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

One of its 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 are often not sustainable.

This article provides a comprehensive review of Herbalife, including how it works, benefits, downsides, a sample menu, and more.

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.

Herbalife is a global MLM company that produces and sells nutritional supplements.

It was founded in 1980 by businessman Mark Hughes, who was only 24 at the time.

According to the company’s website, Herbalife’s mission is to “improve nutritional habits around the world with great-tasting, science-backed nutrition products that help people get the right balance of healthy nutrition” (1).

Today, the company has expanded to more than 90 countries and has more than 11,000 employees. As of 2021, it reports $5.8 billion in sales and claims that 5.4 million Herbalife protein shakes are consumed daily (1).

Products and services

Though Herbalife is best known for its meal replacement and protein shakes, the company has continued to expand its product offerings. Some of the most popular products are:

  • Formula 1 Select meal replacement shakes (known as the “core” products)
  • Formula 2 and 3 supplements (multivitamin and antioxidant capsules)
  • protein powders and bars
  • herbal weight loss teas
  • protein bars
  • aloe products
  • fiber, prebiotic, and probiotic supplements
  • sports nutrition supplements
  • vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements
  • skin care products

By far, Herbalife’s most popular product is the Formula 1 Select meal replacement shake. It comes in a variety of flavors, such as French Vanilla, Dutch Chocolate, Cookies n’ Cream, Wild Berry, Café Latte, Banana Caramel, Pralines and Cream, and Natural Vanilla.

Herbalife is one of the biggest weight loss brands in the world and has been around for more than 40 years (1).

While many people enjoy Herbalife products, the brand has come under tremendous scrutiny for being an MLM company.

MLM models are not illegal, but they are predatory and often make false and extravagant claims about participants’ profit-making capability.

In addition, Herbalife’s doesn’t have a completely clean track record.

It has been fined by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC fined Herbalife $200 million in 2016 for deceiving consumers into believing they could make large amounts of money from selling Herbalife products. The company was also required to restructure its business design to provide fairer compensation (2).

Because of Herbalife’s poor reputation with the FTC and research that shows MLM companies are financial liabilities for 75% of the people who participate in them, Herbalife failed Healthline’s rigorous vetting process.

In addition, many Herbalife ambassadors are not trained in nutrition and do not hold the proper credentials — such as a registered dietitian credential — to provide nutrition and weight loss advice or supplement recommendations.

Therefore, they may provide inaccurate and potentially harmful health and nutrition information.

Pros

  • quick and convenient
  • may support short-term weight loss
  • suitable for vegetarians and a few other dietary restrictions, such as dairy-free

Cons

  • expensive
  • may not provide enough calories
  • highly processed
  • many products not supported by science
  • sold using an MLM strategy
  • employs brand ambassadors who typically aren’t credentialed health professionals

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

Step 1: Connect with an Herbalife independent distributor

Because Herbalife uses an MLM structure, its products are available for purchase only through independent Herbalife distributors.

You can connect with a distributor directly on the Herbalife website or via personal connections.

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 (3):

  1. Quickstart Program: includes one container each of Formula 1 Select meal-replacement shake, Formula 2 multivitamins, Formula 3 Cell Activator antioxidant capsules, and a powdered Herbal Tea Concentrate
  2. Advanced Program: includes everything from the Quickstart Program plus two more supplements — Cell-U-Loss for reducing fluid retention and Total Control for boosting your metabolism and energy levels
  3. Ultimate Program: includes everything from the Advanced Program plus two additional supplements — Snack Defense for blood sugar management and Aminogen for digestion

These programs cost roughly $125–$241 per month.

Step 3: Begin the Herbalife diet

Following the Herbalife diet is relatively easy.

You 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 people following the diet are generally advised to drink plenty of water and eat small, frequent meals and snacks that include fruits and vegetables.

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

Herbalife products vary in price depending on the products you use and whether you buy them as part of a program.

Here are the costs of some of the company’s top-selling products (3):

  • Formula 1 Select meal replacement shake: $43.30 for 30 servings
  • Formula 2 capsules: $26.40 for a 30-day supply
  • Formula 3 capsules: $28.95 for a 30-day supply
  • Protein Drink mix: $53.10 for 30 servings
  • Herbalife24 Enhanced Protein Powder: $81.60 for 20 servings
  • Herbal Aloe Concentrate: $121.95 for 1/2 gallon (1.89 liters)
  • Active Fiber Complex: $30.30 for 30 servings
  • Protein Bar Deluxe: $27.70 for 14 bars

Here are the average monthly costs if you opt for one of Herbalife’s weight loss programs:

  • Quickstart Program: $125.05 per month
  • Advanced Program: $189.40 per month
  • Ultimate Program: $240.95 per month

Keep in mind that you may need to purchase another Formula 1 container each month (an additional $43.30) if you have more than one serving per day.

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 may help with short-term weight loss.

Herbalife meal replacement shakes

The Herbalife Formula 1 Select shakes are intended to replace a meal or snack. Herbalife recommends mixing the shakes with nonfat milk or soy beverage, which will further increase the protein and nutrient content.

One serving (2 scoops, or 25 grams) of Formula 1 Select shake mix contains (3, 4):

  • Calories: 90
  • Protein: 10 grams
  • Fat: 1 gram
  • Carbs: 13 grams
  • Fiber: 5 grams
  • Sugar: 6 grams

When mixed with 8 ounces (240 mL) of nonfat milk, the mix provides 170 calories and 17 grams of protein per serving.

