Nutrisystem is a popular weight loss program that offers specially formulated, prepackaged, low calorie meals.
Although many people report weight loss success from the program, Nutrisystem can be expensive, restrictive, and unsustainable over the long term.
This article reviews Nutrisystem, how to follow it, its benefits and downsides, and the foods you can and can’t eat on the diet.
DIET REVIEW SCORECARD
- Overall score: 2.3
- Weight loss: 3.0
- Healthy eating: 2.0
- Sustainability: 1.75
- Whole body health: 2.5
- Nutrition quality: 2.25
- Evidence-based: 2.5
BOTTOM LINE: Nutrisystem will likely help you lose weight in the short term, but it’s expensive and restrictive. It also encourages a regular intake of highly processed foods. Plus, there’s little research on its long-term success.
Nutrisystem is a popular weight loss program that has been around since the 1970s.
The premise of the diet is simple: eat six small meals per day to help prevent hunger — theoretically making it easier to lose weight. By limiting the calories in your meals, you can lose weight via calorie restriction.
To make this process easier, Nutrisystem provides several of your meals for you. These meals are either frozen or shelf-stable but fully cooked and only require reheating. Nutrisystem also provides shakes that you can use for snacks.
The program boasts that it can help you lose up to 18 pounds (8 kg) in 2 months, and some people have reported weight loss success from the diet.
Nutrisystem is a diet program that provides premade meals and snacks to help make it easier to lose weight on a calorie deficit.
Nutrisystem is a 4-week program. However, you can repeat the 4-week program as many times as you would like.
On Nutrisystem, you should aim to eat six small meals per day — breakfast, lunch, dinner, and three snacks. Several of these will be frozen meals or shakes provided by Nutrisystem.
Week 1 is a little bit different from the remainder of the program. During this week, you eat three meals, one snack, and one specially formulated Nutrisystem shake per day. This supposedly prepares your body for weight loss success.
However, during the remaining 3 weeks, you should aim to eat six times per day. For meals and snacks that are not provided by Nutrisystem, the company recommends choosing lean, low calorie, and low sodium options.
Each week, you’re also allowed a total of up to eight “Flex Meals” — two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners, and two snacks — to account for meals that may not be ideal for weight loss but may be part of a holiday or special occasion.
You can also use the free NuMi app provided by Nutrisystem for meal planning guidance.
Nutrisystem offers several meal plans to cater to different dietary needs. In addition, each meal plan features the following pricing tiers:
- Basic: least expensive, provides 5 days of food each week
- Uniquely Yours: most popular, provides 5 days of food each week along with customization options
- Ultimate: most expensive, provides 7 days of food each week along with customization options
You can also select your own meal plan. The meal plans offered by Nutrisystem include:
- Standard. The standard Nutrisystem plan is targeted toward women and contains a variety of popular meals and snacks.
- Men’s. Nutrisystem Men’s contains additional snacks each week and includes meals that are more appealing to most men.
- Nutrisystem D. Nutrisystem D is for people who have type 2 diabetes. These meals are high in protein and fiber, with a focus on foods that will not cause rapid blood sugar spikes.
- Vegetarian. This meal plan contains no meat but features dairy products — so it’s not appropriate for vegans.
Nutrisystem is a 4-week, low calorie diet program. There are special menu options for women, men, vegetarians, and people with diabetes.
Nutrisystem — like most diet plans — may aid short-term weight loss.
If the diet is followed closely, your daily calorie intake will average 1,200–1,500 calories — which, for most people, is a calorie deficit that will result in weight loss.
The Nutrisystem website states that you can expect to lose 1–2 pounds (0.5–1 kg) per week if you follow the diet, but that you can lose up to 18 pounds (8 kg) “fast.”
This finding was based on the results of a study that was funded by Nutrisystem and not published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
In this study in 84 adults, those on Nutrisystem lost twice as much weight as people on the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet after 4 weeks (1).
The same study found that the average weight loss after 12 weeks on Nutrisystem was 18 pounds (8 kg) (1).
One study in 69 adults with type 2 diabetes found that those following Nutrisystem lost significantly more weight in 3 months than those in a control group who received diabetes education but no specialized diet program (2).
Still, research on long-term weight maintenance after doing Nutrisystem is lacking.
Nutrisystem appears to be effective for short-term weight loss. However, little research has been conducted on its long-term effects.
Other potential benefits of the Nutrisystem program include its convenience and potential to improve blood sugar control, especially in people with type 2 diabetes.
May improve blood sugar control
Nutrisystem foods are made with low glycemic index (GI) ingredients, meaning they affect your blood sugar less significantly than other foods.
The GI is a scale of 0–100 that ranks foods based on how quickly they increase your blood sugar levels. For example, glucose — the sugar your body uses for energy — has a GI of 100, while strawberries, which contain a little bit of natural sugar, have a GI of 40 (3).
Nutrisystem meals are made with high fiber, high protein ingredients, which helps lower the GI of these foods. However, there’s no information online regarding the exact GI scores of Nutrisystem foods.
Moreover, there’s some debate as to whether the GI is a valid system. It categorizes some poorer choices as low GI and some healthier choices as high GI. For example, ice cream has a lower GI score than pineapple (3, 4).
How quickly a food increases your blood sugar can also be affected by the other foods you eat with it. While GI can be a valuable tool, it has some limitations (3).
