The skinny on Weight Watchers' new Points plan

Photo by: ThinkStock
Onions-
These salad sprucer-uppers join a host of fruits and veggies that used to count as a point or two on the Weight Watchers diet plan. Now you can eat as much as you want and ... more 
Photo by: ThinkStock
Onions-
These salad sprucer-uppers join a host of fruits and veggies that used to count as a point or two on the Weight Watchers diet plan. Now you can eat as much as you want and add zero points. less 
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Thu, Oct 6, 2011 3:27 PM EDT

A large apple would cost you points on the old Weight Watchers plan. Now you can eat it to the core without gaining a single point. (Photo by ThinkStock)A large apple would cost you points on the old Weight Watchers plan. Now you can eat it …

Apples are getting a big fat zero. Ditto grapes. Yesterday, Weight Watchers unveiled an updated version of their Points system, slashing the number on most fruits and vegetables. Now everything from pomegranates to bananas won't make a dent on a dieter's daily Points.

The zero-foods update is all part of Weight Watchers' revamped diet method, called the PointsPlus Program. Launched Sunday, the revised regimen rethinks the body-slimming giant's 13-year-old philosophy, which limited members to a number of daily Points based on calorie count. The new plan incorporates new strides in scientific research that prove that simply counting calories isn't enough.

One piece of fruit and a bag of low-cal chips can have the same calorie count, according to nutrition research, but different effects on the body. That's because fruits and veggies are water-rich and have what's called "lower energy density." In other words, you get fuller faster so you don't reach for the second bag of chips. While calorie counting is still important, the new plan "takes into account the energy contained in each of the components that make up calories - protein, carbohydrates, fat and fiber - and it also factors [in] how hard the body works to process them," according to the company's PointsPlus press release.

Since the body burns foods high in fiber and protein faster than carb-heavy products, the plan encourages lean meats and whole grains in addition to fruits and veggies. Labeled "power foods," the company's diet experts have highlighted the healthiest options not just in the produce section, but in all aisles of the supermarket. Researchers gathered nutritional information on over 40,000 grocery store products, from soups to frozen foods, and selected the most nutritious choices. So if you're looking for Points values on sandwich breads, Weight Watchers' new diet compendium will single out the healthiest whole grain, low-calorie brands. If it's labeled a "power food" " it's likely to have a lower Points value than other foods in the same category.

Weight Watchers researchers have been testing the new plan in clinical studies and launched a version in the U.K. earlier this year. "After following the program, we've seen improvements in healthy eating habits, successful weight loss and even changes in peoples' innate response to hunger and food - ultimately aiding in long-term weight loss success," says Karen Miller-Kovach, Weight Watchers' chief scientific officer and the inventor of the original Points system.

Despite the health benefits, there are practical concerns. Before the plan went live on the Weight Watchers website yesterday, members flooded community message boards with concerns about how the new plan would jibe with their set routine. But Danica Pike, a veteran Weight Watchers member and the blogger behind the healthy eating site, Danica's Daily, says the new program is easier to follow than the old one.

"For me, it encompasses the way I try to live my life: eat great 80 percent of the time for the 20 percent where you live a little," says Pike, who previewed some of the new plan materials on her site. "In their past programs, I think several people would get caught up with the idea of how much or what can I get for this many Points and some companies really capitalized on the old Points formula by boosting fiber. For example, 100 calories of ice cream with fiber added was less points than say 100 calories of chicken. Obviously one food is more satisfying and better for you."

Now Weight Watchers is taking the more responsible tactic: rewarding what Pike calls "real foods," over more processed products. With fruits and vegetables joining the hallowed zero-Points club, they're no longer competing with low-cal chips to be a chosen afternoon snack. Starchy veggies like potatoes and corn, and the high-fat avocado are the few produce exceptions to the Points-free list.

Even the competition is supportive of the new strategy. "I think this is a great change," admits Lauren Slayton, a nutritionist who runs another points-based diet website, FoodTrainers.net. But when it comes to losing weight, change can be a challenge.

"In terms of transitioning from the old plan, I would liken it to the change from PC to Mac," says Slayton. "Ultimately, the change is worthwhile-and after a couple of weeks, people will have it down."

Check out a gallery of some of the new zero-Points foods on Weight Watchers' new PointsPlus Program.