Weight Watchers Smart Ones Entrees – Not that Smart

When Weight Watchers announced its new Points Plus program late last year, the nutrition community cheered on as fruits and vegetables were promoted to 0 points in order to encourage their consumption.

But encouraging the consumption of real food is something that both the old and the new Weight Watchers system have yet to fully embrace. And that is a shame. Because eating highly processed foods with 50, 60 or more ingredients – even if they are low in calories – is not a good idea. They contain preservatives and additives that you don’t want, many of the source ingredients are of the lowest quality, and they are designed for long shelf life, not flavor.

A recent NPR article – WeightWatchers Faults Processed Foods While Profiting From Them – tackles the issue head on:

WeightWatchers makes good money from licensing and endorsements of  foods ranging from special items on the menu at Applebee’s to frozen treats from Wells Dairy.

 

We asked the company several times this week about plans for its packaged food line now that its PointsPlus system tilts so strongly against processed foods. But a spokeswoman declined to answer questions or make available an executive to talk.

Here at Fooducate, we decided to take a look at a sample Weight Watchers product to dig in deeper and test the “real food” hypothesis. We chose Weight Watchers Smart Ones – Chicken Ranchero Smart Mini Wraps:

Grilled white meat chicken with a bold salsa, cheddar & jack cheeses, bell peppers and fire-roasted onions in a soft tortilla.

The product website boasts just 220 calories, 6 grams of fat, and 5 points plus. But nowhere on the Weight Watchers website can the ingredient list be found!

That’s usually a red flag.

What you need to know:

Luckily, we have this product in the Fooducate database (along with over 200,000 others…) and here is the ingredient list:

Tortilla (Water, Enriched Flour [Bleached Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid], Whole Wheat Flour, Modified Wheat Starch, Canola Oil, Wheat Gluten, Glycerine, Tomato with Pieces [Tomato Concentrate, Guar Gum], Baking Powder [Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Bicarbonate Soda, Cornstarch, Monocalcium Phosphate], Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, Sugar, Salt, Granulated Garlic, Citric Acid), Cooked White Meat Chicken (White Meat Chicken, Water, Modified Potato Starch, Salt, Sodium Phosphate), Ranchero Sauce (Tomatoes [Tomatoes, Tomato Juice, Calcium Chloride, Citric Acid], Water, Chicken Base [Chicken Meat with Natural Juices, Salt, Organic Cane Juice Solids, Corn Maltodextrin, Chicken Fat, Yeast Extract, Natural Flavors, Dried Onion, Spice Extractives, Turmeric], Chili Paste [Chili Peppers, Dried Onion and Garlic, Yeast Extract, Salt, Spices, Beef Extract, Citric Acid], Roasted Tomatoes, Granulated Onion, Granulated Garlic, Jalapenos [Jalapenos, Water, Vinegar, Salt], Modified Cornstarch, Modified Cellulose, Spices, Chipotle Chili Powder], Reduced Fat Cheddar Cheese (Part Skim Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes, Annatto [Color]), Monterey Jack Cheese (Cultured Milk, Salt, Enzymes), Bell Peppers (Red, Green), Fire-Roasted Onions, Roasted Poblano Chiles, Modified Cornstarch.

Would you like to know how many ingredients? We lost count after 50!!

As to the actual stuff inside this food:

1. The tortilla itself is made from refined flour, not whole wheat. There is whole wheat flour added as well as Modified Cellulose to bump up the fiber count.

2. Hydrogenated oil, while not as bad as partially hydrogenated oil, is not something you want to see added to food.

3. Yeast Extract is a fancy name for MSG.

4. For all the ingredients in here, you’d think they got the flavor locked in, but no – Natural Flavors have been added.

5. Last but not least, the sodium here is a killer 590mg, strategically just under the 600mg marker which would place it in the FDA’s unhealthy category, but yet over 25% of the daily sodium you need. And in terms of sodium per calories (only 220), this is really bad.

