Weight Watchers: Welcome to Nutritional Science

12/13/2010 12:06 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

After 13 years of using the same Points System, Weight Watchers has overhauled its weight-loss program. What used to be a simple equation of calories-in/calories-out is finally being addressed with deeper complexity. It's high time that the company recognize food for all it provides: proteins, carbohydrates, fat, fiber, and micronutrients. So kudos to Weight Watchers for this long-needed adjustment to its plan. But beware! It still sadly misses the mark.

With Weight Watchers' new system, points are increased for fat content and decreased for fiber content. Fruits will now carry zero points. While point changes for fat and fiber are an obvious and necessary improvement, no fruit contains a zero status. A whole mango, large banana, or cup of grapes--while providing health-promoting antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals--still contain 340 calories.

Let's do some math. If you ate this recommended serving of fruit per day every day for a year, it would bring a total of 123,760 calories and a weight gain of 35 pounds! Now, in no way does that mean we should avoid eating fruit, but we surely should not discount the calories it contributes either. Furthermore, fruit mainly consists of carbohydrates, which are as necessary as protein and fat. A diet of fruit and vegetables may cause you to lose weight, but do you have the appropriate combination of proteins for cellular repair and regeneration -- or the good fats for optimal brain and cellular function?

There is general confusion about healthy being synonymous with "all-you-can-eat." The zero status of fruit will only add to this misunderstanding while ignoring the core principles of weight management: balanced portion control and a healthy overall lifestyle. You may lose weight by staying within your allotted points on a diet of Twinkies, but will that weight loss be maintained long-term? Will you get enough nutrients? And do Twinkies provide you with quality of life?

As a registered dietitian and a national media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, I believe in understanding food, not in numbers. A 60-calorie banana will never equal (except in caloric value) a 60-calorie cookie! As a professional nutritionist with more than six years of experience in private practice, I would encourage you to eat the banana or the cookie--whichever you prefer--but to also understand the health implications of your choice.

It's time to stop demonizing food and assigning scores or numbers to it. In weight loss, there is no good or bad, there is only you and the established nutritional knowledge that is available to empower you and to guide you toward making the right decisions about what you eat and how you live your life.

Thank you, Weight Watchers, for finally acknowledging the different constituents of food. But perhaps you should leave nutrition to the sound, scientific evidence-based practice of nutrition experts.

Manuel Villacorta is a registered dietitian in private practice in San Francisco, California. He is a national media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and the founder of Eating Free.