Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Rating Calorie-Control Diets For Seniors


Nutrisystem for Seniors

NutriSystem began more than 30 years ago as just another diet program offering prepackaged meals and dietary counseling. But in the late 1990's NutriSystem morphed into an almost exclusively online weight-loss program (www.nutrisystem.com), complete with online counseling and menu planning. All of NutriSystem's programs are based on the glycemic index, a ranking of foods by how quickly they raise blood sugar levels.

Originally developed to help people with diabetes better control blood sugar, the glycemic index has also been used to guide weight-loss efforts. Diets based on the glycemic index promote eating "good" carbohydrates -- whole grains and vegetables-rather than "bad" (refined) carbohydrates because the body digests them more slowly.

As a result, they do not substantially affect blood sugar levels and may prevent the body from storing fat easily. They also help you feel full longer.

All NutriSystem participants are assigned a personal weight-loss counselor, who helps track their progress, provides support, and answers questions about the program. New members also receive a free diet analysis, a menu plan, a catalog of products, a food diary, and an online weekly newsletter.

Members also receive an exercise book, and counselors help tailor an exercise plan to suit your lifestyle and goals. Other services include online classes, chat rooms, and bulletin boards. NutriSystem's menus are based on prepackaged entrees and snacks, called Nourish foods, and it's next to impossible to follow the diet without purchasing the packaged meals.

NutriSystem has separate programs designed for men and women over the age of 60. These programs are tailored to the specific nutritional needs and weight-loss challenges of the older adult. In addition to the standard membership benefits, participants in the Over 60 Program receive a supply of NutriHance Over 60 Multivitamins, and women in the Over 60 Program can choose from NutriPeptide bars and shakes for lunch.

The Rationale

Like Jenny Craig, the rationale is that preplanned menus incorporating prepackaged, pre-portioned foods make it easier to stick with a weight-loss program. NutriSystem's shift to an online dieting service offers more flexibility to people with irregular schedules and little free time to attend meetings and prepare low-calorie meals and snacks.

Dieters are never more than a few clicks away from information and support. Members can also talk to fellow NutriSystem dieters for support.

Eating on Nutrisystem for Seniors

The NutriSystem Over 60 Programs consist of about 27 percent protein, 22 percent fat, and 50 percent carbohydrate and provide 200 more daily calories than the other NutriSystem programs -- 1,400 calories for women and 1,700 calories for men.

Although calorie needs typically drop with age, NutriSystem deems the additional calories necessary to ensure that older people get the calcium and protein they need. Each Over 60 Program diet plan allows for three meals, two snacks, and one dessert each day. There are more than 120 prepackaged, shelf-stable, microwavable entrees and snacks to choose from.

You can make your own menus from the prepackaged foods or you can order the Favorite Foods package that provides a variety of pre-selected breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and desserts/snacks for a 28-day period Either way, you add a specific number of servings of fruits, vegetables, and dairy products to the packaged meals.

The products are shelf-stable, a definite plus as long as you have access to a microwave oven. However, they won't taste as good as frozen or fresh foods. NutriSystem offers NutriHance Over 60 Multivitamins to help fill the nutrient gaps, but they're a proprietary blend of nutrients and herbs. Program participants are also encouraged to drink 64 ounces of water every day.

What the Experts Say

Most experts who express reservations about NutriSystem have the same concerns that they have about Jenny Craig -- that all the preplanned menus with packaged foods may provide too much of a crutch for the dieter to ever go it alone. Few who start the diet expect to buy NutriSystem's Nourish foods forever.

But the program does offer some real advantages. Janet Helm, M.S., R.D., a Chicago-based dietitian, says chat rooms and online counseling have been helpful in other areas, so these tools may prove to be useful in weight loss as well. And, as with any prepackaged diet plan, NutriSystem offers the no-brainer approach as a kickstart to a long-term goal of weight loss.

Anyone who follows the NutriSystem diet plan will get a well-balanced, reduced-calorie diet that, combined with regular physical activity, should result in weight loss of one to two pounds per week. The diet was developed in accordance with weight-loss recommendations from the American Dietetic Association and the National Institutes of Health.

The NutriSystem program is not cheap. A weekly supply of Nourish food costs about $70, so determine whether this diet is within your budget before signing on to the program. The diet may not include enough fiber, especially for men, so it could lead to constipation. And the 1,400 and 1,700-calorie diet plans, while balanced, are probably not enough to meet your over-50 nutrient or calorie needs.

In the next section, find out all you wanted to know about the "simple" Okinawa Program.

To learn more about senior health, see:


More to Explore