The ZOE diet Review

The ZOE Diet Programme is a personalised nutrition programme founded by Professor Tim Spector. The programme gives personalised advice via an app on what users should eat, based on tests such as stool samples and blood sugar monitoring, done at home.

The ZOE programme can provide some interesting insights into blood sugar control and gut health, with suggestions on how to improve these for the user, though there are some drawbacks when looking at the depth of information provided and the suitability of this programme depending on the individual.
Here we will review the ZOE programme,  to see if this is a product that would be worth investing in.

Highlights

  • ZOE is an app delivered nutrition programme, based on advice around monitoring blood sugar, blood fat and gut health.
  • You are sent a kit that contains a blood sugar monitor, blood fat test, stool sample test and some food to test your gut transit time.
  • The programme can be a great way to start taking more care of your food choices and knowing how certain foods can impact your blood sugars and gut health.
  • However, there is a lack of personalised coaching, which would be needed to help people make successful long term changes in the most realistic way.
  • Seeing a dietitian alongside using the ZOE programme can provide an overall holistic approach to managing your health and wellbeing.

What is the ZOE diet?

ZOE is a programme based on providing personalised advice on what people should eat, to improve their health outcomes. Information is based on the results of gut health and blood fat tests, as well as blood sugar monitoring. The ZOE app allows users to monitor progress, to find their personalised data and the modifications that are recommended based on their results. The programme is not aimed for weight loss, but improving metabolic health outcomes, such as reducing risk of type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and other health conditions.

How does the ZOE diet work?

The ZOE programme requires users to track and weigh every food eaten at each mealtime. This then allows the ZOE app to produce a score from 0-100, based on food choices. This score is based on how ideal the food is for you, based on your health results.

There are personalised recommendations based on the users’ goals, and there is an element of coaching and extra support if you sign up for this, which can help users to adhere to their personalised goals. This is all done via their app on a smartphone.

Lady inserting blood glucose monitor into arm

What does the ZOE diet kit contain?

The sign-up process for ZOE is via their website, although there is currently a waitlist. The ZOE test kit contains:

  • Gut health kit: A kit to collect a stool sample at home, to send off for analysis. The stool is examined to see the diversity of the gut microbiome – essentially the good and not so good species living in the stools. This is linked with health issues such as digestive system, immune response and mental health.
  • Blood fat test: A small sample of blood collected via finger prick is sent for blood fat analysis. This measures how quickly fat is cleared from the blood after a meal. This helps indicate the risk of developing heart disease and chronic inflammation.
  • Blood sugar sensor: A round disk that the user sticks to their arm and leaves for 14 days. There is a tiny needle that measures the glucose from the fluid beneath the skin. This allows the app to gain real-time insights of how blood sugar levels fluctuate, depending on food eaten.
  • Breakfast and lunch cookies to eat at certain points – these test out the blood sugar and blood fat results, as well as measuring the speed of our digestion and gastric emptying.

What is happening on the ZOE diet test day?

When it comes to eating the cookies, you will need to be fasted in the morning – that means nothing to eat or drink, except water, black tea or coffee.

The specific breakfast cookies need to be eaten within 15 minutes, and then a four our fast follows, before consuming the lunch cookies.

After fasting for a further 2 hours, a finger prick test is done to collect a small sample of blood.

This blood test will measure the response to fats in the cookies. After this, you are able to eat and drink as normal.

Advantages of ZOE diet

Here are the key positives that are on offer, if using the ZOE programme:

  • Personalised recommendations
    As the ZOE programme data is based on large-scale studies, it is able to generate more personalised insights into the user’s health. For example, reducing blood sugar spikes is known to help reduce chronic inflammation, which is cited to be a risk for mortality.
  • No calorie or points counting
    It’s great to see that there is no discussion of users having to count calories or points on this programme, which is a positive way of making healthy lifestyle changes without feeling fixated on these areas. Though there is still some form of tracking involved (see below).
  • Motivating and easy to understand
    The layout of the app allows simple transfer of guidance and recommendations, which can be motivating for those who are looking to make positive steps in their health and lifestyle without overly complex changes. Being able to see clearly which foods influence blood sugars in real time and how, is important especially for those with impaired blood sugar control.
  • Support and education provided
    There is an option to be part of a community to receive encouragement and support, which can also help with motivation and adherence. Helpful and realistic information is also often shared through podcasts and social media in relation the the ZOE platform, which can be accessed for free.
  • Team collaboration
    There are a wide range of researchers working with the ZOE programme, in areas such as genetics and microbiology, nutrition and personalised health, so the data provided is largely data driven and reliable.

