Jenny Craig tops Consumer Reports diet rankings (but I’ll be sticking with another diet plan)

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Consumer Reports has released its latest diet plan ratings, and there’s a new queen of the low-cal aisle: Jenny Craig.

This came as a bit of a disappointment to me. Hoping to lose about 10-15 pounds of weight I put on when pregnant with my now 2-year-old son, I recently started Weight Watchers -- which came in third in the rankings. Weight Watchers got dinged for not providing proof of sufficient weight loss and for publishing a sample menu that included optional soups that were way too high in sodium, among other shortcomings. Even Slim-Fast, with its daily diet of canned shakes, came out better in the rankings (though the Zone, Ornish, Atkins and Nutrisystem diets trailed somewhat.)

Personally, I would have been encouraged to hear that my hours spent looking up my Points Plus totals, logging my daily activity and gnawing on fresh foods like celery and apples were the surest path to diet triumph, excellent health and a pair of size 4 jeans (that I could actually wear).


But fear not, plan spokesdiva Jennifer Hudson: I’m planning to stick with Weight Watchers anyway. For me, it boils down to the food.

According to Consumer Reports, dieters on the Jenny Craig plan eat already prepared food (with some homemade sides thrown in) and speak weekly with a counselor to help stay on track. Web tools help with planning menus and tracking exercise. The diet got an excellent score for nutrition (based on its adherence to the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans.) And it works -- apparently, very well. A 2010 study funded by the company and published in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. found that a stunning 92% of participants stuck with the program for two years. On average they weighed 8% less than when they started the diet. (Consumer Reports said that this study gave Jenny Craig its edge in the rankings. Weight Watchers has not yet completed a trial of its new Points Plus system, so its results could not be calculated in the rankings.)

Here’s the thing about Jenny Craig: The plan is pricey -- there’s a membership fee of about $400 and a two weeks’ supply of food can run more than $200 (before shipping!). Consumer Reports wrote that the prepared food tastes “decent, though not great.”

Any of the diets can produce great results, the magazine noted, explaining that the key is to choose the one you can stay on. For me, an expensive and merely “decent” menu of frozen tidbits doesn’t seem appealing. Weight Watchers may not be perfect, but at least I’m eating real food that I prepare myself.

Weight-loss researcher Michael L. Dansinger of the Tufts University School of Medicine told Consumer Reports that health-conscious dieters should seek “a low-ish carbohydrate diet that’s high in vegetables and lean protein, including dairy; moderate in fruit; with nonsaturated fat from sources such as olive oil, nuts, avocados and fish.” I’ve been able to do that on my diet.

To read an overview of the report, which also offers general nutrition guidance -- avoid refined carbohydrates, don’t worry too much about good fats, protein will help fill you up -- click here. A subscription is required to view ratings.