January 4, 2011 --
It's that time of year when it seems that everyone is going on a diet. But those diets can be short-lived. By the end of last year, only 15 percent of those surveyed by Consumer Reports National Research Center said they were on a diet. And 40 percent said they usually ate whatever they wanted. Most people characterize their diet over the past year as pretty healthful. But delve deeper into the survey's findings, and it seems we may be fooling ourselves. Consumer Reports asked people what steps they're taking to eat well and control their weight. It turns out that only 15 percent are counting calories. That's a key strategy for losing weight. In fact, the poll found that most people don't have an accurate take on counting calories. Consumer Reports asked people which had more calories, a Dunkin Donuts glazed donut or a Dunkin Donuts plain bagel. And 75 percent got it wrong. The donut has 260 calories; the bagel, 320 calories. And are there more calories in 20 M&M's or an ounce of pretzel sticks? Most people got that wrong, too. The M&M's have 68 calories. That ounce of pretzel sticks has 100 calories. Even people who described themselves in the poll as watching what they eat didn't necessarily make good choices. About 30 percent who say they carefully limit sugar down a sugar-sweetened drink most days. And 10 percent who say they strictly limit their fat had bacon or another fatty meat for breakfast. But the good news: Almost 60 percent of those polled said they eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day. And they're choosing whole grains instead of white bread and white rice. Consumer Reports' survey also found that 78 percent of Americans eat breakfast. That's another important finding because eating breakfast has been shown to keep your weight under control. You can get more information on good diet strategies at: www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine-archive/2011/february/health/weight-loss/overview/index.htm.
Jenny Craig vs. Nutrisystem
The world of weight loss was shaken up last month when Weight Watchers announced changes to its point system. But what about the two other big-name diet plans, Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem? Consumer Reports just did a taste-off of their heavily advertised diet foods.
Consumer Reports asked its experienced taste testers to sample 65 products, including breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks. The testers didn't know which products they were testing. They didn't even know they were eating diet-plan foods.
The results: Most of the foods weren't all that tasty. The testers found the Nutrisystem meatloaf and tomato sauce had an "old flavor." The Jenny Craig Salisbury Steak was better and had flavorful potatoes and vegetables, but the mushrooms were slightly rubbery. Neither company's snacks and desserts were much of a treat. Jenny Craig's Soft Chocolate Cookie was dry and crumbly, without much flavor. Nutrisystem's nacho crisps didn't have much flavor, either, and were hard and dry.
In the end, only five of the products Consumer Reports tested scored "very good," all from Jenny Craig. Overall Jenny Craig edged out Nutrisystem with respect to taste, but not by much. Still, for some people, the plans can work. Consumer Reports says the downside is that you spend weeks eating food that doesn't always taste so terrific.
One of the big advantages of diet-plan food is that it's portion controlled, and portion control is key to losing weight. But frozen diet meals offer that, too. And previous Consumer Reports tests have found that many are quite tasty.