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, seniors, and people with type 2 diabetes.

The meals emphasize lean protein and carbohydrates with a low glycemic index such as whole grains and vegetables. In addition to pre-packaged foods, vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, and lean proteins from the grocery store are added to the 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. It began as a liquid protein diet and evolved into a heat-and-eat meal delivery service in the 1990s. 

The diet's premise is 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. 

According to research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2015, dieters 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 dieters and different budgets. There are separate programs for men and women, as well as options for vegetarians, people who have type 2 diabetes, and people ages 60 and older. Each plan provides three meals per day plus one snack for women and two snacks for men.

Within each plan, you can choose your own meals or you can choose the "Favorites Pack" where meals are selected for you. Nutrisystem recommends that you start with this option.

Most plans start with the "Turbo Takeoff" to help jumpstart your weight loss during the first week on the program. The Turbo 13 program claims to help you to lose up to 13 pounds plus seven inches (overall) in your first month.

Each plan provides a different level of service.

  • Basic: Start the first month with the Turbo 13 plan, then receive portion-controlled meals as well as access to online tools and trackers.
  • Core: Start the first month with the Turbo 13 plan, then receive portion-controlled meals, access to online tools, trackers, and diet counselors on call.
  • Uniquely Yours: Start the first month with the Turbo 13 plan, then receive portion-controlled meals including Nutrisystem's frozen cuisine. You also get access to online tools, trackers and diet counselors on call.

Each of these plans is also available for dieters with type 2 diabetes, but the Turbo Takeoff is not included in those programs.

After you choose to 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

  • Fresh or frozen vegetables

  • Lean proteins

Non-Compliant Foods

  • Restaurant meals

  • Store-bought food other than those listed as compliant

  • Sweets and desserts other than Nutrisystem brand

Most of the food on the plan is provided by Nutrisystem, and the standard shelf-stable foods are convenient to carry and reheat. The best tasting entrées are the fresh-frozen meals, which are only available on the Uniquely Yours plan.

The Nutrisystem food, however, is heavily processed, and while the entrées and snacks help dieters to learn portion control, they don't necessarily promote healthy food choices.

For example, if a dieter gets used to eating Nutrisystem cinnamon buns or hamburgers every day, continuing those food choices after the diet is complete may cause the weight to come back.

Recommended Timing

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

Calories Per Day

While on Nutrisystem, your calorie count will change throughout the program. During the program, dieters consume approximately 1,000 calories per day for the first week to help them jumpstart their weight loss.

After the first week, men consume approximately 1,500 calories per day and women consume approximately 1,200 calories per day. Individuals with 100 pounds or more to lose will adjust their meal plan to include approximately 200 more calories per day. 

The Nutrisystem diet is a lower-glycemic program. The diet is set up to provide approximately 50% of calories from carbohydrates, 25% of calories from protein, and 25% of calories from fat. The diet provides less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day unless you add your own salt.

Resources and Tips

To learn more about the different Nutrisystem programs and options available, visit Nutrisystem online at nutrisystem.com.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Preportioned servings

  • Convenient, little food prep needed

  • Varied menu

  • Nutritionally balance

  • Dessert included

Cons

  • Cost

  • No eating out

  • Not safe for food allergies

  • Processed foods

Pros

With more than 45 years in the diet industry, the Nutrisystem program is a time-tested weight-loss plan that has helped millions of people reduce. The plan is easy to follow, convenient, and preportioned to keep calories at the optimal level for weight loss.

The meal plan is designed by nutritionists and provides balanced nutrition and research shows the plan is an effective weight-loss tool.

All Nutrisystem plans include support services and online tracking and the Nutrisystem Core, Uniquely Yours (including Diabetes Plans) and Vegetarian Plans provide access to on-call counselors with a background in a weight-loss related field.

Cons

The program costs between $275 and $600 a month depending on the plan you choose, plus the cost of additional foods from the grocery store such as vegetables, fruit, and dairy that you'll need to supplement your diet.

The prepackaged food on the Nutrisystem diet is mostly processed foods, which are not the healthiest. However, the company pledges to not use artificial flavors, sugars or colors, high-fructose corn syrup, or trans fats.

Nutrisystem may not be safe for people with food allergies, including peanuts, soy, dairy, and gluten. While some products may not contain allergens, the potential for cross-contamination is high.

Nutrisystem is not a good option for anyone on a gluten-free diet, especially people with diagnosed celiac disease. Almost all meals on the plan contain gluten ingredients—muffins, donuts, pasta, sandwich melts, pizza, etc. The few meals that include no obvious gluten are not intended for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity due to gluten cross-contamination in processing.

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 2019 U.S. News and World Report Best Diets ranks the Nutrisystem diet number 23 in Best Diets Overall and gives it an overall score of 3/5.

Its ranking is based on its ease of following, moderate safety profile, and success for both long-term and short-term weight loss.

USDA Recommendations

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) shares guidance for improving and maintaining overall health and well-being. The dietary recommendations include calorie guidance and tips for a healthy, balanced diet. The Nutrisystem diet conforms to most of these guidelines.

Similar Diets

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

Nutrisystem

  • Accessibility. The Nutrisystem meals must be ordered online from the company.
  • Cost. Purchasing a one-time delivery four-week meal plan costs between $275 and $600 depending on the selected plan.
  • Types of Food. Three meals and up to two snacks each day comprising real food (for instance, waffles with scrambled eggs and coffee, low-fat string cheese with carrot sticks, and grilled chicken sandwich with a side salad).

SlimFast

  • Accessibility. No delivery required—purchase products at your local grocery store.
  • Cost. An 11-ounce container of SlimFast protein powder retails for $12.99.
  • 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.

Jenny Craig

  • Accessibility. Jenny Craig meals must be ordered online or picked up from a Jenny Craig diet center.
  • Cost. The total cost of Jenny Craig is higher than the cost of Nutrisystem. But both programs require a fairly sizable financial commitment.
  • Types of Food. All Jenny Craig meal entrées are all frozen and need to be heated, unlike Nutrisystem which provides meals that are both shelf-stable and frozen.

A Word From Verywell

There is no diet that is right for everyone. Different programs work for different dieters. 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 a meal delivery service isn’t usually sustainable and doesn't support long-term healthy habits."

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