Still, Nutrisystem D — the high protein, low GI plan for people with diabetes — has been shown to improve blood sugar control significantly more than a diabetes education program without accompanying meals over 3 months (2).
Because it provides most of your meals, the Nutrisystem program can be a convenient way to lose weight. While most weight loss programs may require you to cook at home more, requiring more of your time, Nutrisystem can save you time.
For this reason, people who are busy or those who dislike cooking may prefer Nutrisystem. It requires less meal planning, cooking, and grocery shopping than other weight loss programs.
Nutrisystem is a convenient diet program because most of your meals are provided for you, requiring only reheating. The program may also help with short-term blood sugar management.
Despite some benefits, Nutrisystem has a number of potential downsides.
The first is the price. The program costs about $10 per day, which is nearly $300 for a 4- week plan. The “Ultimate” plans cost even more than this. For many people, this is cost-prohibitive — especially if they would need to do more than one 4-week round of the program.
Additionally, the program is not sustainable. Most people don’t want to eat a diet mainly consisting of frozen meals over the long term. Plus, the average calorie intake on Nutrisystem works out to about 1,200–1,500 calories per day, which can be excessively restrictive.
For this reason, it’s best to only slightly restrict calories to promote slow, gradual weight loss that you can maintain over the long term.
Moreover, Nutrisystem is not feasible for people who are on specialized diets. Although there’s a vegetarian plan, there are no vegan, dairy-free, or gluten-free options.
Finally, although the Nutrisystem meals are low in calories, they’re highly processed. Diets containing large amounts of highly processed foods are linked to higher rates of obesity and chronic disease. For optimal health, it’s best to choose whole, minimally processed foods (7, 8).
Nutrisystem can be expensive and excessively restrictive. The meals included in the program are also highly processed and unsuitable for vegans or those following a dairy- or gluten-free diet.
Below are some guidelines regarding foods you should eat (in addition to the meals and snacks provided by Nutrisystem) and avoid on the diet.
Foods to eat
While on Nutrisystem, the majority of your meals and snacks are provided for you.
On the basic plans, you’ll receive four meals — breakfast, lunch, dinner, and one snack — for 5 days each week. As such, you’d need to add two snacks each day for 5 days, as well as all six meals for the remaining 2 days of each week.
On the “Ultimate” plans, you’ll receive four meals for each day of the week, so you only need to provide two additional snacks each day.
In addition to the meals provided, here are the foods you can eat on Nutrisystem:
- Proteins: lean meats, legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu, meat substitutes
- Fruits: apples, oranges, bananas, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, tomatoes, avocados
- Vegetables: salad greens, spinach, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, cabbage, asparagus, mushrooms, turnips, radishes, onions
- Fats: cooking spray, plant-based (lower calorie) spreads or oils
- Dairy: skim or low fat milk, low fat yogurts, reduced-fat cheeses
- Carbs: whole grain breads, whole grain pastas, sweet potatoes, brown rice, oats
Foods to avoid
On Nutrisystem, you should avoid high calorie, high fat foods, such as:
- Proteins: battered and/or fried proteins, fatty cuts of meat
- Fruits: fruit-based desserts like pies, cobblers, etc.
- Vegetables: fried vegetables
- Fats: liquid oils, butter, lard
- Dairy: ice cream, full fat milk, yogurt, or cheeses
- Carbs: pastries, cakes, cookies, french fries, potato chips, refined breads and pastas (made with white flour)
Nutrisystem encourages lean, low calorie, and high fiber choices. Foods that are high in calories, fat, or both should be avoided on this diet.
This 3-day sample menu outlines what the “basic” Nutrisystem plan may be like. Nutrisystem typically provides 4 meals, 5 days per week, so this menu includes 2 days with Nutrisystem meals and 1 day with no Nutrisystem meals.
- Breakfast: Nutrisystem Cranberry and Orange Muffin
- Snack 1: strawberries and low fat yogurt
- Lunch: Nutrisystem Hamburger
- Snack 2: celery and almond butter
- Dinner: Nutrisystem Chicken Pot Pie
- Snack 3: Nutrisystem S’mores Pie
- Breakfast: Nutrisystem Biscotti Bites
- Snack 1: protein shake made with skim milk
- Lunch: Nutrisystem Spinach and Cheese Pretzel Melt
- Snack 2: baby carrots and hummus
- Dinner: Nutrisystem Cheesesteak Pizza
- Snack 3: Nutrisystem Ice Cream Sandwich
- Breakfast: multigrain cereal with skim milk, banana
- Snack 1: apple and peanut butter
- Lunch: turkey and cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread
- Snack 2: whole grain crackers and cheese
- Dinner: baked salmon, brown rice, salad with vinaigrette dressing
- Snack 3: 2–4 squares of dark chocolate
This 3-day sample meal plan can be used to help you with meal planning on your Nutrisystem diet.
Nutrisystem is a long-standing diet program that offers premade meals. It’s convenient and may lead to short-term weight loss, along with improvements in blood sugar control.
However, it can be expensive and excessively restrictive. Nutrisystem meals and snacks are also highly processed and unsuitable if you follow a vegan, dairy-free, or gluten-free diet.
Although some people find weight loss success with Nutrisystem, there are other, more sustainable ways to lose weight and keep it off.