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Herbalife Diet Review: Is It Safe and Effective for Weight Loss?

Written by Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD

Published on February 15, 2021

Our Expert Rating:

2.6

About This Rating
The average rating of this product is calculated based on the evaluation of the following factors:
  • Evidence-Based:3.0
  • Easy to Follow:4.0
  • Customization:2.0
  • Sustainability:2.0
  • Safety:1.0
  • Value for the Price:2.0
  • Accountability:4.0

Herbalife is a multi-level marketing international dietary supplement company. There is no magic in their products, they simply use calorie restriction to induce weight loss.

Herbalife Diet Review: Is It Safe and Effective for Weight Loss?

Pros

  • Easy to follow with pre-prepared shakes
  • Meal replacements can help you lose weight

Cons

  • Serious allegations against the safety of the products and company ethics
  • Multi-level marketing distributors have no formal training in nutrition
  • A liquid diet is not sustainable long-term

Background

Herbalife is a global multi-level marketing (MLM) company that sells a wide variety of dietary supplements used for weight loss and general health.

It was started by Mark Hughes in 1980 when he began to sell supplements out of the trunk of his car. The company now operates in 94 countries with over 4.5 million distributors.

At the corporate level, Herbalife does employ many registered dietitians, medical doctors, and scientists.

But after visiting their websites, it seems that their main focus is the “business opportunity.” Every link leads to learning more about starting your own Herbalife business as part of their multi-level marketing effort.

The Herbalife company has been plagued with many financial and health scandals in the last 30 years.

It has been fined by the Federate Trade Commission for being a pyramid scheme. Distributors are encouraged to purchase large volumes of product, which they later cannot return or resell.

There have also been serious complaints about the products causing liver failure as well as questions about the safety of other ingredients included.

For these reasons alone, I would avoid using Herbalife or any of their products.

Herbalife Diet’s Scorecard

The Herbalife weight loss program was objectively evaluated by a dietitian based on the following criteria:

  • Evidence-Based: 3/5
  • Easy to Follow: 4/5
  • Customization: 2/5
  • Sustainability: 2/5
  • Safety: 1/5
  • Value for the Price: 2/5
  • Accountability: 4/5
  • Overall Rating: 2.6/5

How Herbalife Diet Works

The weight loss programs are just one of the many lines of products that Herbalife carries.

There are a few options for how to lose weight with Herbalife, but first, you must connect with one of their distributors to purchase the product.

The distributor would help you identify which program is best for you. The three options are:

  • Quickstart Program: Includes 2 meal replacement shakes, a tea beverage, multivitamin, and metabolism-boosting supplement.
  • Advanced Program: Includes everything from the Quickstart plus two additional supplements.
  • Ultimate Program: Includes everything from the Advanced, plus two additional supplements for blood sugar and digestion.

All three of the programs involve replacing two meals with the Herbalife shakes and eating one meal and two small snacks on your own, along with the dietary supplements.

The shakes contain 90 calories per serving, so even if you mixed them with 8 ounces of milk, you would only be getting about 200 calories.

Replacing two meals with these shakes would significantly cut your calorie intake and you would lose weight, but you would probably still be quite hungry.

The nutrition composition of the Herbalife shakes is not ideal. Although they are low in calories, they are highly processed with many artificial flavors, synthetic vitamins, and emulsifiers.

The Formula 1 shake is surprisingly low in protein with only 9 grams per serving. I would expect a “meal replacement” shake to contain at least 20–25 grams of protein.

It seems like most Herbalife meal plans recommend adding more protein (which they sell) to their Formula 1 shake if you are going to use it as a meal replacement.

This means you have to purchase two different products; I am not sure why they wouldn’t just create one product.

The shakes are also extremely high in sugar. Almost 40% of the calories in each shake comes from sugar.

I don’t see how drinking this much sugar and so little protein would make you feel full at all. I would not consider these “meal replacement” shakes due to the low calories and nutrient composition.

The program also involves an extensive number of dietary supplements. One sample “meal plan” I found online involved taking 3–5 supplements per meal. That is 15 supplements a day!

The supplements are combinations of herbs, synthetic vitamins, laxatives, and caffeine designed to increase energy and speed up metabolism.

In addition to the supplements, you still need to eat some food while taking the protein shakes.

Herbalife does not provide specific guidance on what to eat for meals and snacks, although their website does offer some “meal plans” as samples.

Based on the articles on their website, they do seem to encourage you to choose low-calorie foods such as lean protein, vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and nonfat dairy for your meals and snacks.

Does It Work for Weight Loss?

Surprisingly, even though the company has been around for 30 years, there is limited research to back up the efficacy of their products specifically. There are a lot of studies on the dangers of the products for your liver.

