Ever wanted a Dietitian’s perspective on common diets like Jenny Craig, Herbalife, Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers, Paleo, Primal and more? Well, good news! I am starting a series reviewing these different diets. This is part 1 in the series.
As a dietitian, I get a lot of questions about common diets, and for good reason. People are often looking for an easy way to lose weight. The #1 way to lose weight and get a diet individualized to you is to schedule a consultation with me or another Dietitian or Certified Nutritionist. However, if you yet don’t have the money to invest in a consultation, at least do me the favor of staying far, far away from Nutrisystem, and I’m going to give you 5 reasons why.
1. The meals are highly processed, chemical concoctions.
I looked through the entire menu online, and I tried really, really, really hard to find a healthy option. I really did. The healthiest thing that I found, below, is the Tuna Salad. That can’t be bad, right? Wrong.
First ingredient (light tuna) seems ok, but it goes downhill from there. Mayonnaise from likely GMO soybean oil, also high in omega-6, although at least you’re getting some omega-3 from the fish. Modified starch in the mayo, likely from GMO corn, although there’s no way to be sure. And only 120 calories. I don’t know about you, but I can’t just eat 120 calories for lunch. The suggestion is to add your own vegetables and a “whole-grain roll”. If I’m going to add a whole-grain roll (which I’m not), and my own veggies, I might as well just grab a can of tuna while I’m at the store and make this puppy myself, or better yet a nice salad topped with some tuna. Major Fail. Keep in mind this is the best choice I could find. Here’s one that’s not so glorious.
Again with the calories…240 calories is NOT ENOUGH for me for Lunch. I will be starving by dinner and end up binging on sweets before I even get dinner cooked (trust me, I’ve been there). Health is not about the calories. Look at that list of lovely ingredients. Let’s break it down.
Filling: Cooked Rotisserie Seasoned Chicken White Meat – ok the first ingredient’s not so bad. Oh wait, see that parenthesis? That means all of those ingredients are IN the first ingredient. Let’s look…. (chicken white meat, water, less than 2% of: potato starch, salt, sodium phosphate, natural flavor) – this is basically what you would expect to see on a lunchmeat package at the grocery store. I don’t recommend lunch meat, by the way. Phosphate additives (like the sodium phosphate) are a preservative that has been linked with heart disease, and is also something very dangerous for people with kidney disease. Even if you don’t have kidney disease, stay away, unless you WANT to destroy your heart and kidneys.
Peeled Ground Tomatoes (with extra heavy tomato puree and salt)– not so bad, except all the excess salt.
Parmesan Cheese (Pasteurized Part Skim Milk, Cultures, Salt, Enzymes) – could be worse.
Diced Tomatoes (Tomatoes, Tomato Juice, Calcium Chloride, Citric Acid) – ok, why are they putting calcium chloride in my tomatoes? I have to wonder. My best guess is, they didn’t want to add more salt (the sodium chloride variety), but they wanted to preserve it longer/make it taste saltier. Really this is unnecessary at best and harmful at worst. Calcium additives can cause heart damage, although who knows how much dietary calcium this actually provides. Calcium Chloride, the chemical form, is very dangerous and can hydrolyze, producing excess heat and possibly burns, but likely the amount added here is very small. Still, it’s a tell-tale sign of high processing since most small-time canneries aren’t going to be ordering large amounts of calcium chloride.
Tomato Paste, Water – no problems there.
Modified Food Starch – again, no way of knowing the source. Could be GMO corn. Could be regular potatoes. Who knows? They don’t tell us. Usually when they don’t tell us, it’s not good.
Here’s where we get to the nitty gritty. Less than 2% of: Sugar, Methylcellulose (just a laxative, don’t worry), Olive Oil, Spices, Natural Flavor (Potassium Chloride (another one of those chemical salts that we don’t particularly need, and could be downright dangerous for those with kidney problems), Maltodextrin (just a highly processed chemical which could come from GMO corn, look away), Disodium Inosinate and Disodium Guanylate (just there to trick your senses into tasting a more “meaty” flavor with less salt, no worries, except for maybe the fact that it’s produced by bacteria, and a highly processed MSG-like chemical), Modified Food Starch (likely GMO, again we don’t know), Corn Syrup Solids (almost surely GMO…and…ew), Natural Flavor (likely MSG)), Granulated Onion, Granulated Garlic.
