Right after I landed in the hospital in my early 20’s and during my health crisis where I found myself very sick and overweight, I searched everywhere for answers. One of the first places I looked was to my friends who were fit and healthy and asked them for advice. At work I sat next to a woman that was on Weight Watchers and she taught me how to count points. I learned a lot from her. A lot of things I never understood until now. She introduced me to the pre-portioned pre-made calorie controlled processed meals you put in the microwave.
Watching Your Weight? Don’t Eat This For Lunch.
I know that most of you are trying to make the right choices when it comes to your health, and you’re looking for food that’s healthy and quick to make (and maybe even help you shed a few pounds). There are a few “diet” food choices in the frozen food aisle that seem to meet the bill labeled as “Healthy”, “Lean”, and “Smart” – but I’m here to tell ya they aren’t. It’s all too easy to pick these up at the grocery store for a quick low-calorie lunch, but it’s not worth it. As a nation we are consuming these convenience “diet” products every single day, and some of the most popular ones are made by Weight Watchers.
Weight Watchers is designed to help you lose weight, but at what cost to your health?
Weight Watchers claims to encourage those on their diet plan to eat unprocessed foods with plenty of fruits and vegetables. That’s great, but then what’s the deal with all of the overly processed packaged foods that they sell in the grocery store? Their products are no different than any other processed food, with many being high in sodium and sugar, while lacking in natural nutrients and fiber. As I talk about in my new book, it’s the same with those “Weight Watchers Endorsed” entrees at Applebees, as they are loaded with sickening ingredients. That’s because the Weight Watchers diet program is really only focused on losing weight, not on health and keeping you in a yo-yo lifecycle so they can keep you as a member!
This is where they’ve missed the ball.
It’s one thing to lose weight – but it’s entirely another thing to lose weight, feel great, and help your body prevent illness by eating healthy foods and avoiding ingredients with known health risks. The fact that the Weight Watchers “Smart Ones” brand enjoys about $380 million dollars in sales every year, all while fooling people into believing their products are “good nutrition” is just sad – and wrong.
“… we’re focused on providing you with good nutrition, delicious recipes and great advice to help you make smarter choices” ~ Weight Watchers Smart Ones Website, March 2015 (EatYourBest.com)
There’s nothing “Smart” about Weight Watchers Products.
Weight Watchers products consist of dozens of chemical additives (some of which are addicting) blended together with the “correct” ratios of protein, carbs and fats, with some synthetic vitamins and fiber mixed in to make them look healthy on the “Nutrition Facts” label. Unfortunately, the “Nutrition Facts” label doesn’t tell the real story, and you’ll get a whole lot more than you bargained for when you choose to eat these foods. They’ve got some of the worst rated packaged foods in EWG’s Food Scores database which rates thousands of products based on how healthy they really are, and whether they use potentially harmful ingredients.
What you’re REALLY getting when you buy Weight Watchers products:
Genetically modified (GMO) ingredients – Weight Watchers uses a lot of ingredients from crops that are predominantly genetically modified (soybeans, canola, sugar, cottonseed). These crops have contributed to more toxic pesticide usage since their inception, which is unhealthy for us and the environment. The consumption of GMOs has been linked to health disorders, such as kidney and liver disorders and allergies. As recently reported, despite Monsanto’s aggressive PR efforts “GMOs are largely untested, and their long-term effects on our health and our planet are still unknown; they promote the use of dangerous chemicals, and they pose a significant threat to organic agriculture”.
When you see any of these ingredients on the label they are likely derived from GMOs: Sugar, Maltodextrin, Corn Starch, Corn Syrup, Soy Sauce, Soy Flour, Soybean Oil, Oil, Canola Oil, Cottonseed Oil, Vegetable Shortening, and Hydrolyzed Protein (complete list here). We asked Weight Watchers if they use any GMO ingredients and they said: “Heinz [Weight Watcher’s parent company] has implemented a policy that prohibits the use of ingredients from GMO sources in regions where such use is not approved by regulatory authority. Heinz also refrains from using GMO ingredients in markets where consumers have expressed low acceptance of foods with GMO ingredients”. When we asked them to confirm specifically whether they use GMO ingredients in their Smart Ones brand in the U.S., they didn’t respond to several emails.
