What Is Nutrisystem?

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The popular Nutrisystem diet program is a portion-controlled eating plan with prepackaged foods delivered to your home. It offers different programs for men, women, vegetarians, and people with type 2 diabetes.

Nutrisystem Food Review
Lasagna with Meat Sauce. Nutrisystem

The meals emphasize lean protein and carbohydrates with a low glycemic index such as whole grains and non-starchy vegetables. In addition to pre-packaged foods, people who use the system are encouraged to add vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, and lean proteins from the grocery store to their meal plan. 

What Experts Say

"Nutrisystem is a meal delivery program that focuses on eating real food (versus bars or shakes) but it’s expensive and the portions are small. Relying on a meal delivery service isn’t sustainable for most people, so healthy, long-term habits are not learned."

Kelly Plowe, MS, RD

Background

Nutrisystem was created in the early 1970s by entrepreneur Harold Katz who was inspired by watching his mother's repeated attempts at weight loss. Katz set up his first weight loss center near his home in Philadelphia and then began selling franchises throughout the U.S. The program evolved into a popular heat-and-eat meal delivery service in the 1990s. 

The diet's early premise was that it's easier to lose weight if you don't have to plan and prepare meals. Having access to ready-made, pre-portioned meals and snacks can help keep daily caloric intake low, leading to weight loss. The diet has evolved to help customers incorporate their own groceries, restaurant meals, and homemade meals.

The company has also grown to include meal programs for a wider range of customers including men, vegetarians, and those with type 2 diabetes. A weight-loss app (NuMi), some counseling services, and exercise guidance are also offered.

The company is widely known for its celebrity endorsements. Sports and entertainment personalities including Janet Jackson, Marie Osmond, and Dan Marino have all been paid spokespersons for the brand.

According to research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2015, people who followed the Nutrisystem plan lost an average of 3.8% more weight over a three-month period than a control group who received nutritional counseling and education.

How It Works

Nutrisystem provides several programs for different types of customers and varying budgets. There are separate programs for men and women, as well as specific plans for vegetarians, and people who have type 2 diabetes. Each plan provides three meals per day plus one snack for women and two snacks for men.

There are three plan levels ("Basic," "Uniquely Yours," and "Uniquely Yours Ultimate") each offering slightly different cuisine choices. On each plan, you receive portion-controlled meals as well as access to online tools and a smartphone app. Questions, concerns, and requests for general support are addressed by weight loss counselors who are available by phone.

Within each plan, you can choose your own meals or have meals selected for you ("Chef's Choice"). You can also personalize meal choices based on your body type, goals, and food preferences. To select this option, you take a short automated quiz.

Most of the food that you eat on the plan is provided by Nutrisystem. "Basic" meals are shelf-stable (not frozen) but the higher quality meals in the "Uniquely Yours" and "Uniquely Yours Ultimate" plans include both frozen and non-frozen selections. The more expensive plans include a wider variety of options in terms of meal and snack choices.

The first week of the program is designed to "reboot your body," and it is more restrictive than subsequent weeks. During this week, you only consume the brand's food and shakes. This week-long program is designed for quick weight loss of less than 10 pounds and can be purchased without investing in a longer-term meal plan.

After the first week, Nutrisystem customers incorporate two flex meals during the week. These meals are prepared using ingredients that you purchase. Grocery guides are provided so customers know what foods are compliant. Restaurant meals are allowed as flex meals. The NuMi app provides specific guidance for which menu items to select and which to avoid when dining out.

After you subscribe to a Nutrisystem program, food is delivered to your door. If you sign up for auto-delivery, you'll continue to pay for and receive orders every four weeks until you cancel your subscription.

What to Eat

Compliant Foods
  • Prepackaged meals and snacks from Nutrisystem

  • Lean proteins (limited)

  • Carbohydrates (limited)

  • Some vegetables

  • Some healthy fats

  • Some condiments, seasonings, spices

  • Some beverages (including alcohol)

Non-Compliant Foods
  • Store-bought food other than those listed as compliant

  • Sweets and desserts other than those listed as compliant

Prepackaged Meals and Snacks

Nutrisystem's meals include comfort-food selections such as chocolate muffins, macaroni and cheese, grilled chicken sandwiches, or pizza. Each provides around 200 calories. The bars also come in a variety of flavors such as apple strudel or toffee nut and contain about 200 calories each.

The system's shakes ("NutriCrush" or "Turbo Shakes") contain whey protein, flavors, sweeteners, and herbal ingredients such as monk fruit. Shakes provide around 120 calories per serving (without milk).

Lean Proteins

Nutrisystem provides a list of approved proteins, called "Powerfuels." Each serving is supposed to provide 5 grams of protein and 80–120 calories.

