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.
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.