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In a Nov. 29 press release, WeightWatchers, headquartered in New York City, announced that it is introducing a successor to its popular Points weight-loss system. The new PointsPlus program categorizes all fruits and most vegetables as zero-point foods, meaning dieters can consume as much as they want of these items without subtracting from their daily point allocation.

The program, the press release stated, uses the latest scientific research that goes far beyond traditional calorie counting to give WeightWatchers participants the edge they need to lose weight and keep it off in a fundamentally healthier way. The new formula takes into account the energy contained in each of the components that make up calories: protein, carbohydrates, fat and fiber. It also factors how hard the body works to process them — referred to as the conversion cost — as well the respective eating satisfaction, or satiety, they offer.

Maria Kinirons, a registered dietician and director of food and nutrition for WeightWatchers, told The Produce News that people need help to learn to make good food choices — and they want the help.

"On the previous program, a cookie, for example, might be a one-point food," Ms. Kinirons explained. “But a piece of fruit would also have been counted as one point because the calorie count is about the same. While calorie counting has been the foundation of many weight-loss programs, including the WeightWatchers Points system, the new PointsPlus program goes beyond just calories. It helps people make healthful and satisfying choices. In addition to the new formula, foods that are low in energy density and therefore more highly satisfying are emphasized within the program. Therefore, all fresh fruits and most vegetables now have zero PointsPlus values.”

WeightWatchers expects that PointsPlus will help to provide those people following the program with an easy way to identify the best food choices among similar foods. For example, they will choose foods with higher eating satisfaction, lower sugar, lower sodium, healthier fat and more fiber.

The vegetables that do have point values — ranging from one to three — are corn, lentils, dried beans, dried peas, parsnips, peas, plantains, potatoes, sweet potatoes, avocados and yams. Weight Watchers, however, stresses that these vegetables are still considered healthy food choices. In fact, sweet potatoes were chosen as a WeightWatchers Pick of the Season produce item in 2006, and both English peas and corn were on the summer 2010 Pick of the Season list.

“The fresh produce items that do have points values were chosen because they are higher-calorie vegetables,” said Ms. Kinirons. “WeightWatchers built an allowance for zero PointsPlus values into the daily PointsPlus target to get five servings of fruits and veggies. If they included starchy vegetables as zero PointsPlus values, it would exceed this limit.”

The new PointsPlus program is designed to educate and encourage people to make choices that favor foods a body works harder to convert into energy, resulting in fewer net calories absorbed. It focuses on foods that create a sense of fullness and satisfaction and that are more healthful. And it nudges people toward natural foods rather than foods with excess added sugars and fats, while still allowing flexibility for indulgences, special occasions and eating out.

“The new program's features, combined with the fundamentals of the WeightWatchers approach of weight loss built on healthy eating, physical activity, behavior modification and support, make PointsPlus the most revolutionary and innovative program the company has ever offered,” added Ms. Kinirons.