Weight Watchers Diet Health & Nutrition

badge #4 in Best Diets Overall | Overall Score 3.9/5

Are there health risks?

No indications of serious risks or side effects have surfaced. But keep in mind, as the company notes, that Weight Watchers isn’t safe for everyone:

Children younger than 13 aren’t allowed to sign up, and those under 18 need written permission from a doctor before joining.

Pregnant women can’t participate, either, since they should be guided by their physician on nutrition and healthy weight management.

Those with a current medical diagnosis of an eating disorder are not eligible for membership in the Weight Watchers program. Weight Watchers is not a medical organization and cannot meet the needs of those with eating disorders.

Does it have cardiovascular benefits?

Weight Watchers appears to promote heart health.

  • In a randomized trial, researchers compared the AtkinsOrnish, Weight Watchers and Zone diets for heart disease risk reduction. After one year, Weight Watchers participants reduced their ratio of LDL cholesterol to HDL cholesterol by about 10 percent, down from a borderline-high baseline of 142/47 milligrams/deciliter. That’s important, since a high ratio of those two forms of cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, according to the study, which was published in 2005 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. However, Weight Watchers didn’t outperform the other diets; all reduced the ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol by about 10 percent.
  • Additional research supports Weight Watchers’ cholesterol-lowering effect. In a 2009 study published in Public Health Nutrition, researchers found that bad LDL cholesterol dropped significantly after six months. And so did triglycerides, which is important, since high triglycerides can also increase the chance of developing heart disease.
  • But, in the 2014 review in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, researchers didn’t find any major differences between the Atkins, Weight Watchers and Zone diets at improving cardiovascular risk factor levels.

Can it prevent or control diabetes?

Weight Watchers offers “Weight Watchers for Diabetes” and "Weight Watchers for Prediabetes" programs. If you’re overweight, losing just 5 to 10 percent of your current weight can help stave off some diseases, among them diabetes. 

Prevention: A 2013 study in the International Journal of Obesity found that, compared with standard care, Weight Watchers delayed the onset of diabetes by about 10 months, but didn’t lower the overall incidence of Type 2 diabetes over the lifetime. However, diabetes experts emphasize that weight gain from excessive caloric intake, regardless of where those calories come from, increases the risk of insulin resistance, in which the body does not respond as it should to the hormone; it is a frequent precursor to Type 2 diabetes. Losing weight and keeping it off, whatever the diet, will almost certainly reduce your risk of developing the chronic disease.

A study of adults with prediabetes published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2016 found that Weight Watchers is effective for achieving lifestyle changes associated with diabetes prevention. Those who followed Weight Watchers lost significantly more weight than the control group who followed a program developed by the National Diabetes Education Program (or 5.5 percent of body weight versus 0.2 percent at 12 months).

Control: According to the British Medical Journal study cited in the above weight loss section, only dieters following Weight Watchers achieved a significantly lower fasting blood glucose level after six months. Participants did not have diabetes, but high fasting glucose levels can predict whether someone will develop the disease. Additionally, research funded by Weight Watchers published in the journal Obesity in 2016 evaluated using the program along with diabetes education as a tool in managing Type 2 diabetes. Researchers found that participants with diabetes who participated in the Weight Watchers program in combination with telephone and email consultations with a certified diabetes educator showed greater improvements in glycemic control and in weight compared with participants receiving brief standard diabetes nutritional counseling.

Does the diet allow for restrictions and preferences?

Most people will be able to customize Weight Watchers to their needs – the program tags recipes and foods in its materials for various preferences including vegetarian and those watching their intake of gluten. Choose your preference for more information.

Supplement recommended? Yes. Weight Watchers suggests taking a daily multivitamin to ensure you’re getting enough calcium, zinc, magnesium, iron, vitamin B-12 and other important nutrients. A 2008 study in the Nutrition Journal that pitted Weight Watchers against Slim-Fast, Eat Yourself Slim and a variation of Atkins, found that after two months, Weight Watchers dieters experienced declines in recommended daily intake of riboflavin, niacin, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, though they didn’t necessarily dip below recommended levels. Despite the drop, the researchers said intake remained above the suggested level for most nutrients.

Vegetarian or Vegan: Weight Watchers offers ample vegetarian and vegan-friendly recipes. Try vegan chocolate chip cookies, for example, or vegan lemon-poppy pound cake (both are egg-free). See all plant-based diets »

Gluten-Free: There are lots of recipes. Options range from apricot-glazed turkey and sweet potatoes to honey-mustard roasted salmon. See all gluten-free diets »

Low-Salt: Weight Watchers materials suggest ways to lower salt intake. The company warns that processed foods, salad dressing, canned soup and dill pickles can all pack lots of sodium. If you need extra guidance, their list of low-salt products – such as Heinz No-Salt Tomato Ketchup and Low-Sodium V8 – is helpful. See all low-salt diets »

Kosher: There are lots of Kosher recipes. See all kosher diets »

Halal: Weight Watchers does not offer specially designated halal recipes, but the company says some of its meals qualify. It’s up to members to sift through and decide what’s allowed. See all halal diets »

Nutrition

Here’s a nutritional breakdown of a typical day of Weight Watchers meals alongside recommendations from the government’s 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Figures were supplied by the company and are based on an average of three days of meal ideas.

Weight Watchers Recommended
Calories 1,200

Women
19-25: 2,200
26-50: 2,000
51+: 1,800

Men
19-25: 2,800
26-45: 2,600
46-65: 2,400
65+: 2,200

Total Fat
% of Caloric Intake
30% 20%-35%
Saturated Fat
% of Caloric Intake
8% Less than 10%
Trans Fat
% of Caloric Intake
0% N/A
Total Carbohydrates
% of Caloric Intake
47% 45%-65%
Sugars
(total except as noted)
28 g. N/A
Fiber 25 g.

Women
19-30: 28 g.
31-50: 25 g.
51+: 22 g.

Men
19-30: 34 g.
31-50: 31 g.
51+: 28 g.

Protein
% of Caloric Intake
23% 10%-35%
Sodium 2,160 mg. Under 2,300 mg.
Potassium 3,135 mg. At least 4,700 mg.
Calcium N/A

Women
19-50: 1,000 mg.
51+: 1,200 mg.

Men
1,000 mg.

Vitamin B-12 N/A 2.4 mcg.
Vitamin D N/A 15 mcg.

Recommendations apply to adults 19 and older except as noted. Recommended calories are based on a moderate activity level. g.: grams. mg.: milligrams. mcg.: micrograms. Because of rounding, protein, fat, and carbohydrate content may not add up to 100 percent.

Diet Details

Balanced

These diets fall within accepted ranges for the amount of protein, carbs, fat and other nutrients they provide.

Pros & Cons

  • Eat what you want; no foods off-limits
  • Flexibility to shape your own diet
  • Participation can be pricey, though often deemed a good value, depending on the program you choose