Nutrisystem is a packaged meal delivery brand for weight loss. The company claims that users can "Lose Up To 7 Pounds Your First 7 Days!"
But is Nutrisystem shown to cause weight loss in clinical studies? Are the meals healthy or unhealthy? How do real users rate and describe the taste and weight loss effects of Nutrisystem? And how does Nutrisystem compare to other popular weight loss meal programs like Jenny Craig?
In this article we'll answer all of these questions and more, as we review clinical studies on Nutrisystem to give our take on whether or not the program is likely to cause weight loss, and how it compares to other popular diet programs.
We'll feature unsponsored customer reviews of the brand, highlight some questionable additive ingredients in some Nutrisystem meals, and share our concern about the calorie counts in some meals.
We'll also document the price of the program, and share our opinion about whether or not Nutrisystem Shakes are worth it.
Does Nutrisystem Cause Weight Loss?
Nutrisystem has been studied in clinical trials for its effects on weight in overweight and obese patients.
A clinical trial published in the 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 potential 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."
Nutrisystem is also clinically shown to reduce blood sugar levels in diabetic patients.
Overall, we consider Nutrisystem likely to be effective for short-term weight loss, but we're unconvinced of its long-term (12+ months) weight loss efficacy.
Very Low Calorie Counts
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 the brand's website 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 2021 medical review.
Overweight and obese individuals have even higher baseline caloric needs.
If an overweight man with a base metabolic reqiurement of 3,000 calories cuts to a caloric deficit of 2,600 calories per day 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 three meals daily in each case).
Three Nutrisystem meals and a snack only averages around 1,000 total calories. This simply isn't sufficient for the vast majority of the population, even for those dieting, which is why we're unconvinced about the long-term effectiveness of this program.
As we discussed in our review of another weight loss meal delivery program called BistroMD, simply cutting calories without changing dietary habits is a suboptimal long-term weight loss strategy.
If people are hungry and have food cravings, they 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 2018 medical review.
We consider a weight loss program that shifts dietary patterns from processed food to whole food to be more likely to support long-term success, because whole foods are rich in dietary fiber, which is clinically shown to be associated with reduced caloric intake.
Real People Try Nutrisystem
A YouTube creator named "Jeff Reviews4u" shares a full day of Nutrisystem meals and explains why he quit the system in a video with over 45,000 views:
A YouTube creator named Sarah Katherine had a more positive experience with Nutrisystem. Her video explains the weight loss results she achieved and includes before-and-after video:
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 most Nutrisystem meals to be nutrient-dense or healthy.
We assume that all of the animal products (meats, cheese, butter, etc.) are sourced from conventionally-raised animals rather than grass-fed animals, since Nutrisystem doesn’t state otherwise.
We know from medical research that food sourced from pastured animals is healthier, because it's more nutrient-dense, has a more optimal fatty acid ratio of omega-3 versus omega-6 fats, and tends 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 the preservative and flavor enhancer citric acid, which can cause whole-body inflammatory reactions in some individuals, as we documented in our Optavia review article.
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.
The chocolate flavored pretzels contain both processed cane sugar and corn syrup. We know from medical studies that added sugar can be harmful to human health when consumed in excess.
Overall, we do not consider Nutrisystem to be healthy, and we would recommend a whole food diet free of preservatives to be a nutritionally superior option.
How Much Does Nutrisystem Cost?
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 $12.50 per day, which equates to $375 per month with monthly auto-delivery.
The most popular Men's Plan currently costs $14.29 per day, which equates to $428.70 per month with monthly auto-delivery.
These prices are relatively cheap, but it's important to keep in mind the low calorie counts of the meals.
Nutrisystem is cheaper than most meal delivery plans we've reviewed to date on Illuminate Health, many of which had a daily cost above $25.
Are Nutrisystem Shakes Healthy?
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.
Added vitamins and minerals constitute the majority of the active ingredients.
As we referenced in our review of It Works gummies, a different health shake brand recently had to recall several of their products because all of the added vitamins and minerals caused toxicity to some customers.
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.
Natural flavor is a broad categorical term that can include solvents and preservatives.
There's also no explanation about whether the whey is sourced from conventionally-raised animals or pastured, so we'll assume the former.
Overall, we do not consider Nutrisystem shakes to be healthy and we do not recommend this product.
Jenny Craig vs. Nutrisystem
Jenny Craig is another popular weight loss meal program, so consumers are often curious about which is a better option.
A 2017 clinical trial compared weight loss in overweight and obese women who were 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 clinical 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.
At the time of updating this article, Jenny Craig appears to have filed for bankruptcy according to Bloomberg, so it seems like Nutrisystem may be the only available option between the two brands.
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).
MBG Organic Fiber Potency+ is our top fiber pick because it's certified organic, provides 7 g of fiber per serving and costs under $1.85 per serving at the time of updating this article.
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.
Pros and Cons of Nutrisystem
Here are the pros and cons of Nutrisystem in our opinion:
- Clinically shown to cause weight loss
- Has options for diabetics
- Unclear animal product ingredient sourcing
- Very low calorie count in meals
- May be unsustainable for long-term weight loss
- Some meals contain preservatives
- Some meals contain refined sugar
- Some meals contain natural flavor