Feeling hungry?

What to do at the supermarket:

AS you can see “Weight Watchers” does not necessarily imply real food. Ignore brand names and health promises on the front of the package. And don’t just read the nutrition facts. Dig into the ingredient label and see what’s really in your food. And if you need some help – just scan the barcode with your Fooducate iPhone App and we’ll tell you what to watch out for.

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  • Erika Gold

    Weight watchers does NOT promote eating these frozen entrees as a daily diet staple!  They are made for situations where you need it fast and want to stay within points!  The majority of your meals are supposed to be fresh, not processed, wholesome foods!

    • FrugalArugula

      I can think of a billion things I’d put in my mouth before I’d eat some frozen processed chicken with some hidden beef extract in it (eww).

      I think the point is if they don’t really endorse them, then they shouldn’t put their name on them.

    • Get real

      Um have you been into a grocery store? Weight Watchers food is everywhere, including frozen foods, aspartame-laced jello and other processed junk.

  • Janey102482

    Weight Watchers has always struck me as a little too gimmicky for the “we’re a healthy non-diet!” label they like to give themselves.  Nutritionally, their foods are more or less a nightmare (as illustrated here) and seems to be glorified junk in the name of low points. Weight Watchers really don’t seem to emphasize limiting sodium intake, which is troubling – zero point canned soups are a good example of this.  And once again, I’ll never understand the attraction in using points when you can just as easily use nutrition labels and actually know what you’re putting into your body.

  • Hmiles

    I am an avid fan of ww. Just went back last week after having my second child. One of the members asked the leader about smart ones. Her response was don’t eAt them more than 3x a week and never the day before a weigh in (due to salt). So, the leaders are sending the message that they aren’t the best option. I do ww with almost no processed foods and it really works.

  • Charlotte

     I sometimes ate those when I was on WW’ers (or the Healthy Choice ones) and I always ended up really hungry shortly afterwards, unless I bumped them up with loads of fresh vegetables. At which point, I may as well just make myself something to eat from scratch, which is tastier AND more filling.

  • marg

    Weight Watchers does not promote any fast food or frozen entree.  They, in the meetings, specify NOT to eat these foods very often.  They are meant to have when you are in a pinch, not a daily staple.  Many people do not understand this.  They think that because it is a Smart Ones, it will be better for you.  Too many people have forgotten what a stove or an oven is for because there are too many convenience foods at our fingertips today.  Why not go back to making your own and stop blaming others for your failure 

    • http://www.TCsGotIT.com/ TCsGotIT

      Marg, I like the foundation of your comment but those meals are packaged to make you think they are a smart choice and they are counting on the fact that people who don’t take WW classes will pick them up thinking they are the best option. WW can be done with no packaged food just cooking at home but how would they explain that to the stock holders?

  • http://www.thefrugaldietitian.com Nancy – The Frugal dietitian

    I don’t like that they don’t use whole grains.  Prefer Kashi or even Healthy Choice!!!

  • Janey102482

    But if WW only wants you to use these foods “in a pinch”, then why are most or all of their food products convenience store fare?  On their website, their ice cream products have six different categories.  Nothing they have put their name on appears to be healthful.  I understand they’re a business and the name of the game is making money, which selling these food products surely does.  But if you’re going to market prepared foods, why not make them healthful instead of filling them with junk and touting how low in points they are?

  • Shanatoon

    Liked the basic premise of your piece, but don’t stop researching…MSG is not, and never has been, “bad” for you. It’s simply glutamine, and is a dietary staple of most of the world’s population. It doesn’t cause headaches or any other health problems- in fact, it’s found in heavy concentration in breast milk, and scores of other foods. Time to end the faux health scare…

    • Bobsgirlz

      I diagree, as someone who has lots of food allergies, MSG does indeed cause headaches, migraines to be exact.

