switch from the former to the latter.
Another key feature of the Zone diet, introduced in his later books, is an intake of a particular ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids. Sears is believed to have helped popularize the taking of pharmaceutical-grade Omega 3 fish oils.
Sears believes in a hormonal paradox contrary to the "low-fat/high carbohydrate" rationale of most diets (including the USDA "Food Pyramid"). He claims that the relatively high proportion of carbohydrate in these diets—by comparison to protein— increases the production of the hormone insulin, causing the body to store more fat. The example proposed by Sears is the cattle ranching practice of fattening livestock efficiently by feeding them high amounts of high-carbohydrate grain. Sears points out the supposed irony:
"data analysis ... shows that in spite of the fact that the American public has dramatically cut back on the amount of fat consumed, the country has experienced an epidemic rise in obesity." 
Additionally, Sears suggests fat consumption is essential for "burning" fat. His rationale is: Monounsaturated fats in a meal contribute to a feeling of fullness and decrease the rate at which carbohydrates are absorbed into the bloodstream. Slower carbohydrate absorption means lower insulin levels which means less stored fat and a faster transition to fat burning. If the body needs energy and can't burn fat because of high insulin levels, a person feels tired as their brain starves and metabolism slows to compensate. This occurs because the brain runs on glucose and high insulin levels deplete blood glucose levels. Such a condition, rebound hypoglycemia, causes sweet cravings (which just starts the high-insulin cycle all over again).
Sears describes a Zone meal as follows: "Eat as much protein as the palm of your hand, as much non-starchy raw vegetables as you can stand for the vitamins, enough carbohydrates to maintain mental clarity because the brain runs on glucose, and enough monounsaturated oils to keep feelings of hunger away."
Whether the Zone diet is a low-carb diet is a matter of opinion and definition. It is much less restrictive in total carbohydrate intake than the Atkins diet that became extremely popular throughout the United States in 2003 and 2004. Sears claims that diets specifically designed as "low carb" miss the point. According to him, they ignore the importance of moderation and balance: hormonal balance, as well as the influence of dietary balance on digestion and hormone production. A reasonable argument could be made that the typical American follows a "high carb" diet, and that the Zone diet is simply a moderate one.
Sears believes the characterization of the Zone diet as 'high-protein' is inaccurate, as more calories come from carbohydrates than protein. In his book, he advocates a formula based on lean body mass and activity level to determine the appropriate daily intake of protein. For example, a female of average height and average build who has a moderately active lifestyle is encouraged to eat around 60g of protein daily.
The most common vegetarian or vegan diets, according to Sears, are highly dissimilar from The Zone because they generally utilize very little protein relative to carbohydrate consumption. Low-protein vegetarian diets, says Sears, prohibits the body from operating truly efficiently. In 2000, Sears published the Soy Zone where he outlined a zone diet based around soy protein and soy foods, for vegetarians who wish to follow a Zone diet.
Some nutritional experts, including some of Sears' former colleagues, are critical of his conclusions from the scientific evidence, contending that he has distorted or exaggerated the meaning of much of the basic research. They point out that no direct studies to verify his conclusions have been performed.