Hidden MSG ingredients – These should especially never be in a “diet” food because MSG ingredients trick your brain into eating more and have been linked to headaches, obesity, depression, and mental disorders. Many of the Weight Watchers “Smart Ones” frozen meals are loaded with hidden MSG ingredients like hydrolyzed proteins and autolyzed yeast extract.
Preservatives – The preservatives used by Weight Watchers (phosphates, nitrites, BHT) are on EWG’s dirty dozen food additives list of the most dangerous ingredients in our food. The typical American diet is full of phosphate preservatives because they’re found in most heavily processed foods, and regular consumption is associated with chronic kidney disease. The nitrites used by Weight Watchers in their “Smart Beginnings” Canadian Bacon English Muffin Sandwiches (and other products with cured meats) have strong links to cancer. Just like Kellogg’s and General Mills, they add BHT to some varieties of Weight Watchers cereal, which is a associated with cancer in some animal studies and believed to be an endocrine disruptor that messes with your hormones (which can also lead to weight gain!).
Partially Hydrogenated Oils – It’s outrageous that a seemingly nutritious brand would stoop to using partially hydrogenated oils in their products considering they are linked to 7000 deaths! These oils contain harmful trans fats, which are really unsafe to eat and the FDA is considering a ban. I found partially hydrogenated oils in some Weight Watchers frozen dinners, snack cakes, and ice creams.
Unhealthy Oils – Cheap oils like soybean oil are processed to death, hexane-extracted, and loaded with omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids that promote the risk of inflammation, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and autoimmune diseases.
Caramel Color – There are 4 levels of caramel coloring and “Level IV” caramel coloring is the most widely used. It’s created in a laboratory by reacting corn sugar with ammonia and sulfites under high pressure and temperature, which produces the byproduct 4-Mel. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) petitioned the FDA to ban caramel coloring in 2011 due to safety concerns and the cancer risk of allowing this ingredient in our food. We asked Weight Watcher’s Smart Ones (via email) whether the caramel color in their products is Level IV, and they didn’t respond. If I don’t know which type of caramel color is in a product, I refuse to buy it.
Fake Flavors – The substances used to make these flavors are kept secret from the public, so you don’t know what’s really in them. Artificial and natural flavors are complex mixtures of chemicals added to manipulate the taste and smell of processed food. These flavors also can be designed to have addictive qualities, that leave you unsatisfied and wanting to eat more. Nearly every Weight Watchers product I looked at contained a “flavor” ingredient.
Added Sugars – Weight Watchers really piles on the added sugars, using different types which you might see on the ingredient list labeled as sugar, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, molasses or corn syrup. One of the worst is high fructose corn syrup. Not only is it generally made from GMO corn, but it’s been shown to contribute to the development of diabetes.
Enriched Flour – This really has no redeeming qualities and is essentially dead food. It’s been stripped of fiber and nutrients, and then artificially enriched with synthetic vitamins and minerals. Wheat has been heavily hybridized to make it easier for the food industry, is believed to be contributing to an increase in celiac disease, and may be sprayed with Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.
Carrageenan – Even this “food grade” carrageenan is linked to intestinal inflammation and can be contaminated with degraded (non-food grade) carrageenan. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer and the National Research Council of the United States have both determined that degraded carrageenan may cause cancer.
Parabens – You’ve probably heard about parabens in cosmetics, but may not realize they’re in food too. Parabens are endocrine-disrupting chemicals that are linked to breast cancer (sources: 1, 2, 3, 4) and reproductive problems. Weight Watchers uses paraben ingredients in some of their desserts, like their Red Velvet Cakes and Coffee Cakes.
Does it ever take 100 ingredients to make lunch?
I kinda lost count, but there’s over 100 ingredients in the “Weight Watchers Smart Ones Salisbury Steak” meal, loaded with GMOs, preservatives, unhealthy oils and hidden MSG ingredients, making this one of the absolute worst processed products I’ve ever seen (and that’s saying something).
Should you be counting points or counting chemicals?