    • Kathy Dowdle

      Like I said earlier peanuts are harmless for most people. High in proteins and nutrients! But for some people peanuts are deadly. The same with MSG, it is a harmless flavor enhancer for most people, but makes some of us very ill. We are not idiots, or gullible hypochondriacs, we simply can’t tolerate MSG, and I have no other food allergies!

  • Amanda

     Why is it that frozen meals have so much sodium?  Doesn’t freezing mean that they can get away with fewer preservatives and additives and stuff, and just make a tasty meal? I’m not just talking WW here, just frozen meals in general.

  • Jim Cooper

     MSG is harmless, but on the rest, you are right on the money.

    • Bobsgirlz

      I disagree, as someone with lots of food allergies MSG does indeed cause headaches in some of us, Migraines to be exact.

      • Jubu97rn

         MSG does NOT cause migraines.  You said you have lots of food allergies; obviously one of them is to MSG and that is why you get migraines from it.

        • Kathy Dowdle

          Sorry, Jubu97m! I have no food allergies at all, but MSG causes me a migraine, diarrhea, and nausea every single time I consume it!

    • Kathy Dowdle

      MSG is harmless to most people, but some people are very sensitive to it. Eating MSG makes me feel like I have the flu for 2 to 3 days after eating it. Every single time! And no it’s not all in my head. Peanuts are harmless to most people…

  • Dfrisicaro2

    I called weight watchers in the past for putting Acesulfame K, potassium in their breads. Not the whole wheat, I think it was the multi grain or rye (don’t know which one since I don’t buy their bread anymore). they also have Acesulfame K in their smoothies. according to The Center for Science in the Public Interest, that ingredient increases the risk of leukemia, lymphoma and breast cancer. they rate it as unsafe or very poorly tested. Weight watchers basically said if you don’t like it don’t buy it. I was also hoping they would change up some of their ingredients. They use hydrogenated oils in their desserts, I mean come on. I have been going to weight watchers for some time and I feel they do promote their items. We get free samples, coupons, you can buy a lot of their processed goods right when you walk into a meeting. I think it’s almost like a double standard. So, I love the new points plus, yes it seems a lot of the members are eating much better. But, I really love fooducate much better. It feels like they are really looking after our health.

  • Isasylime

    IIt’s been my personal experience to flow weight watchers but NOT eat their products. Use W.W. as a tool to learn how to cook real food from scratch. You may just surprise yourself :)

    Buy cookbook w/ nutrition information beside the recipe, use your w.w. calculator and pen it in….you’re on your way!

    Best of luck.

  • http://naturalhealthcare.web.officelive.com/africanmangoweightloss.aspx Dtomlin1

    I do not know how anyone could eat these frozen entrees. I don’t think I ever tasted one that was actually any good. I will continue to eat healthy home made meals.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6BWVPISSXKYB4YVFODJXZ4PCIQ AmyH

    There are frozen entrees and desserts that are much more healthful, so one would think that Weight Watchers – after all these years of promoting healthy living – could get on that bandwagon. The leaders hawk boxes of snack foods at meetings and the recipes they give you often have processed foods at the core. They strive to make their foods “low in points” so they are also low in real food.

    • Kathy Dowdle

      No processed foods at the core of their recipes!

  • Kristinlynnxo

    Yes you may be getting low calories and points in the Smart Ones, however… take a look at the 40+ Cholesterol count!  You may loose some weight but who cares, you’re going to have all that cholestorol plaque building up in your arteries and HAVE A HEART ATTACK!  Not to mention the assault on your digestive system from the MSG, sodium and many other despicable ingredients.  We all just take these companies at their word, like a parent figure…..how about growing up and thinking/researching for yourself.  If you start out looking for a heart healthy diet (ie low cholestorol, etc) the low calories will automatically come with that.  It really pi*** me off when companies want to “help” us to lose weight through low calories, yet they will happily let you eat up all that delicious poison.

    smart ones aren’t so smart. 