The list includes meat, seafood, poultry, plant-based protein, low-fat dairy, and nuts. Examples include 2 ounces of trimmed beef, 1 tablespoon of nut butter or tahini, 1/2 cup seitan, 2 ounces of canned salmon, 1 egg, or 1 cup of non-fat plain yogurt.

Carbohydrates

Nutrisystem provides a list of "Smartcarbs"—low glycemic carbs that provide fiber. Each serving is supposed to provide at least 1 gram of fiber and 80–120 calories.

The approved list includes whole grains, beans and legumes, fruit, and starchy vegetables. Examples include one medium banana, apple, or orange, 1/2 cup oatmeal, a 6-inch whole-wheat pita, 1/4 cup whole-grain crackers, or 1 cup of canned fruit cocktail.

Vegetables

Customers are strongly encouraged to consume at least 4 servings of non-starchy vegetables each day. You can also consume low-sodium vegetable juice as an alternative. If you can't work these into your diet, the company encourages you to reach out to a counselor for assistance.

Each serving is equivalent to 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw of approved veggies including bell peppers, broccoli, any kind of lettuce, green beans, cucumbers, asparagus, and tomatoes.

Condiments, Seasoning, Spices

Foods defined as "Extras" and "Free Foods" allow you to prepare, season, and flavor your food. Approved "Free-Food" seasonings should provide no more than 10 calories per serving but are unlimited on the plan. Free condiments include mustard, garlic, ginger, and salsa.

"Extras" should only provide 10–35 calories per serving. Ketchup, honey, and mayonnaise are considered extras. Some healthy fats like avocado and sunflower oil are also considered extras, but you would need to be very careful to limit your intake to stay within calorie limits.

Beverages

You can drink black coffee, unsweetened tea, herbal tea, and seltzer on the plan. You are also encouraged to drink at least 64 ounces of water each day.

Alcohol is also allowed on Nutrisystem, but they encourage you to limit your consumption and make careful choices. You can have two servings of alcohol per week. A serving is considered 4 ounces of dry wine, 12 ounces of light beer, or 1.5 ounces of liquor (80–90 proof).

Recommended Timing

The Nutrisystem daily plan allows for three meals plus one snack for women or two snacks for men. There is no special meal timing required for the plan and there is no fasting required.

Resources and Tips

There are no special books to buy for the Nutrisystem plan, but the smartphone app NuMi is strongly recommended. Weight loss counselors are also available by phone.

Nutrisystem's counselors are not required to have a nutrition degree, although they are required to have either an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree and are encouraged to have knowledge of nutrition, fitness, health, and weight loss maintenance.

Modifications

According to the company, women who are pregnant should not go on Nutrisystem. If you are breastfeeding, your child is at least 4 months old, and is eating solid foods, you can use a modified Nutrisystem plan. The company says that you will require a special meal plan that affords more calories. They provide a contact phone number for this information.

People who have celiac disease are advised not to use the Nutrisystem diet, according to the website. They offer a few menu items that do not include gluten ingredients and can offer a wheat-free menu, but they do not offer certified gluten-free foods.

Other groups who should not use Nutrisystem including anyone who is allergic to soy, peanuts, or latex, a person who has an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia, those with chronic kidney disease, or those following a ketogenic diet. Women weighing 400 pounds or more and men weighing 450 pounds or more require a doctor's approval.

Children under the age of 14 may not be on Nutrisystem. Teens aged 14–17 years are permitted, but require a specific meal plan and physician approval.

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Convenient

  • Wide variety of foods

  • Nutritionally balanced

  • Transition plans offered

  • Exercise is encouraged

Cons
  • Cost

  • Processed foods

Pros

Convenience

This plan is easy to follow because foods are pre-portioned to keep calories low enough for weight loss. Since foods are delivered right to your door, a calorie-balanced meal is always available and there is less of a concern about having to make difficult decisions at mealtime.

Variety

Flex meals, snacks, and supplementary foods help to make the menu more varied. You can personalize your version of the diet by choosing SmartCarbs, PowerFuels, Extras, and Free Foods that you enjoy. Easy-to-follow grocery lists make shopping more simple.

Balanced

The plan provides between 1,200 to 1,500 calories per day and foods contain protein, carbohydrate, fat, and important nutrients such as fiber. Customers are strongly encouraged to consume at least four servings of veggies and one to two servings of fruit each day. Those who find this challenging are offered support.

Transition Support

Lastly, exercise is encouraged and guidance is provided to help you start and maintain a program. And if you've reached your goal weight, a weight-maintenance plan is offered. These plans include weekend meal plans or a combination of meals and snacks. Of course, there is an additional fee for these products.

Cons

Cost

Like many commercial weight loss plans, Nutrisystem won't fit into everyone's budget. The program can cost approximately $250 to $350 per month plus the cost of additional foods from the grocery store such as vegetables, fruit, and dairy that you'll need to supplement your diet.

