In 2011, I sold my dad a pack of Herbalife. In 2017, I wrote an article that explained my distaste for the company and the product. But what do I think today? In this Herbalife meal shake review I will take a proper look at the modern version of Herbalife and outline my likes and dislikes.
Herbalife’s business model and its controversy have given the company a horrible reputation. The product itself is pretty average for meal shakes, there are many better companies out there, but also quite a few worse ones. The low number of calories per serving makes Herbalife an unrealistic replacement for most meals, but this can be addressed by increasing your serving sizes.
In this review, I will take a look at the ingredients found in Herbalife, the calorie and macronutrient ratios, the business practices that affect customers, and whether there are better alternatives out there.
The problem with Herbalife is the company itself. No nutrition brand on Earth has quite as bad a reputation as Herbalife, and the term “Herbalife Salesman” has become synonymous with fraudster for many people in the fitness space.
For a while, Herbalife had such a poor reputation that the entire meal replacement shake industry was brought down with it. This happened to me. I went from a naive personal trainer who had sold a pack of Herbalife to a misguided personal trainer who hated all meal shakes.
Then I really looked into meal replacement shakes, studied the science, and drew my own conclusion which is this: Good quality meal replacement shakes are perfectly fine to consume, and can be helpful when trying to lose weight or improve your nutrition . However, they should be consumed alongside a healthy diet.
The company has been so hated, that few people bother to look at the product itself, so I have gone ahead and done so.
Herbalife is a run-of-the-mill meal shake. The ingredients list is fairly standard for the industry, but there is an over-reliance on soy and other cheap ingredients. The product is expensive considering how few calories it contains, and without adding milk to it, you would struggle to get enough calories to survive. There are much better alternatives out there.
The ingredients list for Herbalife Formula 1 (the main Herbalife product) is long. This isn’t necessarily a bad sign, but it makes reviewing the ingredients more difficult. As such, I will focus on the main ingredients, rather than listing every single vitamin and mineral, for instance.
This is the main protein source in Herbalife. I have no problem with soy protein isolate, it’s a low-cost protein source that works quite well. Many meal shakes use it instead of whey protein, making their shakes accessible for vegans and people who are lactose intolerant.
However, it is not the best protein source for vegans, and there is a lot of soy in this formula (soy oil is the main source of fat). Ideally, you’d want a mixture of protein sources, or something like pea protein, so that your formula doesn’t contain too much soy.
Fructose is a form of sugar found in fruit, and it is used as a “natural” sugar in Herbalife. One thing that you will find with Herbalife is that the products are very high in sugar. A recommended serving of 25 grams of Herbalife mixed with milk contains 21 grams of carbohydrates, of which 18 grams come from sugar. The formula is 21% sugar.
This is a form of fibre that is derived from chicory. Nothing wrong with inulin, but so far the ingredients in this formula are a little odd. There doesn’t appear to be a proper carbohydrate source, just fibre and fructose.
Oats are incredibly healthy, and they are very popular with quality meal replacement shakes such as Rootana and Huel. A lot of the benefits associated with oats come from the fibre, so it is understandable why Herbalife have used this ingredient. But again, it’s an odd choice. Herbalife contains a decent amount of carbohydrates, but they come from fructose which explains the high sugar content. Why not use low-GI oats as a carb source? Probably price.
While soy oil is not that bad for you, it’s not my go-to choice for healthy fats. Particularly when Herbalife already uses soy as its main protein source. A healthy fat such as MCT oil (used by Instant Knockout Complete) would be an amazing option, or you can use sunflower seed oil like Rootana.
A well-designed vitamin and mineral mixture, nothing much to say about it.
Stevia is a common sweetener used in the supplement industry and one that is often described as a natural sweetener. I’m not sure whether I agree with this, as there is quite an intense process to extract steviol glycosides. However, I don’t think that it matters either way. If you dislike stevia’s taste then it’s no good, if you like it, then that’s great.
The calories per serving in Herbalife is my biggest issue with the company. The first thing to do is look at the amount of calories that the competition offers per serving. Rootana and Huel offer 400 calories per serving, with water. Herbalife, on the other hand, offers 227 calories per serving, with milk.
Without the milk, a standard 26-gram portion would contain roughly 100 calories (398 calories per 100 grams). Each pack only contains 550 grams, which is 21 servings.
This means that a Herbalife meal shake gets more calories from the milk that you serve it with than from the product that you are paying for. This is not a fair deal for the consumer. In any case, 227 calories for lunch is not very good.
Prices true at the time of publication, are subject to change as well as discount.
Unlike any other supplement company that I can think of, Herbalife does not sell its products directly. Instead, it sells its products to distributors who then sell it on to their friends and family. There are also some websites that sell Herbalife via third parties.
The business model that I remember from my brief time with Herbalife was: Herbalife – Top salesperson – Regular salesperson – chump (me) – friends/family/PT clients
In my opinion, the business model falls apart as people at the bottom are encouraged to hire more salespeople. Rather than finding new clients. People are more influenced by the promise of riches than they are by weight loss. So you end up cannibalizing your own customer base.
I have a lot of respect for good quality meal replacement shakes and have been fairly vocal on this subject for the past ten years. There is a lot of good scientific evidence that they can work. However, Herbalife is not a good meal replacement shake. It is low in quality, too low in calories, and the cost per 100 calories is ridiculously high.
Combine that with the dodgy sales techniques, the MLM sales tactics, and the many accusations thrown at the company and it is just not a product that I can respect.
The shakes themselves taste amazing, and they are not anywhere near as bad for you as many in the fitness industry make out, but there are better alternatives out there.
There are so many good alternatives to Herbalife available, you have Huel and Rootana, two UK companies that provide high-quality meal shakes. Then there is Instant Knockout Complete, which is very high in protein, and Purition.
Other meal shakes that are good alternatives to Herbalife include: Soylent, and Ka’Chava, and you also have shakes made by bigger supplement companies such as My Protein, and The Protein Works.
Meal replacement shakes are good, but Herbalife is not. That’s my conclusion here. For years, the bad business practices and poor quality ingredients that Herbalife suffers from had a deleterious effect on the public’s perception of meal replacement shakes.
Hopefully, this Herbalife Meal Shake Review has gone some way to addressing this. You can build muscle, burn fat, and improve your nutrition with meal replacement shakes. But only when the meal shakes are of good quality. Herbalife is not good enough.
Matt Smith is the owner of Beer N Biceps. He has a degree in Sports Science, 10 years of experience working in the fitness industry, and has written for hundreds of fitness websites. He is a lover of good quality beer and believes that drinking in moderation can form part of a healthy lifestyle.