You’d think that because Herbalife is a big name in the weight loss industry, you’d be in safe hands when it comes to choosing their products. But purchase with caution – read this Herbalife review first and learn everything you need to know…
Fitness Brain is reader supported. Content may contain links and purchases made may earn us a commission. Find out more
Ask someone to name a meal replacement shake company and the odds are they’ll say Herbalife.
Herbalife have been around since the 1980s. They’re now a multinational corporation with their brand and products firmly spread around the world.
Herbalife primarily sell products based around weight loss, nutrition and personal care. One of Herbalife’s top-selling items are their meal replacement shakes. You’d think they’d be selling these shakes everywhere they can. But no, this is not the Herbalife model. You can’t even buy any of the products through their website. All sales go through ‘Independent distributors’, which, for the average consumer, is a pain.
It’s here where some of the controversy and negative aspects of Herbalife start to come into play. As the brand has grown, the business tactics used by the company have been questioned. This all revolves around multi-level marketing. For distributors, the money is in getting new distributors on board rather than promoting the benefits of the nutritional products themselves. This isn’t how a nutrition company should be arranged. It should all be about the quality products, surely?
So, the Herbalife business model may be questionable (and we’ll get into this), but what about the shakes themselves? Do the products work? Is Herbalife actually any good? This Herbalife review will let you in on all.
The process for buying Herbalife shakes doesn’t start off too smoothly. You can’t buy it from their website. Well, you can, kind of – but you have to create an account and be pushed through a distributor channel. It’s all a bit overcomplicated and annoying.
Herbalife also don’t sell their products through any other online channels. It’s all supposed to be through real-world distributors.
Thankfully, Amazon can help out here, although this isn’t supposed to happen. Any distributor caught shifting products on Amazon or eBay, or any other unauthorised online channel, will lose their distributor status.
The only problem with Amazon and the like is that you don’t fully know what’s authentic and what isn’t. There are limited options and flavours, plus everything is highly priced. As you can see, the issues begin.
Herbalife’s main product offerings include its Formula 1 Nutritional Shake Mix, Protein Drink Mix, and Herbal Tea Concentrate. They also sell vitamin tablets, probiotics and energy tablets.
The Formula 1 Shake is one of the flagship products and supposed to be a meal replacement shake to help with weight loss. Yes, it will help you lose weight because there’s barely anything nutritional in it!
The taste is good, but that’s probably due to the sugar and junk ingredients. The macronutrient offering is also very poor (unless you drink it with milk or combine it with their Protein Mix Drink). It does come with 21 vitamins and minerals but this shouldn’t be the main reason why you’re opting for a meal replacement shake anyway.
In terms of cost, Herbalife’s products are considered expensive. This wouldn’t be so bad if the product quality was up to scratch nutritionally – it’s worth investing in your health, after all – but the Herbalife nutrition products do not hit the mark. When they do, you have to buy multiple products and combine them together. Not good in my opinion. Even the cost for the herbal tea is off the chart!
Given the controversies surrounding Herbalife, the poor-quality products and the costs, I’d recommend avoiding this company and using an alternative, especially for meal replacement shakes.
Herbalife Pros and Cons
If you’re considering trying Herbalife out, you need to know what the pros and cons are. Here’s a rundown of what you can expect.
- Primarily plant-based protein: Herbalife mainly uses plant-based proteins in its meal replacement shake and protein mix drink. Their protein source of choice is soy, followed by whey and then pea, rice and flaxseed.
- Boosted with micronutrients: The meal replacement and protein shakes are fortified with up to 24 different vitamins and minerals. If you are replacing real, whole food with a shake, then extra micronutrients are very needed.
- Flavour choice: Many of the main products come in a selection of flavours. For example, the Formula 1 meal replacement shake comes in over 10 flavours.
- Poor macronutrient profile: The meal replacement shake is low in protein and essential fats. It’s also high in sugars.
- Very low calories: 170 calories (the main shake on its own) is not a meal. This will lead to weight loss, but it’s not necessarily healthy or sustainable.
- Lack of clarity: This is probably a business design to put the focus on the distributor. It’s difficult to get basic product information from the website.
- No online Herbalife shop: Annoying from a buyer’s perspective. Again, forces you to go through a distributor.
- Cost: The products can be expensive, especially compared to other options available in the market.
- Multi-Level Marketing: Herbalife operates as a multi-level marketing company. This creates pressure on users to become involved in the business, rather than focussing on the nutritional goals.
On this basis alone, the cons far outweigh the pros for me. If Herbalife was the only choice out there, it might be useful to some people looking to lose weight. But it’s not the only choice.
There are plenty of better companies producing higher-quality, more nutritional complete meal replacement shakes, such as Feel, PhenQ and Rootana.