Weight Watchers Smart Ones Salisbury Steak*: Cooked Salisbury Steak Patty (Beef, Pork, Water, Onion, Textured Vegetable Protein Product [Soy Protein Concentrate, Caramel Color], Seasonings [Maltodextrin (Corn), Salt, Hydrolyzed Soy And Corn Protein, Dry Onion, Dry Garlic, Flavoring, Yeast Extract, Spice, Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Guanylate, Extractives Of Rosemary, Beef Extract, Modified Corn Starch, Flavor (Triacetin, Butter Acids, Flavorings, Butter Esters), Rendered Beef Fat, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean And Cottonseed Oil], Soy Protein Concentrate, Bread Crumbs [Bleached Wheat Flour, Salt, Dextrose, Yeast, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean And/Or Cottonseed Oil], Caramel Color) Gravy (Water, Modified Cornstarch, Beef Base [Beef Concentrate (Roasted Beef And Concentrated Beef Stock), Hydrolyzed Corn And Wheat Gluten And Soy Protein, Yeast Extract, Salt, Corn Oil, Sugar, Corn Maltodextrin, Chicken Fat, Flavor, Dextrose Soy Lecithin], Dehydrated Onion, Burgundy Wine [Burgundy Wine, Salt, Sulfites], Mushroom Base [Sauteed Mushrooms, Sugar, Salt, Canola Oil, Flavoring, Onion Powder, Potato Starch, Hydrolyzed Soy & Wheat Proteins, Caramel Color], Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein [Corn Gluten, Soy Protein, Wheat Gluten], Xanthan Gum, Chicken And Beef Stock Flavor Blend [Potassium Chloride, Corn Syrup Solids, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Dehydrated Beef Stock, Dehydrated Chicken Stock, Corn Maltodextrin], Granulated Garlic, Spice, Caramel Color), Cheese Sauce (Water, Stabilizer [Modified Cornstarch, Maltodextrin (Corn), Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Xanthan Gum, Guar Gum, Mono- And Diglycerides (Soy), Annatto And Turmeric Extract], Nonfat Milk, Whey Powder, Cheese Powder [Granular And Blue Cheeses (Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes), Whey, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil Whey Protein Concentrate, Lactose, Maltodextrin (Corn), Salt, Sodium Phosphate, Citric Acid, Lactic Acid, Yellow 5, Yellow 6], Salt, Flavor Blend [Salt, Lactic Acid, Citric Acid, Natural Butter Flavor (Modified Corn Starch, Corn Syrup Solids, Butter Flavor, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil), Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Guanylate, Spices], Cheese Flavor [Enzyme Modified Cheddar Cheese (Cheddar Cheese [Milk Cultures, Salt, Calcium Chloride, Enzymes], Water, Disodium Phosphate, Enzymes, Salt, Xanthan Gum), Corn Maltodextrin, Whey, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Salt], Flavor (Water, Cream (From Milk), Salt, Butterfat, Natural Flavor, Propylene Glycol, Xanthan Gum], Butter Flavor [Whey Solids (Milk), Enzyme Modified Butter, Corn Maltodextrin, Salt, Dehydrated Butter, Guar Gum, Annatto And Turmeric (Color)]), Cooked Enriched Macaroni Product (Water, Enriched Semolina [Semolina, Niacin, Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid]).
*Red indicates that the ingredient is an unnecessary additive, a non-organic/conventional animal product, a synthetic vitamin or mineral, or is possibly derived from GMOs.
Don’t worry, great alternatives exist and I’ve made it easy for you!
I don’t think eating these processed frozen meals are healthy for anyone. You owe it to yourself to stop buying these toxic products. Even when you’re super busy, it pays off to take some time out on the weekends to prep some food that’s ready to eat during the week. You can put some of these in the fridge or freezer and have them ready to put in your lunch bag before you head out the door. Here’s several quick recipes that you can whip up with fresh ingredients at home and are easy to pack:
- Fast Food Burrito
- Refreshing Carrot Blueberry Sprout Salad
- Chicken or Chickpea Salad Sandwich
- Healthy Thai Spiced Pumpkin Soup
- The Perfect Parfait Porridge
- Chickpea Curry Wraps
- Orange Poppy Seed Cranberry Hemp Muffins
- Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad
If you’d like more help with meal-planning and delicious organic recipes that can help you lose weight (or simply feel great), check out my monthly Meal Plans for Health program. This program blows the Weight Watchers processed-to-death meals out of the water. Watch the video, and see what the program is all about here.
If you know someone who is on Weight Watchers and consumes these processed foods or needs to re-do their lunch box, please share this post with them!