Are Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem & Jenny Craig Really Healthy?

For far too long, popular diets have been about one thing, and one thing only: losing weight.  Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, and Jenny Craig are three of the biggest ‘diet’ companies leading today’s market. While these weight loss companies may help folks lose weight , at least in the short-term, do they actually lead to better health, disease prevention, improved nutrition, and long-term lifestyle changes?

Weight-loss should never be the only goal in making positive diet changes...and a diet plan’s success shouldn’t be weighed, excuse the pun, exclusively by the numbers on your scale. The truth is: major diet companies have major sales goals;  the more people they can make their products appeal to, the more products they sell. Great for them, but not necessarily healthy for dieters. Foods with mass appeal, low-calorie or not, don’t usually go hand-in-hand with health. After all...if foods with mass appeal (i.e: ice cream) were actually doing a good job at keeping people healthy, there wouldn’t be so many nutrition-related epidemics today.

Let’s take a look at how three of the leading weight loss companies fare in terms of offering truly healthy diets...

Is Weight Watchers Healthy?

Weight Watchers is a diet plan based on a points system: foods are assigned points based on calories and dieters get a certain amount of points each day. Dieters can use their own foods, or they can buy pre-packaged meals made by the company.  The healthiest part of the Weight Watchers diet is that it encourages unlimited eating of fruits and veggies -- a good thing. The downside here is that it doesn’t specify the important nutritional differences between say, potatoes and phytochemical-rich sweet potatoes. 

The diet is structured around popular foods that are low-calorie while making you feel satiated for longer: foods rich in both fiber and protein are strongly encouraged. While fiber and protein certainly help stave off food cravings, they don’t necessarily serve up optimal health. Excess animal protein, for example,  is often linked to various cancers.

Weight Watchers meals and desserts often include cow's milk -- which has been demonstrated to increase cancer risk. Using artificial sweeteners is not specifically discouraged -- and, unfortunately, artificial sweeteners actually can ramp up your cravings for sweets (aka high-calorie foods).

Is Jenny Craig Healthy?

The Jenny Craig diet is all about giving dieters convenience -- serving up frozen foods that take the guesswork, and prep work, out of dieting. The diet plan is low-fat, high in refined sugar, and, unlike the Weight Watchers diet, low in fiber. The most promising part of the diet is that participants receive coaching alongside the meals.

Pair high sugar content alongside not enough fat or calories...and you’ve got a recipe for a low blood sugar crash. High refined sugar content causes spikes in blood sugar...and crashes. This is not healthy for diabetics -- to the point at which Jenny Craig actually had to create a second diet plan just for diabetics

As Jenny Craig meals are also low in calories, this is a diet plan that leaves its followers feeling hungry.  Another downside? The ingredients in the pre-packaged meals are also loaded with additives and artificial ingredients.

Is Nutrisystem Healthy?

The Nutrisystem diet is lower in saturated fats and sugars than Jenny Craig. With this diet, portion control is key. The pre-packaged meals take the guesswork and numbers crunching out of dieting; they also take out many of the nutrients from fresh, whole foods. Unfortunately, processed foods may undermine your health goals.

As with the Jenny Craig meals, this diet ‘works’ by reducing fat and calories. Although Nutrisystem has done some work in recent years to offer less processed food, these meals are still heavily processed.

What is a Healthy Diet?

A healthy diet is far more than just losing weight...true health is long-term changes to both what you eat and how you think about eating . A good diet isn’t about substituting one type of pizza for another kind, it’s not about points, and it’s not about one company’s products. A truly healthy diet is rich in ‘real foods’: minimally processed meals made with whole ingredients. Leading research today shows that a largely plant-based diet, rich in whole foods, leads to fewer cancers and a lower risk of heart disease.

Your goal shouldn’t be to fill your plate with low-calorie facsimiles of your favorite foods like pizza and cheesecake: your goal should be to fill your plate with the disease-preventative foods that will help you live your best, and longest, life.

If you want to lose weight for the long haul, and get healthier, you should choose a diet rich in real foods. A real foods diet is built around achieving lasting health, not just weight loss for the sake of weight loss.  

Want to get started? Working with a nutritionist is a great way to get more information. Meal services like ours -- that focus on diets and meals rich real foods -- make things easier for you by removing all the stress and time of healthy meal planning. If there isn’t a Pure Plates near you, ask your physician, nutritionist, and local gyms for recommendations on similar services in your area. _________________________________________________________________________


Hannah Ash, Journalist and Blog Strategist, Nutrition Fanatic                                                                                    

JoHannah Ash first discovered the transformative power of nutrition after struggling to shed post-baby weight: today, she is 100% committed to continuously learning about disease prevention, weight loss, and healthy living through the foods we eat. She spent a decade living in Burlington, Vermont, surrounded by pioneers in the 'local foods' and 'farm-to-table' movements -- and is proud to have been one of the first people to purchase (and wear) one of the now-famous 'Eat More Kale' shirts. When it comes to meal planning for her family, her philosophy can be summed up in three words: "Easy. Pure. Tasty."