Diet Review: Is Herbalife A Lot of Herbal Hooey?
I’ve been dying to review Herbalife for a long time, because their outlets seem to be everywhere and I’ve wondered what the deal was with this product. People have also been asking me to take a look at it. From the outside, it seems like an old-school diet using herbs and weight loss, but is it? I decided I must find out. I hopped onto Herbalife’s website to investigate. Here we go!
What I immediately noticed was that the Herbalife site lists an impressive number of ‘Nutrition Advisory Board’ members, all of whom are doctors. If you read my review on Shakeology, you’d already know that just because someone has an MD after their name doesn’t mean they know much about nutrition. And just because someone is paid to be on an ‘Advisory Board’ doesn’t mean that they fully support the product. There are fully competent, intelligent dietitians who advise food companies like Pepsico about marketing and products but don’t necessarily recommend the product to their clients. If a company asks me my opinion on a product, that can automatically qualify me for the ‘Advisory Board’. So yeah, there’s that.
Herbalife has a blog on their site, and the first article that pops up on the blog page is about how to decrease the appearance of your man-boobs, which they call ‘moobs’. Ha ha!! Oh Herbalife, you’re so hilarious!
Herbalife has tons of exciting products, like face creams and shampoos. Exploring the Herbalife website is like going to Walmart – you can pretty much get anything you need…but to review it all would take me weeks.
For the purpose of brevity, I’m going to concentrate on Herbalife’s ‘Advanced (their words not mine FYI) Weight Management Program’, which is sold as a pre-determined group of items. It’s their middle-tier weight management package, between the Quickstart Program and the Ultimate Program.
Let’s get started. Predictably, the Advanced Weight Management program is anchored by Herbalife’s Formula 1 Shakes. These shakes are advertised clearly as meal replacements, meant to replace one meal a day.
When prepared with nonfat milk according to package directions, a shake has 170 calories, 3 grams of fiber, 9 grams of protein, 9 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of fat. My stomach just rumbled thinking about replacing a meal with this shake, because as a meal replacement, it’s pretty much one step up from starvation. Would you eat a granola bar as a complete meal? That’s basically what you’re getting from this Herbalife shake in terms of macronutrients. 1 gram of fat wouldn’t keep my daughter’s hamster full until his next meal, so I’m really not expecting it to keep a human full for more than 15 seconds.
I’m sort of wondering how the company expects consumers to retain one bit of self-control at their next meal if their breakfast or lunch only has 170 calories. I’d probably eat twice as much at lunch if I drank this for breakfast, and end up gaining weight. The whole concept reeks of the SlimFast diet, which we all know is faulty: paging Tommy Lasorda!
170 calories is around 330 calories less than what I would recommend for a meal, and 9 grams of protein is beyond inadequate. Hey Herbalife! The latest recommendations are for 20-25 grams of protein per meal, so maybe get with the program this century?
For all the Nutrition Advisory Board members Herbalife has, at least one of them could advise the company that protein increases satiety, fat isn’t bad for you, and 170 calories is a snack, not a meal. The ingredients in the shakes include frutose and artificial vanilla flavoring, which are the 2nd and 5th ingredients respectively, followed by a bunch of herbs, which I guess is why it’s called ‘Herbalife’. All the usual suspects are in the shakes – various fibers like powdered cellulose and inulin, along with a bunch of vitamins and minerals.
Essentially you’d spend less money eating a granola bar or a piece of bread with a tablespoon of peanut butter and calling this what it truly is, which is a ‘low calorie diet’.
If shakes just aren’t your thing, Herbalife offers a 56g Herbalife Express Meal Bar, with 200 calories, 5 grams of fiber, 15 grams of protein, 11 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of fat.
No meal in your life should ever weigh 56 grams. Roughly the same weight as a Snickers bar, even if it were pure protein (which it’s not, so expect it to be less filling than that), it would be the equivalent to a whole meal consisting of 92 calories worth of chicken breast. In other words, ‘starvation’.
Next up: Herbalife ‘Total Control’, which sounds more like a type of panty hose than a ‘proprietary blend of tea extracts and caffeine which quickly stimulates metabolism and provides an energetic and alert feeling’. Basically, it’s a caffeine supplement disguised as something secret and magical.
I find it pretty funny that the total daily dose of Total Control provides 246mg of caffeine. This caffeine is coming from all the tea extracts in there, which sound earthy and exotic. You should know though that a tall Starbucks brewed coffee has 260mg of caffeine, which is more than your Total Control dose.
AHHHH Herbalife! You’re killing me! Tea has antioxidants, fair enough…but so does coffee. And I don’t think they justify the cost of this product. Seriously, hit a coffee shop for 1 coffee and you’re getting your ‘Total Control’… what exactly are you controlling, anyhow?
The Cell-U-Loss product, which is also a part of the Herbalife Advanced Weight Loss Program, contains corn silk to ‘support healthy elimination of water’. In other words, it helps you pee so that you lose water weight. Very interesting. With parsley, dandelion, and asparagus extract, Cell-U-Loss is what you’d call a ‘natural diuretic’, or in other words ‘a total waste of money’. Chew on some parsley (because corn silk gets stuck in your teeth), drink a bunch of water, eat real food, and call it a day.
There’s another product in the program called the Formula 3 Cell Activator. Sounds like it’s going to make those cells blast out all their fat, right? High tech! The main ingredient in this supplement is alpha lipoic acid, which your body makes all by itself and has enough of if you eat a balanced diet. Alpha lipoic acid is an antioxidant, and has been shown to be efficacious (in preliminary studies, mind you) in helping some conditions…but weight loss isn’t one of them.
I think I’m done with this review. I’m totally ready for a nap and a gin and tonic after this one, and I’m sure you are, too.
Herbalife is essentially a low calorie diet – you’re swapping out a whole meal for a 170 calorie shake. Unless you compensate for those missing calories at other meals, you’re probably going to lose weight.
There is a lot of hooey being sold with Herbalife, disguised by some cool names. Cell-U-Loss, Total Control, Formula 3 Activator – are all comprised of extracts and compounds that you can get from eating a balanced diet. The names of the supplements are pretty creative, but actually seem to have no relation to what the product actually achieves (or doesn’t achieve).
Herbalife seems to be based on nutrition science that’s becoming ancient. Fat isn’t bad, low calorie diets don’t usually have a happy ending, and you should be getting about 20-25 grams of protein per meal. Hopefully someone on Herbalife’s esteemed ‘Nutrition Advisory Board’ will step up and let the company know.
Man boobs are called ‘moobs’. Thanks Herbalife for that compelling and important piece of knowledge.
Perhaps most importantly, having a shake once a day to replace a meal doesn’t teach you how to make better, sustainable, meaningful change to your food choices.
It’s not as though Herbalife has anything dangerous in it, at least not for a healthy consumer. It’s just based on bad science. Herbalife shakes may be a viable option for a snack, but that’s pretty much it. And whole foods beat them nutritionally, hands-down.
My opinion is this: like a herbally-charged SlimFast diet, Herbalife mixes a low calorie, unsustainable diet with a lot of herbal hooey. Pass. Eat real food.