    • Kathy Dowdle

      There are 93 mg of cholesterol in a plain baked chicken breast!!!!!!!! So what is your point?! Also, scientists have recently found that they were all wrong about cholesterol. Decreasing it in our diets and taking statin medications to reduce it in our blood streams have NOT decreased heart disease.

  • AJLS

    I started using WW a year ago and successfully lost about 20 lbs. But I am also a dancer and Nutrition student who grew up on a farm with a mother who cooked dinner 7 nights a week and packed my lunches for school every day. Unfortunately, many people have grown up on processed foods (I was lucky) and breaking those habits can be difficult. I used the online option and have never attended a meeting. The website is chock-full of incredible and easy recipes for those who are willing to explore cooking for themselves and who are afforded to time to do so. Some of these recipes do use convenience foods as a base (i.e. canned cream soups), but a vast majority of them do not. Perhaps the company promotes these convenience food options, but the program itself does not. Its principles are extremely similar to those used by the Diabetic Exchange system – the program promotes whole foods, lean meats, whole grains, low sodium, and healthy fats. I personally limit my intake of processed foods and whenever I do glance at the ingredient lists of these products I am immediately turned off to them due to the high chemical contents. Using WW has lead me to other, more healthful options, I now make just about everything from scratch (including granola bars, bread, and snack mixes) – it can be an incredible starting point and great tool for those who are truly trying to get healthier.

  • Doglover

    I just use them for a quick lunch at work a few times a week.  I’m pretty sure that is what WW has designed them for.  Not for everyday every meal consumption. 

  • Trose

    Or you could skip Weight Watchers and eat less/exercise…

  • Trose

    Or you could skip Weight Watchers and eat less/exercise…

    • Kathy Dowdle

      Yes, I could skip Weight Watchers eat less and exercise more, but I won’t! That’s how I got fat in the first place! I need my Weight Watchers meeting to keep me on the right track. The other people at my meeting understand what I am dealing with because they are too. They keep me honest and I help keep them honest. Have you had to deal with being overweight Trose?

  • Nadman

    well all i can say is I have been on weight watchers for a little over a month..I have incorporated their frozen foods into my diet..i eat one of their frozen foods for each meal, combined with a fresh salad, and v8 juice..I have lost over 25 pounds..am eating BETTER than i have in years and am looking forward to losing another 50 pounds…say what you will… it is working for me…after i hit my goal, i plan on cooking “real food” but until that time, i am gonna keep this up….their dinners by far have the best taste of any on the market.. i have never had this type of frozen food, and I got fat…now i am eating it, watching my points and am losing weight…i love them

  • Nadman

    well all i can say is I have been on weight watchers for a little over a month..I have incorporated their frozen foods into my diet..i eat one of their frozen foods for each meal, combined with a fresh salad, and v8 juice..I have lost over 25 pounds..am eating BETTER than i have in years and am looking forward to losing another 50 pounds…say what you will… it is working for me…after i hit my goal, i plan on cooking “real food” but until that time, i am gonna keep this up….their dinners by far have the best taste of any on the market.. i have never had this type of frozen food, and I got fat…now i am eating it, watching my points and am losing weight…i love them

    • Elizabeth

      Just because you’re loosing weight, doesn’t mean you’re eating a healthy diet. There are many unhealthy ways to loose weight, including your method.

    • alli

      Great job with your weight loss! You’re not losing weight becasue you’re eating Smart One’s, you’re losing weight because you’re resticting your calories. Keep up the good work, and keep eating the Smart Ones, combined with the added veggies, just remember to make some real food when you los all your weight.

  • Jitopchef

    Ok lets just say there is false advrtising  everybody going on here. Ok I joined weight watchers in September last year and I do frequent eating the smart ones for a quick meal on the go. I have the new app for my phone that has the bar code scanner… Well let me tell you after some investigating the scan tell  for example that smart ones three cheese mac and cheese is 6 point value on the box when you either type it or scan it it comes up to 8 point value… I called the company and just in the last day there has been many complaints on this….

