Going Beyond Weight Watchers:

Dietary Strategies to Help You Prevent Heart Disease

By Janet Bond Brill, PhD, RD, LDN
Weight Watchers (WW) has got to be doing something right. In 2010, consumers spent $4 billion on WW products and services in about 30 countries.

The world’s largest and most successful commercial weight loss program began in 1961, when an overweight housewife named Jean Nidetch, living in Queens, New York, organized small group meetings with her overweight friends to provide each other with mutual support and to, well, discuss weight loss. In 1963, Weight Watchers incorporated, and the rest is history.

The philosophy of WW has remained fairly consistent over the years despite changes to the actual food program guidelines. The program has always been based on sound nutrition science, recommending a balanced intake of foods within a specified calorie range. Exercise is always encouraged, which is a tremendous plus.

Perhaps the genius of WW is the simplified techniques that have been well accepted by the public—methods that translate the complex caloric intake of food into an easy-to-follow plan that helps you learn to control portion sizes.

Building on this concept, and addressing some of the criticism leveled at the program’s original Points system (introduced in 1997), WW unveiled its new PointsPlus plan in 2010. Here are the two major changes in the program as interpreted from a nutritionist’s perspective:

1. You get MORE points (food) in the new PointsPlus plan (both daily and weekly totals), giving you a bigger “budget.” The old system used a formula based on calories, fat and fiber. The new system takes into account the macronutrient composition of each food—carbs, fat, protein and fiber.

All foods are assigned new values based on the latest science showing that foods high in protein and fiber cost the body more calories to assimilate. People have long know that diets low in fast carbs work, and this system builds that in.

So lean proteins and foods high in fiber now cost you fewer points. These also are foods that are show to help you burn fat.

2. The beauty of the new plan is in the “free” food category. All fruits and most veggies now count as a PointsPlus value of 0. This means you can eat as much of these foods as you want without counting them! What a wonderful addition to the old plan, as it will encourage people to eat more fruits and veggies—disease-prevention superfoods that are sorely under-consumed in this country.

Although WW does provides eight “Good Health Guidelines” to boost your health while losing weight, the plan does not specify which unhealthy foods to avoid. For example, WW lists assign a PointsPlus value of 11 to one beef tostada.

However, there is no mention that this small meal will saddle you with 11 grams of saturated fat and 871 mg of sodium. Therefore, you could easily eat an artery-clogging, blood pressure damaging diet and still lose weight on WW.

In other words, you could use up your PointsPlus values by consuming junk foods (although not recommended) and lose weight as long as you attained your daily PointsPlus target number.
This fact vividly illustrates that losing weight and eating a heart-healthy diet are two separate endeavors—and separate strategies that must be practiced simultaneously to attain success in each.

Your best bet for losing weight AND eating to prevent heart disease begins with tracking your foods and portion sizes using the WW plan.

Additionally, I recommend following the specific eating suggestions outlined in Prevent a Second Heart Attack (Three Rivers, 2011). The book presents foods to avoid eating (foods that harm the arteries) as well as the eight foods and food groups that have been scientifically proven to heal the arteries and prevent atherosclerosis (the process of plaque buildup and the root cause of heart disease).

Combine these eating strategies with daily exercise and you’ll be doing what it takes to prevent heart disease, the No. 1 killer of American men and women.

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