The Good, the Bad, and Jenny Craig: PCRM Weighs Diet Programs
PCRM contacted ten weight management and lifestyle improvement programs to determine the availability of cholesterol-free, healthful menus or foods. We graded programs according to whether they promote low-fat, plant-based foods, which research has shown to be the most effective approach to obesity and major diseases.
Four programs received an excellent rating. Most of these programs mirror the effective nutritional approach of the leading researchers who run them. They do not focus on portion size and, in fact, lay little if any blame on their clients’ appetites. Instead, they use foods that are high in fiber and complex carbohydrates while avoiding animal products, oils, and overly refined products.
The commercial strip-mall centers are a very distant second, retaining substandard diet guidelines and packaged foods that are usually too similar to those that caused clients’ weight problems in the first place.
The Jenny Craig program is in a class of its own at the bottom of the list. Jenny Craig clients have to buy its line of packaged goods that contain animal products and too much fat.
Four programs achieved an outstanding rating for using low-fat, unrefined, plant-based foods for achieving and maintaining weight loss and good health.
The McDougall Program at St. Helena Health Center
(Deer Park, Calif.)
This 12-day, live-in program emphasizes permanent lifestyle changes for achieving and maintaining good health and weight loss, using an optimal dietary regimen of low-fat, cholesterol-free, vegetarian foods, as well as instruction in nutrition, stress management, cooking, and exercise.
Meals use unrefined foods that are low in sugar and salt, high in fiber and complex carbohydrates, and contain no added oil. Meals average approximately 10 percent of their calories from fat. Examples include harvest-stuffed acorn squash with 3 percent of calories from fat and a four-bean enchilada with 12.5 percent of calories from fat. The program includes medical evaluation and laboratory tests. Research results from the center are available in the medical literature.
NEWSTART Lifestyle Program at the Weimar Institute
The NEWSTART 12- and 18-day, live-in programs emphasize permanent lifestyle changes for achieving and maintaining good health and weight loss, using low-fat, cholesterol-free, vegetarian foods, as well as instruction in nutrition, exercise, cooking, and stress management.
Food offerings are high in fiber, low in sugar and salt, and contain no added oil. Meals average no more than approximately 20 percent of calories from fat. One exotic favorite is mazidra, a seasoned lentil and rice dish with 9 percent of calories from fat. The program includes medical evaluation and laboratory tests. Findings from the Weimar Institute’s research on hypertension and diabetes has been published in scientific journals.
Wildwood Lifestyle Center
Wildwood’s 10- and 17-day, live-in programs emphasize permanent lifestyle changes for achieving and maintaining good health and weight loss, using low-fat, cholesterol-free, vegetarian foods, as well as instruction in nutrition, stress management, cooking, and exercise.
Meals are low in sugar and high in fiber and contain mostly unrefined foods. The Center uses minimal amounts of only nonhydrogenated vegetable oil, with meals averaging between 15 percent and 25 percent of calories from fat. A typical breakfast includes scrambled tofu with hash browns, oatcakes, and fruit. The program includes medical evaluation and laboratory tests.
Preventive Medicine Research Institute (PMRI)
Several times each year, PMRI offers state-of-the-art, one-week residential retreats which emphasize permanent lifestyle changes for achieving and maintaining good health and weight loss, using low-fat vegetarian foods, as well as instruction in nutrition, stress management, cooking, exercise, and consultations with medical staff. Meals use unrefined ingredients and contain no added fat, with foods having approximately 10 percent of calories from fat, such as cholesterol-free pizza primavera topped with eggplant and zucchini. PMRI’s research efforts documenting its findings in heart disease, weight management, and other health issues are second to none.
The next five programs retain an obsolete approach that focuses on skimpy meal portions rather than on making serious changes in the content of animal products and fat. They offer few low-fat, vegetarian choices despite evidence that such foods are the most effective for weight control.
Weight Watchers offers menu plans designed to limit fat to 30 percent of calories, which is too close to unrestricted diets to do much good. Its best menu plan is one designed for clients who prefer only cholesterol-free, plant-based foods. Some Weight Watchers centers also sell optional packaged meals, but the few available vegetarian entrées contain dairy or egg ingredients. Recipe books, exercise videos, and audio tapes are also available. Weight Watchers also offers activity plans and weekly group support meetings.
Inches-A-Weigh Nutrition & On-Site Exercise Centers
The program consists of individualized nutritional counseling and regular exercise. Centers consult with clients on developing eating plans using foods available at the grocery store as well as developing an exercise routine. Clients who want to eat cholesterol-free, plant-based foods can participate. Because centers use no better than the U.S. Food Guide Pyramid as a model, eating plans provide between 22 percent and 30 percent of calories from fat. Inches-A-Weigh does not sell packaged meals.
Physicians Weight Loss Centers (PWLC)
PWLC offers numerous diet programs utilizing a food exchange system. PWLC also carries an optional line of packaged entrées providing several vegetarian meals which unfortunately contain milk or egg products. Clients who prefer cholesterol-free, plant-based foods can participate in PWLC programs by using menu exchange lists to buy groceries that fit their dietary preferences. Centers will then design an individualized menu for the client and consult with the client to monitor progress and provide nutritional counseling. Meals and menus do not exceed 30 percent of calories from fat. The centers also offer materials on exercise, behavior modification, and stress reduction.
Diet Center Worldwide
Diet Centers offer packaged meals, meal replacements, and food exchange programs. The packaged entrées and meal replacements contain egg and/or dairy products. Clients who prefer cholesterol-free, plant-based foods can use Diet Center’s food exchange system to buy groceries that fit their dietary preferences. Meals and menus average approximately 20 percent to 30 percent of calories from fat. Centers consult individually with clients and counsel them about nutrition. The centers also offer materials on exercise, behavior modification, and stress reduction.
Nutri/System offers optional packaged meals. The vegetarian meal plan does not offer entrées free of dairy or egg products, but Nutri/System staff can design menus for clients who prefer healthful foods. In general, the menu is fattier than necessary, averaging approximately 20 percent of calories from fat, with some choices near 30 percent. Examples of packaged meals include chicken primavera with 24.5 percent of calories from fat and eggplant Parmesan with 25.3 percent of calories from fat. Nutri/System offers weekly consultations, including nutritional guidance, and exercise tips, and tapes are also available. Nutri/System’s medical weight loss program includes consultations with physicians and prescription weight loss medications.
Jenny Craig, Inc.
Jenny Craig programs use Jenny Craig Cuisine packaged meals, many of which are little better than the foods Americans eat at home. The diet chain’s vegetarian choices contain egg and/or dairy products. Meals average approximately 20 percent of calories from fat, but some are much more, such as Salisbury steak with 34.6 percent of calories from fat and cheese soufflé with 30 percent of calories from fat. Because clients are required to buy the packaged meals, those wanting low-fat, cholesterol-free, plant-based foods have no alternative. Jenny Craig programs include weekly consultations, and guidebooks on exercise, nutrition, eating style, and social situations are also available.