As diet gurus never stop advising and Consumer Reports' reader surveys confirm -- portion control is the magic bullet that successful losers use to slough off the pounds and keep them off. So much so, in fact, that it's part of the basic business plan of Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem, two of the top U.S. commercial diet plans.
Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem sell plan members branded, packaged entrees, snacks and desserts, which members supplement with store-bought fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products. To find out how those companies' meals-in-a-box compare with each other in terms of taste, CR joined both programs, obtained menus and ordered foods. Its tests of a week's worth of food from the companies found that when it came to taste, Jenny Craig edged out Nutrisystem. But not by a large margin: Jenny Craig's food scored in the high end of the Good range compared with the low end of Good for its rival. (To CR's testers, "good" means OK but not great.)
CR's bottom line for taste is that the plans might be worth trying if you're willing to stick with their branded foods. But you can achieve the same portion control with diet meals and entrees from the supermarket freezer that may be tastier.
Two experienced sensory testers tasted, in total, 32 Jenny Craig products and 27 Nutrisystem Basic products. Where possible, similar items were chosen. CR also conducted a side test of six frozen entrees from Nutrisystem's more expensive Select line.
Of the 59 items tasted in the main round of tests, only five scored Very Good -- all from Jenny Craig. Of the 10 items deemed Fair, eight were from Nutrisystem. Overall, the foods from Jenny Craig did slightly better than Nutrisystem's.
The best diet for you is the one you can stick to. These programs might appeal to people who have trouble with meal planning, have limited time and skill for cooking at home, struggle with portion control, or feel they might benefit from community support and counseling. If you don't like the restricted choice of the programs, you can devise a home-made version using frozen diet meals from the supermarket. CR's previous tests of those products have found many that are tasty and nutritious.
>Keep the pounds off
*Stop drinking calories: Numerous studies have left little doubt about the connection between increased consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and the soaring rates of weight gain and obesity. And don't forget those calories from alcohol.
*Eat more protein: Low-carb, high-protein diets have proved surprisingly effective, especially in the short term. And it turns out that people who eat a higher proportion of their calories from protein end up consuming fewer calories overall.
*Eat more fiber: Fiber is the good guy of food, possibly protecting against colon cancer and heart disease, and it is your weight-control friend. Fiber slows digestion, helping you feel fuller longer, and displacing other caloric foods. Best of all, it comes in fruits, vegetables and whole grains that are loaded with beneficial vitamins and minerals.
*Lead yourself not into temptation: The food industry works hard to create irresistible high calorie foods. Consumers can't avoid encountering these foods in their daily lives, but they can keep them out of their homes.
*Add 2,000 steps a day. That is about 20 to 25 minutes of walking, covers about a mile, and will burn about 100 calories a day. It can be all at once or spread out through the course of the day.
*Cut screen time: Research has shown that the more screen time people indulge in, the heavier they get. Activities like standing upright washing dishes, getting dressed and filing papers can double one's metabolic rate compared with sitting.
By the editors of Consumer Reports at www.consumerreports.org.