Nutrisystem is a packaged meal delivery brand for weight loss. The brand claims to be "powered by proven science" and is one of the most popular weight loss brands in the U.S.
There are separate Nutrisystem for women and Nutrisystem for men plans at different prices; likely because men consume more calories than women on average.
But is there legitimate medical research backing Nutrisystem's efficacy for weight loss? Are the meals actually healthy? How does Nutrisystem compare to other popular weight loss programs?
In this article we'll seek to answer these questions and more by analyzing a medical study on Nutrisystem, as well as the ingredients used in their meals.
Does Nutrisystem Cause Weight Loss?
Many consumers are interested in the potential weight loss effects of Nutrisystem and care less about the healthiness, so we'll analyze this first.
Nutrisystem has been studied in a few medical trials. A clinical trial published in the well-respected Frontiers in Nutrition journal compared Nutrisystem with a self-directed weight loss diet, and found that participants on Nutrisystem lost more weight.
After 16 weeks, trial participants on the Nutrisystem diet lost an average of 13 pounds while those on a self-directed diet lost an average of 3.97 pounds.
However we consider this study to be poorly-designed and to have significant bias. This study was designed by employees of Nutrisystem as stated in the Conflict of Interest section.
The study also had the Nutrisystem participants eat fewer calories than the self-directed dieters for the first week. The researchers even stated “The lower calorie level during the first week of the commercial program was designed to promote an early larger initial weight loss to encourage compliance and continued weight loss with this program."
We do believe that Nutrisystem is likely to be effective for short-term weight loss based on the results of this study, but any diet that provides lower calories than maintenance will cause weight loss. This isn't unique to Nutrisystem. And in our opinion, the caloric content of Nutrisystem meals is so low that it might be unsustainable long-term, as discussed below.
Extremely Low Calories
Many of the meals sold by Nutrisystem have extremely low calories. The nutritional content shown above is from the mushroom parmesan soup which is a lunch item. Nearly every breakfast option on their site at the time of updating this article contains under 200 calories, and the vast majority of their lunch and dinner options contain under 300 calories.
These calorie counts are simply insufficient to provide the energy needs of most adults, even on a diet.
Caloric needs vary based on the individual, but the general recommendation is 2,500 calories for men and 2,000 calories for women, according to a medical review published in 2021. Since many consumers considering Nutrisystem are overweight and looking to diet, we would assume their baseline caloric needs are even higher on average.
If an overweight man with a base metabolic need for 3,000 calories cuts to a caloric deficit of 2,600 calories to lose weight, he’d need an average of nearly 900 calories per meal. A woman cutting to 1,600 calories would need over 500 calories per meal (assuming 3 meals daily in each case).
Three Nutrisystem meals and a snack only averages around 1,000 total calories. This isn’t sufficient for the vast majority of the population, even for those dieting.
In our opinion, this extreme of a low calorie diet is unlikely to be sustainable long-term, because very few people have the willpower to maintain a sub-1,000 calorie diet for long periods of time.
Extreme diets can be effective short-term for weight loss, but adherence long-term can be unsustainable. If people are hungry and have food cravings over long periods of time, often they break the diet and start binging. This is why the vast majority of people on commercial weight loss programs regain the weight, as documented in a medical review.
If Nutrisystem recommends more than three meals and one snack per day, we would urge them to publish this information on their website to clarify why calorie counts are so low.
Is Nutrisystem Healthy?
Healthiness obviously exists on a spectrum, and food can be “healthy” or “unhealthy” depending on context. That being said, we don’t consider many of the Nutrisystem meals to be nutrient-dense or healthy.
All of the animal products used (meats, cheese, butter, etc.) can be assumed to be sourced from conventionally-raised feedlot animals rather than grass-fed animals, since Nutrisystem doesn’t state otherwise.
We know from medical research that products from pastured animals are healthier, because they’re more nutrient-dense, have a more optimal fatty acid ratio of omega-3 vs. omega-6 fats, and tend to be lower in toxins and other contaminants.
Many Nutrisystem meals also contain additives we consider unhealthy such as preservatives, colorants, added sugars, and added synthetic vitamins.
Their Salisbury Steak recipe, for example, contains the preservative disodium phosphate twice on its ingredients list. It also contains a blend of added vitamins and minerals like ferrous sulfate and riboflavin. We don’t recommend consuming random supplemental vitamin and mineral blends without the recommendation of a doctor.
