Jenny Craig, the diet program that combines counseling with a portion-controlled regimen of pre-made foods supplemented by home cooked sides, was recently designated a Ratings winner by Consumer Reports Health.
With an overall score of 85, Jenny Craig easily surpassed the popular Weight Watchers (57) program by nearly 30 points.
The diet Ratings are based on adherence to nutritional guidelines set forth by the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans and weight loss and drop-out rates, both short-term and long-term, derived from published clinical trials.
And that's where Jenny Craig excelled. In a 332-person, two-year study of the program published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 92 percent of participants stuck with Jenny Craig for two years, a remarkable level of adherence. As a result, those participants shaved off an average of about 8 percent of their weight.
"Jenny Craig is worth considering, but if you don't like the idea of eating prepackaged meals, it may not be the best option for you," said Nancy Metcalf, senior program editor, Consumer Reports Health. "The best diet is the one that you can stay on. Because if you can't stick with it, then you won't lose weight, nor will you be able to keep off any weight you do manage to lose."
The report reviews some emerging evidence relative to weight loss and nutrition:
*Calories, with an asterisk. As Dean Ornish, M.D., puts it, "The first law of thermodynamics still applies," meaning that to lose weight you have to burn more calories than you take in.
But new evidence shows that some forms of calories are actually more filling than others. Protein is the most satiating nutrient, followed by high-fiber grains, fruits and vegetables. "The big name diets are putting this principle to work to help dieters shed pounds with the fewest hunger pangs," said Metcalf.
*It's OK to go low carb. Evidence is accumulating that refined carbohydrates promote weight gain and type 2 diabetes through their effects on blood sugar and insulin. Restricting carbs can bring blood insulin levels down, helping a dieter burn body fat, which in turn helps you eat fewer calories.
On the topic of fat consumption, some surprising conclusions: The report notes that several epidemiology studies have found that saturated fat doesn't seem to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease or stroke.
Other studies suggest that a dieter might be better off replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat instead of with certain carbs, the ones that turn to blood sugar quickly, such as white bread and potatoes.
Frank B. Hu, M.D., a nutrition researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health, recently wrote that "refined carbohydrates are likely to cause even greater metabolic damage than saturated fat in a predominantly sedentary and overweight population."
*Support matters. Consumer Reports Health reminds dieters not to discount the impact of a good emotional support system. The Jenny Craig diet, for instance, includes weekly counseling sessions, and group support meetings are the foundation of the Weight Watchers plan.
Ornish's program has run support groups for decades to help people follow his rigorous program. "Most people think they're going to have the hardest time with that support group, and yet it's the secret sauce that makes the diet sustainable," said Ornish.
By the editors of Consumer Reports at www.consumerreports.org.