Disadvantages of the ZOE diet

Here are the drawbacks to consider when using the programme:

  • Limited individualised approach
    The level of personalised offered is understandably still limited with the data available. There is good personalisation of a user’s blood glucose changes, microbiome and blood fats, though health is more than just these three areas (although it is a fantastic start). There is no component of genetics and how nutrition is influenced by our genetic code, and the data is not suitable for certain individual health concerns such as those with gut conditions like IBD (Irritable bowel disease).
  • No human interaction
    There is no face-to-face interaction with a person such as a dietitian to discuss results and to get real time questions answered, which users can benefit hugely from. Although there is an element of support from a team of nutritionists on the app, this is a light focus and discusses the user’s report findings, rather than more personalised nutrition support.
  • Not suitable for everyone
    Unfortunately, people with certain health issues are unable to take part in the ZOE study, as mentioned on their website. This includes those with IBD and some other chronic health conditions such as coeliac disease, as well as diabetes (this is an exclusion for not being able to use the blood glucose monitor). Those with an eating disorder or history of eating disorder are not suitable, which is understandable given the emphasis on diet and food choices.
  • Still a form of diet
    Essentially, the ZOE changes can be viewed as a restrictive diet. There is a colour coding system on each food, ranging from orange to green based on your response, with a rating of 0-100 given for each food. 0 essentially means to avoid this food, and this can lead to feelings of guilt or shame, if the user wants to consume these. Which is not what we as dietitians believe in. Users may become hyper focused on only consuming the green rated foods for them, which can lead to restrictiveness and a possible disordered relationship with food.
  • Too much focus on weighing and tracking
    To be a part of the ZOE programme, it is required that the user tracks and records all foods eaten. The data provided gives the user a daily score, which evaluates the food choices. Although this information can be interesting in the short term, it is not something we would recommend for anyone to do long term. Not only do we feel that there is a big task in weighing and tracking ALL foods, it can also take the joy out of eating in the long term and is quite unsustainable.
    Following from the point above, it can lead to users becoming hyper focused around weighing foods, which can lead to a negative view of eating.
  • Long term effectiveness unknown
    Whilst it can be useful and interesting to know about blood sugar and blood fat changes and gut health, there isn’t yet any long term research to show the impact on a users health, so it cannot yet be deemed as successful when compared to other health interventions.
  • Cost
    There is a financial cost for the test kits and ongoing subscription, which may be a barrier for some. Before committing to ZOE, it is important to explore if the products and services provided would actually benefit you, rather than 1-1 personalised support from a registered dietitian.

    The cost of the Zoe diet

    There are two separate costs with ZOE; the testing and the ongoing membership.

    The test kit is priced at £299, which includes the gut microbiome test, blood sugar and blood fat tests, as well as the cookies and blood sugar monitor. This kit provides a comprehensive health report and personalised insights.

    Membership provides reports on creating positive habits and receiving personalised feedback for eating strategies. There are three membership options, which auto-renew unless you request a cancellation.

    1 month – £59.99 a month

    4 month – £39.99 per month

    12 months – £24.99 per month

    How long do Zoe diet results take?

    According to the ZOE website, users can feel the changes in their energy levels after around 4 weeks. Other changes are long term, which can take at least 12 weeks to see, such as improvements in bowel habits, weight improvement or better blood sugar control. A statistic on the Zoe website states 84% of users feel healthier after 12 weeks, however it is not explained what ‘feeling healthier’ actually means specifically.

    At Dietitianfit, we agree that changes in energy and mood may be felt within the first 3-4 weeks of changing your diet and lifestyle,, whereas other health changes will take longer to see, such as better blood sugar levels, blood pressure and changes in bowel habits.

    One user commented feeling stuck in the menopause for years, but since using the ZOE programme for 6 weeks, she lost 11lbs, is excited about food choices again and enjoying movement once more.

    Another user of ZOE mentioned that before starting, they were suffering with poor blood sugar control, low mood, IBS symptoms and poor blood pressure. Since using ZOE, those issues have become a thing of the past, and they are feeling more confident with their health choices based on the education learnt via the app.

    Whilst these reviews sound promising, it’s important to note that everyone is different, and our gut microbiome is unique, so results and changes may vary, as well as the time scale to notice changes.

    Steps to follow for the ZOE programme

    Online ZOE diet reviews

    The ZOE website provides testimonials from clients who have used the programme to help better their health. There is a wide variety of positive reviews, though there are some negative opinions from users.

    Trustpilot has a 4.2-star rating for ZOE, with over 5,800 reviews.

    Many users mention finding the ZOE programme has increased their understanding of healthy habits and how to balance meals. Reviews mentioned seeing improvements in energy levels, appetite regulation, better digestive performance and even unintentional weight loss due to the changes made, after three months.

