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U.S. News & World Report asked doctors, nutritionists and health experts to rate 29 popular diet plans and eating programs for their effectiveness at enhancing your health and promoting weight loss. After the rankings were in, Jenny Craig was named the sixth best program, while Nutrisystem received 15th place. Both plans claim to help you lose at least 1 to 2 pounds per week, though some dieters may find one to be more suited to their personal taste and lifestyle than the other. Don't start either plan until you've spoken to your doctor first.
Nutrisystem dieters purchase packaged meals that tightly control portion size, caloric intake and consumption of foods with a high glycemic index. Foods that have a high glycemic index -- refined grain products and starchy vegetables such as potatoes, for example -- can cause sharp spikes and drops in your blood sugar. Low glycemic index foods like whole grains or vegetables are digested more slowly and may keep you feeling fuller for a longer period of time. On Nutrisystem, you'll eat five or six prepackaged meals daily, supplemented with produce, dairy products and lean protein you purchase yourself until you're ready to move on to cooking low glycemic index meals yourself.
Jenny Craig also uses prepackaged meals -- three each day, as well as snacks -- and also requires you to provide your own fresh fruits, vegetables and non-fat dairy products. However, the Jenny Craig program encourages exercise and does not emphasize low glycemic foods as much as Nutrisystem.
On Nutrisystem, a sample day's menu might consist of a breakfast, lunch and dinner that include a Nutrisystem heat-and-eat entree that's supplemented with items you add yourself. Breakfast might be French toast with fruit and yogurt, while lunch could be a Nutrisystem quesadilla with turkey and a salad. A typical dinner might include vegetables, fruit, a salad and a protein-rich Nutrisystem meal. Snacks could be an egg, fruit, nuts or cheese.
A day with Jenny Craig meals typically includes a pre-packaged breakfast, lunch and dinner with occasional snacks that could be fresh fruit or a Jenny Craig snack bar. Breakfast might be cereal with fruit and non-fat milk. Lunch could be a turkey burger and salad, while dinner might feature a pasta dish, soup and vegetables.
According to U.S. News & World Report, studies funded by Nutrisystem indicate that the program can help dieters lose weight, but there aren't any independent studies that have demonstrated the same results. Any success that you do experience on the plan may be due to eating fewer calories and not from lowering your intake of foods with a high glycemic index. A 2010 study published in "The New England Journal of Medicine" found that people on a low glycemic index diet did not lose weight and keep it off much better than subjects on a high glycemic index plan.
Following the Jenny Craig diet -- especially long term -- may help you lose weight reported a 2007 "Obesity" study that showed dieters who stayed on the program for a year lost about 11 percent of their body weight. Another study, published in the "Journal of the American Medical Association" in 2010, showed that women on Jenny Craig lost significantly more weight than women on a typical diet.
It's not known if following the Nutrisystem plan can benefit your health, though its guidelines should help you meet the government's recommended dietary intake for fat, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals. The program may help lower your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, high blood cholesterol and diabetes, but that may be due simply to losing weight: Being overweight increases your chances of developing all these conditions.
You might not get all of the vitamins and minerals your body requires on a Jenny Craig diet, particularly potassium. However, the menus do fulfill the American Diabetes Association's meal recommendations for fat, carbohydrates and protein. If you lose weight by following the plan, you'll be less likely to suffer from a stroke, heart disease or diabetes.