Many Nutrisystem snacks contain added sugar, like the chocolate flavored pretzels which contain 10 grams (g) of added sugar in a meal of only 140 calories. This snack contains both processed cane sugar and corn syrup. We know from medical studies that added sugar can be harmful to human health, and recommend avoiding it.
Nutrisystem’s Cranberry Orange Muffin has an ingredients list (shown above) that’s a perfect example of why we don’t recommend most packaged meal delivery brands.
In only 150 calories it contains all of the following questionable ingredients: sugar, soybean oil, sweetener blend, sugar (again), sugar (again), polydextrose, polysorbate 60, natural flavor.
Eating whole foods free of all of these additives would be a much healthier option in our opinion, and it's possible to lose weight eating whole foods.
Nutrisystem Real User Review
One of the most popular Nutrisystem reviews on YouTube is published by a channel called "Jeff Reviews4u" and has achieved over 25,000 views at the time of updating this article.
The video appears unsponsored, and the creator shares a full day of Nutrisystem meals and explains why he quit the program:
What Does Nutrisystem Cost?
As stated in the intro to this article, Nutrisystem has different plans but their most popular are their Women's Plans and Men's Plans.
The most popular Women's Plan currently costs $12.14 per day, which equates to $364.2 per month with monthly auto-delivery. One-time orders are significantly more expensive at $22.08 per day.
The most popular Men's Plan currently costs $13.39 per day, which equates to $401.7 per month with monthly auto-delivery. One-time orders are significantly more expensive at $24.35 per day.
These prices are relatively cheap, but it's important to keep in mind the low calorie counts of the meals.
Nutrisystem Shakes Review
Nutrisystem sells shakes that can be added to the meal plan for an additional fee. The current top-rated shake is called "ProSync Chocolate Fudge Shake Mix" and its ingredients are shown above.
We actually consider this to be a healthier formulation than many of the Nutrisystem meals we reviewed, but we still don't recommend it from a health perspective because of the large blend of added vitamins and minerals.
As we referenced in our review of It Works gummies, a health and wellness brand recently had to recall several of their products because all of the added vitamins and minerals caused toxicity to some consumers. Unless an individual has a documented vitamin or mineral deficiency, taking seemingly random blends of added vitamins and minerals seems illogical.
This shake contains fructose as a sweetener, and an extensive medical review published in the Nutrients journal found that dietary fructose intake was associated with a range of negative health outcomes such as insulin resistance.
We would recommend that consumers interested in nutritional shakes use unflavored whey protein sourced from grass-fed animals. We do not recommend Nutrisystem shakes.
Jenny Craig vs. Nutrisystem
Jenny Craig is another popular weight loss meal program, so consumers are often curious about which is a better option. Thankfully, their effectiveness has actually been directly compared in a medical study.
The study in question compared how much weight loss occurred in real patients using different commercial diet programs. The trial lasted 12 weeks.
Those on Nutrisystem lost an average of 11.09 pounds, while those on Jenny Craig's meal plan lost an average of 11.77 pounds.
Since this is the only medical trial we could identify comparing the two programs, we will consider Jenny Craig potentially more effective for weight loss than Nutrisystem. However, this is too small of a data sample to say so conclusively.
Our Clean Weight Loss Picks
There are food-based nutrients which have been shown in medical studies to be effective for weight loss.
Dietary fiber was shown in a medical review published in The Journal of Nutrition to cause 16 pounds of weight loss in 6 months when combined with moderate caloric restriction (750 calories per day below baseline).
Supergut Fiber Mix is our top fiber supplement, because it contains three different types of fiber powder, and retails for only $1.75 per serving at a subscription rate.
MCT oil was shown in a meta-study to cause more than one pound of weight loss over 10 weeks. This equates to potential annualized weight loss of 6 pounds per year with less than one tablespoon's worth of MCT oil per day.
Bulletproof MCT Oil is our top MCT oil product, because the only ingredient is MCT oil derived from coconuts. and it currently costs only $15.50 for over a month's worth of product.
Ginger intake "significantly decreased body weight" according to a 2019 meta-study on ginger and weight loss that analyzed data from 14 clinical trials.
Pique La Ginger is our top ginger product, because it's an organic tea in convenient crystallized form, and all that's needed is to pour the powder into a glass and add hot water.
All three of the products mentioned in this section are entirely free of additive ingredients that we consider to be unhealthy or unsafe.