Like Jenny Craig (*Est. $30 per month, plus food costs), participating in the Nutrisystem diet means purchasing prepackaged frozen meals. The diet plan can be customized for men, women, seniors, vegetarians and those with diabetes, and a membership also provides online weight-loss tools and free counseling. The diet is based on the glycemic index, so meals focus on high-fiber ingredients that keep you full longer.
Those who like Nutrisystem say it's convenient and easy to follow, and experts like that the frozen meals are relatively low in sodium and saturated fat. However, Nutrisystem ranked poorly in two reputable taste tests. Many users report getting hungry quickly, since most of the meals contain fewer than 400 calories. Overall, experts say Nutrisystem doesn't teach overweight individuals the skills they need to keep weight off; once you stop eating the prepackaged meals, the pounds can come back easily. Instead, they say Weight Watchers (*Est. $30 to join, plus weekly fees) will give you the tools you need for long-term success.
U.S. News & World Report, Health magazine, WebMD and CBS MoneyWatch have the best reviews of Nutrisystem. The analysis is lengthy and detailed, and sources include nutrition and health experts. Epicurious.com and ConsumerReports.org both conduct taste tests of Nutrisystem's food, although there's little commentary to accompany the ratings. User reviews at Viewpoints.com and a listing at the Better Business Bureau are also helpful.
1. U.S. News & World Report
U.S. News & World Report asks a panel of health and diet experts to review and rank 20 diets. Nutrisystem comes in fourth for best commercial diet plan, 11th for best overall diet and 16th for best weight-loss diet. It receives good marks for safety and nutrition but low marks for long-term weight loss.
Review: Nutrisystem Diet, Editors of U.S. News & World Report, June 2011
2. Health Magazine
The experts interviewed by Health magazine say Nutrisystem is relatively healthy, although they're concerned that some dieters won't get enough calories. The diet's efficacy also hasn't been proven in a clinical trial.
Review: NutriSystem, Maureen Callahan, MS, RD, April 28, 2008
Registered dietitian Kathleen Zelman says the Nutrisystem diet is "the ultimate in convenience" but doesn't teach long-term eating and cooking habits. American Dietetic Association spokeswoman Suzanne Farrell, MS, RD, says the weight may come back easily once dieters start preparing their own food again, and some may have issues with hunger.
Review: The NutriSystem Diet, Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD, Not dated
4. CBS Moneywatch
MoneyWatch interviews nutritionists and weight-loss professionals, and researches clinical trials to find the best weight-loss plans. Jeanne Lee says Nutrisystem is worth the money (and more economical than Jenny Craig), with an estimated cost of $60 to $66 per pound of weight lost.
Review: Diet Plan Review: Best Ways to Lose Weight, Jeanne Lee, Jan. 7, 2011
Of the five diets evaluated by Epicurious.com, Nutrisystem tastes the worst compared to Jenny Craig and eDiets.com, testers say. They add that portions are too small, although some of the soups get high marks for flavor.
Review: Prepared Diet Food: The Good, the Bad, and the Unhealthy, Megan O. Steintrager, Heather Tyree, March 2007
Nutrisystem faces off against another prepackaged diet in a blind taste test conducted by trained sensory testers. Although the items are assessed only for taste -- not nutrition or cost -- this provides an interesting breakdown of which diet tastes better, with one taking a slight edge.
Review: Taste-Test Results of Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, Jan. 2011
7. Good Housekeeping
The Good Housekeeping Research Institute compares 10 of the most popular diet websites. Editors say, "If you don't want to think about what to cook for dinner, this [Nutrisystem] plan is for you."
Review: Best Diet Websites, Editors of Good Housekeeping
Nutrisystem gets 3.36 stars out of 5 from more than 90 individual reviews. Many users say the food doesn't taste good; others don't seem to mind it, and report that they can lose weight if they stick to the diet.
Review: Nutrisystem Weight Loss Program Reviews, Contributors to Viewpoints.com
9. Better Business Bureau
Nutrisystem once received a "D-" rating from the Better Business Bureau, but has since been upgraded to an A+ for responding to and resolving more than 180 complaints in the past 36 months. Most complaints fell under the "Problems with Product/Service" category, and many concerned billing or refund issues.
Review: Nutrisystem, Inc., Editors of the Better Business Bureau