Herbalife is a multilevel marketing company that sells nutritional supplements and personal care products in more than 90 countries around the world.

One of their products is the Herbalife weight loss program, which uses meal replacement shakes and dietary supplements to help people slim down.

While quick-fix diets like the Herbalife program can help people lose weight in the short term, they can be expensive and may not be sustainable.

This article reviews the pros and cons of the Herbalife diet program to help you decide whether it might work for you.

Rating Score Breakdown
  • Overall score: 1.79
  • Weight loss: 2
  • Healthy eating: 2.25
  • Sustainability: 2.5
  • Whole body health: 1
  • Nutrition quality: 1.5
  • Evidence-based: 1.5

BOTTOM LINE: The Herbalife diet is pricey and involves highly processed shakes and many supplements, some of which have been linked to negative health effects. Short-term use likely causes weight loss, but long-term effectiveness is yet to be studied.

Getting started on the Herbalife diet requires a few simple steps.

Step 1: Connect with an Herbalife independent distributor

Since Herbalife is a multilevel marketing business, their products are only available for purchase through Herbalife independent distributors.

You can connect with a distributor directly on the Herbalife website or via personal connections if you know a certified retailer.

Step 2: Choose your weight loss program

The next step is to pick the Herbalife weight loss program that’s right for you. There are three versions to choose from:

  1. The Quickstart Program: includes meal-replacement shakes, a powdered tea drink, a multivitamin/mineral (MVM), and a metabolism-boosting supplement
  2. The Advanced Program: includes everything from the Quickstart Program, plus two more supplements for increasing energy and reducing fluid retention
  3. The Ultimate Program: includes everything from the Advanced Program, plus two additional supplements for blood sugar management and digestion

These programs range in price from roughly $121–234 per month.

Step 3: Begin the Herbalife diet

Following the Herbalife diet is relatively easy.

Simply replace two meals each day with Herbalife shakes and take the supplements that come with the program you purchased.

There are no dietary restrictions on the Herbalife diet, but it’s generally advised to drink plenty of water and eat small, frequent meals and snacks that include plenty of fruits and vegetables.

There are no official recommendations for how long you should stay on the Herbalife diet, but most people continue until they reach their weight loss goal.

Summary

To get started on the Herbalife program, simply connect with an Herbalife distributor, purchase the program of your choice, and start consuming the shakes and supplements.

The Herbalife diet is designed to help people lose weight by reducing calorie intake with meal replacement shakes and boosting metabolism with supplements.

There haven’t been any studies on the full Herbalife weight loss program, but the meal replacement shakes do appear to help with weight loss.

Herbalife meal replacement shakes

Each serving (two scoops or 25 grams) of the Herbalife meal replacement shake mix contains (1):

  • Calories: 90
  • Fat: 1 gram
  • Carbs: 13 grams
  • Fiber: 3 grams
  • Sugar: 9 grams
  • Protein: 9 grams

When mixed with 8 ounces (240 mL) of nonfat milk, the mix provides 170 calories per serving and is intended to be a low calorie meal replacement.

In general, meal replacement shakes can help you lose weight when used for up to 1 year (2, 3).

In fact, research suggests that they may be more effective for short-term weight loss than traditional low calorie diets (4).

Only one study, which Herbalife sponsored, has tested the effectiveness of Herbalife shakes specifically.

This study found that people who replaced 2 meals per day with Herbalife shakes lost an average 12.5 pounds (5 kg) in 12 weeks (5).

Research is lacking on the long-term benefits of meal replacement shakes, but at least one study suggested that they may help to prevent weight gain over several years (6).

A second study found that people who used meal replacement shakes for 3 months before transitioning to a low calorie diet weighed less after 4 years than those who only dieted (7).

Overall, research suggests that meal replacement shakes can help people to lose weight in the short term, but additional diet and lifestyle strategies may be needed for long-term weight loss and weight maintenance.