Overreliance on Processed Foods

Also, the prepackaged food on the Nutrisystem diet is heavily processed. You'll find plenty of unfamiliar ingredients in the meals and snacks. And if you are concerned about GMOs, the company is clear that their foods may contain them. They do not, however, use stimulants or appetite suppressants in their shakes and bars.

While the entrées and snacks may help plan followers to learn portion control, the entrees and snacks don't necessarily promote healthy food choices. You'll find foods that are not generally considered nutritious on the menu and if you get accustomed to eating them, you may struggle to make healthy choices when you end your subscription.

If a Nutrisystem customer gets used to eating cinnamon buns, macaroni and cheese, or hamburgers every day, continuing those food choices after the diet is complete may cause the weight to come back.

How It Compares

The Nutrisystem diet is a popular weight-loss plan with a track record of success. It is a convenient and easy-to-follow program of heat-and-eat meals that offer variety and balanced nutrition. However, the cost can be prohibitive for some.

The 2020 U.S. News and World Report Best Diets ranks the Nutrisystem diet number 20 in Best Diets Overall and gives it an overall score of 3/5.

USDA Recommendations

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) shares guidance for improving and maintaining overall health and well-being. The Nutrisystem diet conforms to most of these guidelines.

By supplementing your Nutrisystem diet with foods on the grocery list, you can build meals and snacks with foods encouraged by the USDA including:

  • Beans and legumes
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Healthy fats
  • Lean meats and low-fat dairy
  • Whole grains

Again, however, the base of many of your meals will be frozen or shelf-stable foods that are processed. Nutrisystem plans do meet USDA guidelines for sodium intake, but if you go off the plan and choose comparable foods after you finish your Nutrisystem plan, you can easily consume too much salt.

Consuming the right number of calories each day will also help you to reach and maintain a healthy weight. The USDA recommends consuming roughly 1,500 calories per day for weight loss, but this number varies based on age, sex, weight, and activity level. On Nutrisystem you can expect to consume 1,200 to 1,500 calories per day.

You can use this calculator to determine the right number of calories for you.

Similar Diets

Here’s how Nutrisystem compares to some of the other popular meal replacement programs.

Weight Watchers (WW)

  • Accessibility: The main Weight Watchers (WW) program is available through the company's website and on smartphone apps. However, WW also offers in-person meetings. Food is available by subscription online but is also available in many grocery stores.
  • Cost: You are not required to buy food to join WW. You can get access to the app for about $20/month and access to meetings for about $45/month. WW brand food is an additional fee.
  • Types of food: Like Nutrisystem, customers can purchase pre-packaged foods based on a membership plan. You'll find similar types of comfort food selections. But on WW, customers track their food based on "SmartPoints." The system encourages subscribers to choose nutrient-rich, lower-calorie foods. Physical activity is also encouraged.

Jenny Craig

  • Accessibility: You can access the Jenny Craig program online and the company also has an app. Unlike some other plans, customers on Jenny are provided with a personal weight loss coach, but like Nutrisystem, the coaches are not necessarily required to have a nutrition degree. Jenny Craig meals must be ordered online or picked up from a Jenny Craig center.
  • Cost: The cost of Jenny Craig ranges from $15 to $23 a day, plus shipping. A month's worth of food can cost between $550 and $800.
  • Types of food: Jenny Craig provides both frozen and shelf-stable foods. You'll find similar comfort-food based entrees like pizza and cookies. Customers are encouraged to "volumize" their entrees by adding fruits and vegetables.

SlimFast

  • Accessibility: If you try SlimFast, no delivery is required. You simply purchase products at your local grocery store or pharmacy. Online stores such as Amazon also carry the products. Limited access to support is only offered through Facebook.
  • Cost: An 11-ounce container of protein powder retails for about $12.99 although prices vary depending on the product that you choose.
  • Types of food: The SlimFast diet includes replacing two meals per day with SlimFast shakes, bars, or cookies and enjoying 100-calorie snacks in between meals. No entrees are available, but the website offers recipes. Unlike Nutrisystem, Slimfast offers a ketogenic program.

A Word From Verywell

There is no diet that is right for everyone. Different programs work for different people. Nutrisystem may be ideal for someone looking for convenience—someone who doesn’t want to have to think or worry about counting calories, carbs, or other nutrients in order to see results.

If convenience and simplicity are important for you, Nutrisystem might be a good choice. However, it's important to note that relying on any type of meal delivery service isn’t sustainable for most people. Learning healthy meal preparation and developing a nutritious food plan and physical activity schedule is essential for long term weight maintenance.

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Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Martínez Steele E, Juul F, Neri D, Rauber F, Monteiro CA. Dietary share of ultra-processed foods and metabolic syndrome in the US adult population. Prev Med. 2019;125:40-48. doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2019.05.004

  3. 2015—2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

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