    • Jitopchef

      They were very surprised to know that and I am very concerned about it… I have lost 40 pounds but what is the company really telling us

    • Jitopchef

      They were very surprised to know that and I am very concerned about it… I have lost 40 pounds but what is the company really telling us

  • Jitopchef

    Ok lets just say there is false advrtising  everybody going on here. Ok I joined weight watchers in September last year and I do frequent eating the smart ones for a quick meal on the go. I have the new app for my phone that has the bar code scanner… Well let me tell you after some investigating the scan tell  for example that smart ones three cheese mac and cheese is 6 point value on the box when you either type it or scan it it comes up to 8 point value… I called the company and just in the last day there has been many complaints on this….

  • ww

    They do very much promote healthy eating and non-processed foods.  However, they are realistic in understanding consumers are looking for convenience.  Just like anything, used with balance, it works.

  • DeeAnn

    I just discovered Smart Ones, Santa Fe Style Rice and Beans that I buy at Walmart is now 1 ounce less than it used to be but it costs 20% more! Lower the amount and at the same time increase the price? Just doesn’t seem right.

  • DeeAnn

    Smart Ones has decreased the amount of food in their packages and increased the price. Why does this information keep getting removed from the comments?

  • http://www.facebook.com/shay.hill.7 Shay Hill

    But see nothing on the market is 100 even whole foods
    Anytime anybody else prepares and packages yo food.u never really know wats what
    Nobody eats grilled veggies all day everyday
    but maybe these TV dinners are just for 1 an week

  • Ken

    I bought the Turkey and gravy. and 2 chicken orientall dishes….and I have one word for them – NASTY. It was the worst tasting thing I’ve ever had.

  • pinecone

    I started eating a Smart Ones meal once a day. I am losing weight but didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to eat one of their frozen meals on a daily basis. I eat other good foods, but my blood pressure was too high and the first thing my doc asked me was if I was eating more salt. Apparently these meals have way more salt than I should be eating. So I am cutting back to just a few Smart Ones a week.

  • Kathy Dowdle

    I eat these meals, because my husband drives a truck, and is away most of the time. I have severe pain in my arms and shoulders, so it is difficult for me to cook, especially for just myself! I have not had any issues with my blood pressure, nor have they caused me MSG headaches like a lot of restaurant (not just Chinese restaurants either) food does. My research shows that MSG and Yeast Extracts are not the same but are often confused. I like the meals, they are easy to prepare, and they are easy to track. WHile home cooked organic foods would no doubt better, Smart Ones are not such a bad choice.

    When Weight Watchers switched from Points to Points Plus the values changed. What used to be 1 Point will now usually be 3 Points Plus! For a couple of months after the change stores were still selling Smart Ones meals with the old points on them, so they would scan or be calculated at the new 2 Points Plus higher. Don’t worry though because you get more Points Plus each day than you did Points.

  • scave

    I had a allergic reaction after eating the Fire Roasted Soup. Hives and itching. Will not consume again.

  • Joey Emanuel

    nasty stuff I got food poisoning from this

    • Harold Gregory

      Me too had to go to the er it was the meatloaf

  • Banditgirl99

    Weight Watchers Food TOxins

    As to the actual stuff inside this food:

    1. The tortilla itself is made from refined flour, not whole wheat. There is whole wheat flour added as well as Modified Cellulose to bump up the fiber count.

    2. Hydrogenated oil, while not as bad as partially hydrogenated oil, is not something you want to see added to food.

    3. Yeast Extract is a fancy name for MSG.

    4. For all the ingredients in here, you’d think they got the flavor locked in, but no – Natural Flavors have been added.

    5. Last but not least, the sodium here is a killer 590mg, strategically just under the 600mg marker which would place it in the FDA’s unhealthy category, but yet over 25% of the daily sodium you need. And in terms of sodium per calories (only 220), this is really bad.

    Feeling hungry?
    The addiction you never knew you had they want you hungry so doesn’t work