Let’s dig more into the Herbalife products themselves to give you a thorough understanding of what’s on offer.
The main Herbalife product categories according to their website include:
- Core Nutrition: Concentrating on macronutrients and micronutrients, there are three products to choose from here:
- Formula 1 (meal replacement shakes)
- Formula 2 (multivitamin tablet)
- Formula 3 (cell activator capsules – this is alpha-lipoic acid)
- Healthy Weight: Here lie your protein shakes, snacks, weight loss-focused products and herbal tea.
- Specialised Nutrition: Everything from digestive health and heart health to immune support, women’s health and men’s health.
- Energy & Fitness: This category includes energy drinks and tablets, electrolyte drinks and fitness-specific products like pre-workout and protein shakes.
- Skin & Hair Care: Skincare and haircare products for various skin and hair types.
With a focus on weight management, Herbalife sell quickstart diet programmes. These are basically product bundles rather than any sort of healthy lifestyle eating plan.
For example, the quickstart program contains all three core products (Formula 1, 2 and 3) as well as their herbal tea concentrate.
Herbalife Nutritional Breakdown
Herbalife emphasises the importance of quality and safety in their products. They state that they comply with all regulatory requirements and have stringent manufacturing processes in place.
Ok, all good. But what about the actual quality of the products for the user?
We’ll concentrate on their meal replacement shakes here as they are the most popular and arguably the most complex product. Replacing a whole meal has more ramifications than just taking a supplement. A weight loss shake still needs to hit key macros to make sure any reduction in weight is safe and healthy for your body.
Formula 1 nutritional shake mix (Cookies & Cream) variety has the following macros:
- Protein: 9g
- Carbs: 11g
- Fat: 1g
- Calories: 90
On Herbalife’s website, they suggest “replacing two meals a day with Herbalife Formula 1 as part of a healthy lifestyle”.
The British Nutrition Foundation recommends the average adult woman should consume around 78g of fat, 267g of carbs and 45g of protein.
Yes, if you’re looking to lose weight, you’ll want to take in macros under these values. This will all depend on your current weight and BMR. When trying to lose weight, it’s essential to calculate your BMR (very easy to do), so you can then work out what sort of calorie deficit you need to be in. This is a much more sustainable and informed way to go about things.
Back to the macros. The Herbalife meal replacement composition falls well short of the BNF recommendations.
Just 9g of protein is pretty pathetic. As is 1g of good fat. I’d be hoping for around 20g of protein and at least 10g of healthy fats for a decent meal. Despite the name, your body needs essential fats like omega 3s and unsaturated fat. They are vital for brain functioning, as well as energy needs.
Replacing two meals a day with these macros is not healthy in my eyes. I’m sure it does work for some people who are looking to reduce weight quickly, as it comes down to the basic maths of calories in vs calories out. At 90 calories a shake, or 170 calories with skimmed milk, you’re falling well short of a usual meal of say 400-500 calories. In fact, the 170 calories is less than the bottom point of 200 calories, which needs to be hit to be considered a ‘meal replacement’ shake.
So, taking a Herbalife shake instead of having a meal will create a big calorie deficit, which is good for weight loss, but it’s not healthy or sustainable over the long term. Even with a good third meal of real food, you’ll be falling short when consuming two Formula 1 shakes a day.
To make the Formula 1 meal replacement shake more nutritionally complete, Herbalife suggest the shake is taken with skimmed milk and even adding in two scoops of their protein drink mix to bump up the protein intake.
If you’re spending this much money on a meal replacement shake it should be complete of its own right. You shouldn’t be relying on adding skimmed milk or buying another product (!) to bulk it out. I think this is cheeky and disingenuous.
On its own, it makes the Formula 1 drink almost redundant, which begs the question: what are you really paying for?
To rub a little salt in the wounds, the second ingredient in the formula by volume is fructose, the sixth is polydextrose powder and the eighth is sugar itself. Lots of sugar there. To put that into perspective, whey protein concentrate is 14th on the list, although soy protein isolate is first.
For me, this sort of ingredient profile for a meal replacement shake is very low in quality.
The meal replacement Herbalife shake does contain a number of essential vitamins and minerals that contribute to overall health.
Each shake provides around 10-30% of your daily recommended intake for most of the micronutrients, which include:
- Vitamins A, C, D, E, B6, B12
These are all well and good. However, other meal replacement shakes, like Exante for example, contain a prebiotic as well to help with digestion.
Taste, texture and flavours
Herbalife offer a variety of flavours for their nutritional shakes. This is a positive point.
Some of the more popular flavours include Banana Caramel, Wild Berry, Cookies & Cream, Chocolate, Mint Chocolate, Cafe Latte.