    Though, there are many comments from those who believe to have a good understanding around food and diet, who did not find the information provided by ZOE to be helpful or anything new, especially for the ongoing membership price, which they felt was overpriced and not worth it. The information provided, although interesting, is not detailed enough for some.
    Some users have commented on the issues with the app performance, stating ongoing glitches when using the app, and support on the app is a reported ongoing issue.

    One review quoted that even after cancelling, they were constantly sent automatic emails asking to review the programme, which can be frustrating. People who stopped using the app noticed they were auto enrolled in another contract at a high price, and some have been unsuccessful to cancel this to get their money back.

    Although a Trustpilot rating of 4.2 is considered good, we would encourage you to do your research before committing to the high monthly costs, if you feel that the information provided would benefit you and your health. If you are in need of more personalised support around your relationship with food or have specific health conditions where nutrition and healthy habits can have an impact, you may be inclined to seek 1-1 support from a registered dietitian.

    Is the ZOE diet worth it?

    Although we would not argue that the ZOE programme is a great opportunity to learn more about your health and wellbeing, we believe it is just an initial starting point to kick off a person’s health journey. An issue is that there is a sole reliance on the app to provide guidance and it does not allow the personalised support that we at Dietitian Fit are able to provide our clients. There is also too much of an emphasis on the traffic light system of rating foods, which can be negative for some and be viewed as another restrictive diet.

    It’s important to think about what outcome you would like to achieve most. Taking care of your health is a personal journey and finding the right support that you connect with and enjoy, is important.

     

    ZOE comparison to other diets

    We have compared the ZOE programme to other popular diets that offer similar outcomes and results.

    ZOE Vs Noom
    Both Noom and ZOE use apps to deliver much of their information, with easy to understand information. Noom rates certain foods as green, amber and red, which is similar to ZOE but there is also a focus on calorie counting. These features can feel very similar to fad diets and may not be best for those who struggle with disordered eating.

    With Noom, there is a positive education around the psychology of food, with an element of coaching that ZOE lacks. However, ZOE does have the upper hand in sourcing the users blood work and stool samples, to provide more in depth information.

    ZOE Vs calorie counting
    The traditional method of weight loss comes down to calculating calories in, compared to calories burnt. This can work in theory, but often calories are difficult to calculate accurately, and can be time consuming. Even the calorie information found on food labelling can be inaccurate, leading to over or under predictions in total calories.

    This means that even if someone were to count every calorie they eat, the final numbers may just not be reliable. Compare this with ZOE, where there is no calorie counting involved, which can make the user feel less restricted with not worrying about numbers, but instead focusing on the quality of the foods they eat.

    What support can a Dietitian provide that ZOE cannot?

    Considering seeing a dietitian rather than using the ZOE programme can provide:

    • Individualised recommendations on all aspects of nutrition
      Seeing a private dietitian will allow a complete assessment of a person’s health history, dietary habits, lifestyle choices, health goals and barriers. This personal support doesn’t provide prescriptive or numerical data that ZOE does, but it is more holistic in the overall approach. Plans are able to be tailored to the person’s lifestyle, based around their routine, challenges, family and home life, whilst taking into consideration cultural and dietary preferences, any health conditions and their emotional relationship with food.
    • Nutrition coaching and counselling
      Seeing a private dietitian who is experienced in behaviour change can be powerful to support those who struggle with aspects such as emotional eating, over-eating, boredom eating and having an overall poor relationship with food. There is an aspect of Intuitive Eating that can be discussed with clients during sessions if appropriate, and we understand that changing habits requires consistency and accountability for long term success.
      Psychological factors can be considered and how these influence food choices and eating habits, which the ZOE app is unable to provide.
    • Wider opportunity for health tests not available via ZOE
      Through seeing a dietitian, we can assess health concerns, leading to recommendations of specific tests that can be done to deepen our understanding of challenges you may face, with the symptoms you are experiencing.
      Aside from testing for blood sugar, blood fats and gut health, there is a huge variety of other tests such as female health hormone testing, DNA testing, bacterial overgrowth testing and many more. We will be able to support you with finding a reliable place to get these tests carried out and help you to interpret the results to set some realistic and personalised goals.
    • Building a relationship
      Seeing a dietitian allows long term relationships to be built, which can help with trust and openness. This works particularly well once we establish the way in which a person best forms habits, so that we can tailor our education, coaching and motivational interviewing techniques, to achieve the most successful outcome.

    How about seeing a dietitian alongside doing the ZOE programme?

    Working with a member of our team whilst using the ZOE programme has so far worked well for some of our clients. Whilst they are able to get specific insights as to what foods spike blood sugars and alter the types of foods this way, we are able to provide more specific 1-1 nutrition counselling and support on how to put these changes to diet in place that are enjoyable and realistic. We also can work on tailored areas such as emotional eating, Intuitive Eating and long term healthy habit change, that the app is currently lacking. Get in touch with our team today, to find out how we can support you on your health journey!