I was able to locate one study from 2009 on the high protein Herbalife shakes. Seventy-two subjects were given either a high protein shake or a nutritionally balanced shake with moderate protein.

The high protein group experienced more body fat loss. There was no significant difference in weight loss or other measures between the two groups.

This study alone would not convince me that Herbalife is better than other meal replacement shakes on the market.

The Herbalife website discusses data from several studies about the benefits of meal replacements.

For example, a 2014 study compared two 12-month weight loss programs. One offered a meal replacement shake, the other did not.

Both groups lost weight, but the weight loss was more significant for participants that received the meal replacement.

Meal replacements do tend to help people lose weight because they take the “guesswork” out of calorie counting. They make portion control effortless.

Sustainability

Diets involving meal replacements are appealing because they are easy.

A diet like this might work in the short term for someone who does not care much for eating real meals and does not have time to cook or prepare meals.

Herbalife offers many different types of shakes that can be adjusted to dietary preferences.

Their primary shake, the Formula 1 shake, is made with soy protein. They also offer shakes made with pea, rice, or sesame.

This can offer alternatives to those with allergies or dietary restrictions. But if you are allergic or sensitive to the ingredients in the shakes, they cannot be modified.

Living off shakes and supplements forever is not sustainable, although it may work temporarily.

But once you begin eating normally again, it is likely you will gain the weight back and more.

Accountability

Herbalife is a multi-level marketing company. You must purchase their products through their distributors.

Anyone can become a distributor and sell the product, although they do offer “training” when you start. It is unclear what the training involves.

Therefore, any accountability you might receive will be reliant upon your distributor.

I personally know several people who are distributors and are very involved with supporting their customers, although they do not have any formal training in nutrition.

If you choose the right distributor, you might be able to get some good support from them.

There have also been several Herbalife nutrition “clubs” popping up in strip malls here and there.

The goal of these clubs is to have people come in to try the product, so they can sign up to use or sell Herbalife. Some of the clubs offer various health and fitness classes as well.

Interestingly, the clubs don’t mention Herbalife in their name or marketing to avoid FDA regulation.

I have personally visited one of these clubs, thinking it was a new smoothie bar. I felt a little bit deceived when I realized it was just a façade to sell an MLM product. I did not return.

Value for the Price

The Herbalife weight loss programs cost between $123.80 to $238.55 for a two-week supply, depending on the number of supplements you want to include.

This cost is moderate for two meal replacement shakes and a large number of dietary supplements.

I would not say this is a good value. The shakes are low quality and will likely just leave you hungry once you drink them.

You will probably not see a reduction in your grocery bill while drinking these shakes.

Safety

There are many serious safety concerns with Herbalife products. Herbalife has been fined by the FDA and sued for including dangerous ingredients in their products.

Although hopefully these ingredients have been removed, I would not trust a company involved in so many legal disputes.

The most serious allegations are about the product causing liver disease. Israel’s Health Minster found that Herbalife was selling products that contained several toxic ingredients linked to liver failure.

A case study in the United States found two patients with liver failure had previously taken Herbalife.

Similar reports were found in Switzerland, with the products being linked to liver failure and requiring transplants.

A Herbalife funded study found that their products did not cause liver toxicity.

It is possible that the questionable ingredients may have been removed after these allegations came to light, but remember dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA until a problem is reported.

How It Compares

I am not a fan of shake based diets. I personally like to eat food. Drinking your meals is unsustainable long-term.

There is nothing special about the Herbalife shakes, and they may, in fact, be a poor choice nutrition-wise compared to many other protein shakes on the market.

If you do want to try substituting one or more meals with a shake, I would look for shakes with a different nutrient composition.

Aim for 200–400 calories per shake and at least 20–25 grams of protein. Shakes should also have less than 10 grams of sugar per serving.

Additionally, I am not a fan of multi-level marketing companies. These companies tend to charge to become a distributor or require you to purchase a certain amount of their product monthly.

Most people do not make any money on these types of schemes and actually tend to lose money. I would avoid any nutritional products sold by these types of companies.

The Bottom Line

Herbalife is a predatory company that is selling low-quality nutrition products.

There have been many news reports about how Herbalife exploits their distributors for profit.

Most of the distributors lose money while involved in the company. Meanwhile, the owners of the company are well known for their lavish lifestyles.

Nutritionally, the shakes are low in protein and very high in sugar. The supplements are mostly herbs, laxatives, or caffeine and won’t do much for you if your goal is to lose weight. I would avoid Herbalife at all costs.

If your goal is to lose weight, I recommend following a whole-foods based diet, controlling your portions, and engaging in regular exercise.

If you do choose to take supplements or protein shakes to help with weight loss be sure to research the company thoroughly before taking their products to ensure safety and effectiveness.

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