Weight Watchers’ New Points: Zero for Most Fruits and Veggies

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For more than a decade, the Weight Watchers Points system has been simple: basically, the more calories a food has, the more points it is assigned. But in an overhaul announced Monday, the new PointsPlus system takes into account the overall nutritional value of foods, including its balance of protein, carbs, fat and fiber. Under the new formula, for example, most fruits and vegetables will carry zero points.

The idea is to help dieters understand that a 100-calorie bag of cookies isn’t as healthful as a 100-calorie apple. “The main reason is that science has evolved,” said Karen Miller Kovach, chief science officer of Weight Watchers, about the switch. “We know more now than we did 13 years ago.” (More on Time.com: New Nutritional Recommendations for Vitamin D)

Under the old Points system, Weight Watchers members could eat pizza for dinner every night, as long as they stayed within their daily point allowance (calculated based on body size, activity level and desired weight loss). The new system discourages such high-fat, low-fiber choices and pushes dieters toward fiber-rich, no-point foods like fruits and vegetables instead. The old system helped people learn to control portions; the new one is designed to help them understand nutrition overall. (More on Time.com: The ‘Other’ Salt: 5 Foods Rich in Potassium)

Registered dietitian Keri Gans, who has no relationship with Weight Watchers, told CNN that the new system was “long overdue.” CNN reports:

While weight loss is about calories in versus calories out, Gans said, “the difference is where those calories are coming from. In the old program, calories can come from non-nutritious foods. The foods have to be nutritious.”

The changes have been in development for the last four years and were tested in trials at the Medical University of South Carolina, said Kovach.

She said the new system takes into consideration how the body has to work harder to convert protein and fiber than it would for fats and carbohydrates. It also considered how some foods feel more filling than others. While creating a deficit of calories is what causes the weight loss, nutrients also make a difference, Kovach said.

The Weight Watchers change represents a general shift among nutritionists — favoring whole foods and whole grains over processed foods with long lists of ingredients — albeit several years behind. But the company’s new system, which will affect legions of faithful dieters, is better late than never.

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