Whew. I don’t know about you, but I’m already tired (of course I’ve been linking all of this and explaining it) and we’re just through the filling. For time’s sake (mine, that is), I’m just going to link out the rest of these and let you decide.
CRUST: ENRICHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, MALTED BARLEY FLOUR, NIACIN, IRON, THIAMINE MONONITRATE, RIBOFLAVIN, FOLIC ACID), WATER, FULLY REFINED SOYBEAN OIL (avoid highly refined oils, they are usually extracted with chemical solvents like hexane), INULIN, RICE FLOUR, SUGAR, LESS THAN 2% OF: WHEAT BRAN, DOUGH CONDITIONERS (MONOGLYCERIDES WITH ASCORBIC AND CITRIC ACID, SODIUM STEAROYL LACTYLATE), NONFAT DRY MILK, SALT, ACTIVE DRY YEAST, BAKING POWDER (SODIUM ACID PYROPHOSPHATE, SODIUM BICARBONATE, CORN STARCH, MONOCALCIUM PHOSPHATE)
TOPPING: PARMESAN CHEESE (PASTEURIZED PART SKIM MILK, CULTURES, SALT, ENZYMES), PARSLEY FLAKES.
Basically, anything that has an ingredients list that long CAN’T be good for you. Skimpy on the vegetables, high on the processed crap. No Thank-You. Pull up any number of their options right on their website (under “Our Menu”) and you will likely find the same thing.
2. The meals are high-carb for their calories and likely not satisfying.
The second meal above was 30 grams of carbs in only 240 calories. That’s basically a snack for me. Oh did I mention that’s white flour, highly processed carbs? Even if you wanted to go with the “government recommendation” for 50% of your calories from carbs, which is super high for anyone with diabetes or blood sugar issues, you would want to get your carbs from complex sources like vegetables. Vegetables are really good for you. Someone should tell Nutrisystem that. (Because, seriously, who is buying frozen meals online, and then going out to the store to buy fresh veggies to add in?)
3. The plan doesn’t account for eating out.
One of big BIGGEST reasons I avoid plans like Nutrisystem or Jenny Craig, or any plan where they send you the food is that it teaches you nothing about making choices, and as soon as you have an opportunity to overeat or make bad choices, you do. Say you go to a BBQ, or to a girlfriend’s (or boyfriend’s?) house for drinks and appetizers, or you get invited to a birthday party, or you go out to eat with your family, or, or, or…the list goes on. Real life is not microwaved meals. You need a diet plan that can teach you to combat those things.
4. You have to add your own vegetables anyway.
I mentioned this above, but if you are going to the store to buy veggies to add to their meals anyway, you might as well pick up, IDK, a rotisserie chicken? Way less processed and really delicious! Or how about a quick fish to pay fry for 8 minutes? Or what about a chicken breast, a cubed steak, or any number of other foods that you can prepare with 1 pan in about the same amount of time it takes to open and microwave a meal. If I WERE to endorse a microwave-meal plan (don’t hold your breath), it would include the vegetables.
5. You will be starving with very few calories provided.
Again, eluded to it above, but since it is a big point, I thought I’d make a separate bullet out of it. You cannot survive on 1000 calories a day! You will lose weight, yes, but you will be starving. Some of their choices are less than 300 calories, which times 3 meals would be less than 900 calories. Yes, they do have some highly processed desserts (100-200 calories from what I can tell), and recommend adding a “grocery item” twice a day for snacks, but even with that you might top out at 1200 calories. If you are working out at all, you are going to be starving.
So that’s it. If you’ve tried Nutrisystem, comment below and let me know if you liked it. If you are thinking about trying it, comment below and let me know why you’re not now ;). Also, if you know someone who is thinking about trying Nutrisystem because they think it will be healthy for them, please share this with them, and guide them toward a Dietitian or at least a good meal plan (this one I am reviewing next). Thanks! You will really be doing your friend a favor.
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