In fairness, the taste of the Herbalife shakes is pretty good. One of the few saving graces, I think. It’s probably helped by all the sugar, which does give it a strong artificial sweetness taste!
The texture is quite thin but you could easily stomach this as a regular shake. It mixes well and into a smooth drink, with no lumps or bumps. You can make the shake a little thicker and more pleasant by blitzing it up with ice cubes.
There are far thinner and nastier tasting meal replacements and protein shakes out there than the Herbalife one.
Ease of Use
The shakes are very easy to make. Just put two scoops of the powder into your shaker or blender. Then add either your milk or water and give it a good mix.
You can make a couple of shakes in the morning and take them with you on your daily travels.
In terms of ease of use, Herbalife’s Formula 1 is just like a regular powdered shake. Easy and convenient, which is a major benefit that comes with them.
Value for Money
There are two main ways to purchase Herbalife products. The first is the official way through a distributor and the second way is unofficially through Amazon.
The first way can be difficult and it draws you into the whole multi-level marketing world. On the other hand, buying through Amazon is easy and comes with no strings attached. I know what I’d prefer!
In terms of value for money, I think Herbalife is massively overpriced. If you break it down to cost per kilogram, the meal replacement shakes can be eye-watering enough, let alone the herbal teas which are ridiculous!
If you were buying the best product on the market, you might be able to stomach this for the benefit of your health, which is a number one life priority. Unfortunately, you aren’t getting the best product out there.
Because Herbalife have been around for decades and are a huge name in this space, you’re essentially paying for the brand name when you buy a product. For the higher-perceived value, some customers think they’re getting a superior product.
You’re not. This has resulted in a not-so-bad value for money rating online. I believe this is mainly from customers who’ve really bought into the whole Herbalife lifestyle. This leads nicely on to the multilevel marketing aspect…
Who are Herbalife?
Herbalife was founded in 1980 by Mark Hughes (no, not that Mark Hughes) and has since grown to operate in over 90 countries in every corner of the world. Their core products include nutrition supplements, weight-management and personal care items.
The company operates under a multi-level marketing model, with independent distributors selling products directly to consumers.
The company has had its own fair share of criticism and controversy over the years. Here’s a quick whistle stop.
Pyramid Scheme Allegations
Herbalife has been accused of operating as a pyramid scheme due to their multilevel marketing business model.
Some people argue that the company’s primary source of revenue comes from the recruitment of new distributors, which then encourages these new distributors to buy product for themselves, as well as encouraging others to buy products through them, although a distributor doesn’t actually handle any of the goods.
In short, distributors can earn more money by recruiting people to be distributors underneath them, than they can by selling products and earning a commission that way. This is because a distributor will earn a percentage of any sales the people underneath them make. If you get enough distributors underneath you who makes sales, and they then get distributors underneath them, that’s where the big money comes in and where the pyramid starts to form.
Suffice to say, Herbalife have consistently disputed these claims despite the evidence, and maintain that they focus on product sales. They also say Herbalife distributors follow ethical business practices. In reality, I don’t think that’s true. The Betting on Zero documentary on Herbalife is a very interesting watch.
Herbalife has faced multiple legal issues, including those related to product claims and controversies tied to their business model.
The company had to pay a $200 million settlement to the Federal Trade Commission in 2016 as a result of misleading income claims. Herbalife have also faced scrutiny in other countries for a variety of reasons, including misleading claims, false advertisement and unethical practices.
Final Thoughts On Herbalife
Are Herbalife shakes worth it?
In our view, no.
Despite Herbalife being one of the most well-known nutrition brands in the world, their main products fall short in delivering real quality.
Some individuals have found success with Herbalife products, I’ve no doubt about this. Taking the shakes can lead to weight loss by creating an overall calorie deficit. This is because the shakes contain little nutritional value and very few calories.
Herbalife’s meal replacement shakes like the Formula 1 Nutritional Shake Mix, despite their good taste, have a poor macronutrient profile with high sugar content and low protein and fat levels. These are not nutritionally complete shakes.
Swapping out two meals a day, which is suggested by Herbalife, for two shakes will see the pounds fly off you. And out of your pocket. The products aren’t cheap and there’s no way to bulk buy the shakes. This means you’ll be buying a lot if you plan on taking the shakes for a while. Poor value for money here.
For me, the means doesn’t always justify the ends. Particularly in the case of Herbalife with their multilevel marketing business structure. But also with the resulting weight loss. I think there are better ways and better meal replacement shakes you can take to help you lose weight, whilst providing you with more well-rounded nutrition.
Of course, different methods work for different people, and some will want to jump in and get results as fast as possible. You have to question if this is sustainable though.
All in all, although Herbalife supply a wide range of products and taste quite good, I think the cons outweigh the pros here and they’re best to be avoided.