Herbalife supplements

The supplements recommended in the Herbalife weight loss programs include:

  • Formula 2 Multivitamin: a standard multivitamin with several minerals for general nutrition
  • Formula 3 Cell Activator: a supplement with alpha-lipoic acid, aloe vera, pomegranate, rhodiola, pine bark, and resveratrol that claims to support nutrient absorption, metabolism, and mitochondrial health
  • Herbal Tea Concentrate: a powdered drink mix with tea extracts and caffeine that’s meant to provide extra energy and antioxidant support
  • Total Control: a supplement containing caffeine, ginger, three kinds of tea (green, black, and oolong), and pomegranate rind that claims to boost energy
  • Cell-U-Loss: a supplement containing electrolytes, corn silk extract, parsley, dandelion, and asparagus root that’s meant to reduce water retention
  • Snack Defense: a supplement containing chromium and Gymnema sylvestre extract that claims to support carbohydrate metabolism
  • Aminogen: a supplement containing protease enzymes, which are said to improve protein digestion

While these supplements contain many ingredients and claim to help with energy, metabolism, and weight loss, there have been no studies to prove their effectiveness.

Additionally, supplements aren’t regulated by any government agency for quality or purity, so there’s no guarantee that they contain the ingredients advertised.

Summary

Replacing two meals per day with Herbalife shakes can lead to modest weight loss, but it’s unknown whether the supplements that are part of the program have any additional benefit.

In addition to aiding weight loss, the Herbalife program has a few more benefits.

It’s easy and convenient

Meal replacement shakes like the ones used in the Herbalife diet can be attractive for busy people or those who lack the time or interest to cook.

To make the shake, all you have to do is mix 2 scoops of powder with 8 ounces (240 mL) of nonfat milk and enjoy. The powder can also be blended with ice or fruit for a smoothie-style drink.

Drinking shakes instead of cooking can dramatically cut down on time spent planning, shopping, and preparing meals. The Herbalife program is also very easy to follow.

Soy-based shakes may be good for your heart

The main ingredient in most of the Herbalife meal replacement shakes is soy protein isolate, a type of protein powder that comes from soybeans.

Some research suggests that eating soy protein may lower cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease (8).

However, nearly 50 grams per day are needed to realize these effects (9, 10).

Two servings of Herbalife meal replacement shakes contain only 18 grams, so additional soy foods would need to be included in your diet (1).

A soy-free, dairy-free formula is available

For those with allergies or sensitivities to soy or cow’s milk, Herbalife offers an alternative meal replacement shake made with pea, rice, and sesame proteins (1).

This product is also made from nongenetically modified ingredients, for those who wish to avoid GMOs.

Summary

The Herbalife diet is convenient and easy to follow, and the soy-based shakes may even help reduce your risk of heart disease. For those sensitive or allergic to soy or dairy, an alternative formula is available.

While the Herbalife diet program has some benefits, it also has quite a few downsides.

Shakes are highly processed

Herbalife meal replacement shakes are made with highly processed ingredients, such as protein isolates, sugars, gums, fibers, synthetic vitamins, artificial flavors, and emulsifiers (1).

They also contain a variety of added vitamins and minerals to make up for the nutrients these processed ingredients lack.

One of the biggest drawbacks is that the shakes are very high in sugar — 40 percent of the calories in each serving come from added sugars, primarily fructose (1).

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends getting no more than 5% of your daily calories from added sugars, which equates to roughly 25 grams per day for the average adult (11).

Two servings of the Herbalife shake provide 18 grams of added sugar, leaving very little room for other sources throughout the day (1).

It’s generally advisable to get your nutrients from less processed foods, such as high quality proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats.

Could make you hungry

Although Herbalife shakes are described as meal replacement shakes, they don’t contain enough calories to constitute a true meal.

When mixed with nonfat milk, the shakes have just 170 calories, which will likely leave you feeling very hungry throughout the day.

Blending the shake with fruit can help increase the calorie and fiber contents but won’t add any additional protein or fat to keep you satisfied.

Can be expensive

Each container of Herbalife meal replacement mix contains 30 servings and costs just over $40.

Herbalife’s recommended two shakes per day equates to roughly $80 per month for the shakes alone, not including the cost of supplements.

While swapping meals for shakes may save you money on groceries, these savings may not be significant enough to justify the additional expense of smoothies and supplements.

Herbal supplements may cause liver damage

The Herbalife weight loss programs recommend several supplements that contain a myriad of ingredients.

These supplements haven’t been tested for effectiveness and aren’t regulated by any government agency for quality or purity.

It’s important to watch for signs of adverse reactions to supplements, as these can occur.

