What Is the Nutrisystem Diet?

nutrisystem

Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff 

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

The Nutrisystem diet is a portion-controlled eating plan centered on prepackaged foods delivered to your home. Some of 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, which are often frozen and/or processed, those who follow the diet are encouraged to add vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, and protein from the grocery store to their meal plan. 

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 United States. By the 1990s, the program had evolved into a popular heat-and-eat meal delivery service.

The diet is based on the idea that it can be easier to lose weight if you don't have to plan and prepare meals. Many people have found the convenience factor of ready-made, pre-portioned meals and snacks an appealing option to keep daily caloric intake low. However, the cost of these meals can be prohibitive for some.

Nutrisystem works with its customers to incorporate their own groceries, restaurant meals, and homemade meals into their diets. There are also different meal programs available for men, women, vegetarians, and people with type 2 diabetes. Nutrisystem also offers customers a weight-loss app (NuMi), weight-loss counseling services, and exercise guidance.

The 2021 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 3.5/5. Nutrisystem's popularity can be attributed, in part, to its celebrity endorsements. Sports and entertainment personalities including Janet Jackson, Marie Osmond, and Dan Marino have all been paid spokespersons for the brand.

While the program can lead to weight loss since it restricts calories through portion control, it does not teach healthy eating habits for long-term weight management. Nutrition experts do not recommend Nutrisystem as a sustainable weight loss 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

What Can You Eat?

Nutrisystem offers programs to suit various weight loss goals and budgets. There are separate programs for men and women, as well as 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 choices for food. On each plan, you will receive portion-controlled meals as well as access to online tools and a smartphone app. Weight loss counselors are available by phone to address questions, concerns, and requests for general support.

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 will 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 meal and snack options.

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 weeklong program is designed for quick weight loss of fewer 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 You Need to Know

There is no specific meal timing and fasting is not required for the plan. There are no special books to buy but the NuMi app is strongly recommended.

Nutrisystem doesn't require its counselors to have a nutrition degree, although they must have either an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree. They are also encouraged to be knowledgeable in nutrition, fitness, health, and weight loss maintenance.

But Nutrisystem is not for everyone. According to the company, people who are pregnant should not go on Nutrisystem since they need additional calories. If you are breastfeeding and your child is at least 6 months old and is eating solid foods, you can use a modified Nutrisystem plan that affords more calories.

Additionally, people who have celiac disease are not advised to use the Nutrisystem diet. The company offers a few menu items that do not include gluten ingredients and can offer a wheat-free menu, but it does not offer certified gluten-free foods.

Children under the age of 18 should not be on Nutrisystem, but some teens aged 14–17 years are permitted to follow a specific meal plan upon physician approval.

Other people who should not use Nutrisystem include anyone who is allergic to soy, peanuts, or latex; has an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia; has chronic kidney disease, or follows a ketogenic diet. Women weighing 400 pounds or more and men weighing 450 pounds or more require a doctor's approval prior to starting a Nutrisystem plan.

What to Eat
  • Prepackaged meals and snacks from Nutrisystem

  • Lean proteins (limited)

  • Carbohydrates (limited)

  • Some vegetables

  • Some healthy fats

  • Some condiments, seasonings, spices

  • Some beverages (including alcohol)

What Not to Eat
  • Store-bought food other than those listed as compliant

  • Sweets and desserts other than those listed as compliant

Prepackaged Meals and Snacks

Nutrisystem meals include comfort-food selections such as double chocolate muffins, macaroni and cheese, grilled chicken sandwiches, and 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, flavoring, sweeteners, and herbal ingredients such as monk fruit. Shakes provide around 120 calories per serving (without milk).

Lean Proteins

Nutrisystem-approved proteins are called "PowerFuels." Each serving should provide 5 grams of protein and 80 to 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 should provide at least 1 gram of fiber and 80 to 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

Nutrisystem 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.

Each serving is equivalent to 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw of approved veggies, which include 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 to 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'll need 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 in limited quantities. 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).

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Convenient

  • Wide variety of foods

  • Nutritionally balanced

  • Transition plans offered

  • Exercise encouraged

Cons
  • Cost

  • Processed foods

Pros

Convenience

Proponents of the Nutrisystem plan find it easy to follow because foods are pre-portioned to keep calories low, which can promote weight loss. Having meals delivered to your door is a convenience factor that some people find appealing.

Variety

Flex meals, snacks, and supplementary foods can help to make the menu more varied. Easy-to-follow grocery lists help to simplify shopping for these extras.

Balanced

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

Transition Support

Once you've reached your goal weight, Nutrisystem offers a weight-maintenance plan. 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 products.

Processed Foods

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. Nutrisystem does not, however, use stimulants or appetite suppressants in its shakes and bars. Additionally, many of the low-calorie processed foods included in the diet tend to be high-calorie foods when purchased at restaurants or grocery stores.

If a Nutrisystem customer gets used to eating the company's low-cal versions of cinnamon buns, mac and cheese, or hamburgers every day, continuing those food choices after the diet is complete would likely cause any weight lost to be regained.

Is the Nutrisystem Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming a variety of nutrient-dense foods and beverages for a healthy, balanced diet. The USDA also recommends limiting foods and beverages with higher amounts of added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium, and limiting consumption of alcohol. The whole foods encouraged by the USDA include:

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

In addition, consuming the right number of calories each day will 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 the Nutrisystem diet, 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.

The Nutrisystem diet includes meals that are frozen or shelf-stable as well as some processed foods, which are not part of a healthy, balanced diet. While the Nutrisystem eating plan meets federal guidelines for sodium, it does not offer guidance for reducing sodium intake once you're off the diet.

Health Benefits

Many people have had weight loss success on the Nutrisystem diet because it is a low-calorie eating plan. The entrées and snacks associated with the diet may also help those who follow the plan to learn portion control.

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.

Health Risks

While there are no common health risks associated with the Nutrisystem diet, the eating plan is centered on many frozen and processed pre-made foods. Processing can be associated with health conditions including metabolic syndrome. Some foods on the Nutrisystem menu such as double chocolate muffins, frozen pizza bowls, and snickerdoodle cookies are high in calories, fat, sugar, and sodium in their traditional versions.

This could make it harder for some people to choose nutritious, whole or minimally processed foods over packaged foods once they end their subscription and resume a regular diet. Research shows that long-term consumption of processed foods is associated with chronic diseases.

A Word From Verywell

If convenience and simplicity are important for you, the Nutrisystem diet may be an option since it doesn't require counting carbs or calories to see results. However, it's important to note that relying on any type of meal delivery service isn’t a sustainable plan for most people. Learning healthy meal preparation and developing a nutritious food plan and physical activity schedule is essential for both weight loss and weight management. And it's always a good idea to choose whole foods over processed foods whenever possible to maintain optimal health.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

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Article Sources
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