In fact, there have been several reports of suspected liver damage due to Herbalife weight loss supplements, sometimes requiring liver transplants or even causing death (12, 13, 14, 15).

Additionally, some Herbalife products have been contaminated with an overgrowth of the bacteria B. subtilis, which is also linked to liver damage (16).

Keep in mind that adverse effects and liver damage can occur with many over-the-counter medications and supplements.

It’s unclear whether the risks associated with Herbalife products are any greater than those of other supplements (13).

One study that Herbalife funded showed that protein-rich diets, supplemented with Herbalife Formula 1, didn’t adversely affect liver function (17).

Not appropriate for everyone

The Herbalife diet program is not appropriate for everyone.

People with allergies, sensitivities or intolerances to the ingredients in the shakes or supplements should not follow this program.

Since so many supplements are included, it’s important to check with your healthcare provider to ensure they don’t interact with your medications or medical conditions.

Summary

Herbalife shakes are expensive, highly processed and do not contain enough calories to be true meal replacements. The recommended supplements can also be dangerous for some people.

Though most of your meals will be shakes while on the Herbalife diet, you can have one regular meal and two small snacks of your choice each day.

Herbalife doesn’t give detailed diet advice about what to eat aside from the shakes and supplements, so you can technically have whatever you want.

However, to promote weight loss, the Herbalife website recommends a diet rich in lean protein, fruits and vegetables, nonfat dairy, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and healthy fats.

Summary

Most of your meals on the Herbalife diet will be meal replacement shakes, but you also get one meal and two snacks of your choice each day. Focus on low fat, low calorie, minimally processed foods.

No foods are strictly forbidden on the Herbalife diet, but you should aim for low calorie meals rich in lean protein, fruits, and vegetables.

High calorie or high fat foods are allowed but should be enjoyed in moderation if you want to lose weight on the Herbalife diet.

Summary

No foods are forbidden on the Herbalife diet, but items rich in fat or calories should be consumed in moderation if you desire weight loss.

Here is what one day on the Herbalife Ultimate weight loss program might look like:

  • Breakfast: Herbalife chocolate shake made with 8 ounces (240 mL) of nonfat milk and half a banana, plus the Formula 2 Multivitamin, Formula 3 Cell Activator, Total Control, Cell-U-Loss, and Aminogen supplements
  • Snack: one can of tuna and a small salad with the Snack Defense herbal tea concentrate and Aminogen supplement
  • Lunch: Herbalife vanilla shake made with 8 ounces (240 mL) of skim milk and half a banana, plus the Formula 2 Multivitamin, Formula 3 Cell Activator, and Total Control, Cell-U-Loss and Aminogen supplements
  • Snack: one piece of fruit with herbal tea concentrate and the Snack Defense supplement
  • Dinner: grilled chicken with vegetables and brown rice, plus the Formula 2 Multivitamin, Total Control, and Aminogen supplements

As you can see, the meals are quite simple — but there are a lot of supplements to take throughout the day.

Summary

A sample menu for the Herbalife weight loss program includes two Herbalife shakes, one balanced meal of your choice and two snacks, plus many supplements.

In addition to the Herbalife shakes and supplements, you’ll purchase food from the grocery store for your remaining meals and snacks.

Some suggestions include:

  • Lean protein: chicken, turkey, pork loin, fish, lamb, or lean beef
  • Fruits and vegetables: fresh, frozen, dried, or canned
  • Nonfat or low fat dairy products: cow’s milk or nondairy milk for the shakes, plus other low fat or nonfat dairy items for snacking
  • Whole grains and legumes: including brown rice, beans, lentils, and quinoa
  • Healthy oils: olive oil, avocado oil, or other oils from nuts and seeds
  • Nuts and seeds: raw, roasted, or ground into flour or nut butter

Foods that are highly processed or calorie- or fat-dense should be consumed in moderation.

Summary

Choose your favorite high protein, high fiber, and low fat items from the grocery store for your additional meals and snacks.

The Herbalife diet comprises low calorie meal replacement shakes and metabolism-boosting supplements.

It’s convenient, easy to follow, and may aid short-term weight loss, though long-term success hasn’t been studied.

Yet, it’s expensive, may cause side effects, and the safety and effectiveness of the supplements hasn’t been researched.

More studies are needed to understand how pairing meal replacement shakes with longer-term diet and lifestyle changes affects weight loss and weight management.