Research on meal replacement shakes presents some considerations that you may want to keep in mind:

  • They may contribute to weight loss, especially in the short term: Studies show that meal replacement shakes may help with weight loss when used for up to 1 year. Research suggests that they may be more effective for short-term weight loss than traditional low calorie diets (5, 6).
  • People on Herbalife may lose 1 pound per week, at least early on: Herbalife sponsored one 2009 study on the effectiveness of Herbalife shakes. The researchers found that people who replaced 2 meals per day with Herbalife shakes lost an average of 12.5 pounds (5 kg) in 12 weeks (7).
  • Research on the long-term benefits and drawbacks of meal replacement shakes is lacking: However, one review suggests that they may help prevent weight gain over several years (5).
  • Limited research has found that people may maintain weight loss: Another study found that people who used meal replacement shakes for 3 years lost 5–10% of their initial body weight and maintained that loss. The authors note that if participants had discontinued the meal replacement shakes, they would have needed to pursue other weight loss and maintenance strategies, such as low calorie meal preparation and behavioral counseling (8).

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

Herbalife supplements

The supplements recommended in the Herbalife weight loss programs include:

  • Formula 2 Multivitamin Complex: 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 ingredients that may help with energy, metabolism, or weight loss, there have been no studies to evaluate the effectiveness of these Herbalife products specifically.

In addition to aiding weight loss, the program is popular because of how easy and convenient it is to follow. Here are a few reasons the brand appeals to some people:

  • It’s not time-intensive: Meal replacement shakes like the ones used in the Herbalife diet can dramatically cut down the time required for meal prep. They don’t even require a trip to the grocery store.
  • The products are easy to prepare: 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. You can also blend the powder with ice or fruit for a smoothie-style drink.
  • Herbalife has options for people with allergies and sensitivities: Herbalife offers an alternative meal replacement shake called Protein Drink Mix Select that’s made with pea, rice, and sesame proteins, which could be an option for those with allergies or sensitivities to soy or cow’s milk (9).
  • The products are made without genetically modified ingredients: Herbalife works for those who wish to avoid GMOs.

Are soy-based shakes 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 (10).

However, most of the benefits are linked to soy products high in isoflavones, a type of health-promoting polyphenols. Highly processed soy products such as soy protein isolate may lose as much as 90% of their isoflavone content (11).

Therefore, it’s unknown how much benefit these shakes will actually provide. It’s likely that you’d need to include additional soy foods in your diet.

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, including protein isolates, added sugars, gums, artificial flavors, and emulsifiers (12).

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 Formula 1 shakes are very high in sugar — 40% of the calories in each serving (before adding milk) come from added sugars, primarily fructose. In fact, fructose powder is the second main ingredient (12).

The World Health Organization recommends getting no more than 5–10% of your daily calories from added sugars, which equates to roughly 25–50 grams (6–12 teaspoons) per day for the average adult (13).

Two servings of the Herbalife shake provide more than 20 grams of added sugar, leaving very little room for other sources throughout the day (12).

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

Products are too low in calories

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, each shake has just 170 calories, which will likely leave you feeling very hungry throughout the day and could make sticking to the diet difficult.

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

Products can be expensive

Each container of Herbalife meal replacement mix contains 30 servings and costs $43.

Consuming Herbalife’s recommended 2 shakes per day equates to roughly $86 per month for the shakes alone, not including the cost of supplements or additional groceries, such as fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.

Depending on what you usually eat, replacing two meals per day with shakes might save you money on groceries. However, these savings may not be significant enough to justify the additional expense of smoothies and supplements.

Herbal supplements may cause liver damage

Herbalife weight loss programs recommend several supplements that contain a myriad of ingredients. It’s important to watch for symptoms of negative reactions to supplements, as they can happen.

Supplements such as those from Herbalife are usually not tested for effectiveness, and no government agency regulates their quality or purity.

Herbal products account for up to 20% of liver injuries in the United States (14).

Herbalife products have been subject to scrutiny and accusations in this area too:

  • There have been several reports of suspected liver damage attributed to Herbalife weight loss supplements, sometimes requiring liver transplants or even resulting in death (15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20).
  • Some Herbalife products have been contaminated with an overgrowth of the bacteria B. subtilis, which is also linked to liver damage (21).

Nonetheless, claims about Herbalife causing liver damage should be taken with a grain of salt. Many people consume Herbalife products without adverse effects, and other products, such as over-the-counter medications and herbal supplements, can also cause liver problems.

One older study funded by Herbalife showed that protein-rich diets supplemented with Herbalife Formula 1 didn’t adversely affect liver function (22).

A 2011 review also cautioned against unsubstantiated claims that Herbalife products cause liver damage.

The authors noted many limitations in liver toxicity cases — such as concurrent use of other herbal supplements or medications — and emphasized that there’s insufficient evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship (23).

Considering that herbal products account for up to 20% of liver injury instances in the United States, it’s unclear whether the risks associated with Herbalife products are any greater than those of other supplements (14).

Ultimately, it’s unknown whether Herbalife products pose any greater risk than other herbal supplements. Therefore, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional before taking Herbalife products.

Program is 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.

People who are pregnant or breastfeeding should also avoid the program, because many of the products’ ingredients may not be safe during these stages of life. Plus, the shakes are nutritionally inadequate to support the demands of pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Finally, if you’re taking medications or have a medical condition, it’s important to check with a healthcare professional to ensure that Herbalife products are safe for you to take.

Heads-up

Trying to “do it right” when it comes to nutrition may feel tempting, but it can backfire. If you are preoccupied with food or your weight, feel guilt surrounding your food choices, or routinely engage in restrictive diets, consider reaching out for support. These behaviors may indicate a disordered relationship with food or an eating disorder.

Disordered eating and eating disorders can affect anyone, regardless of gender identity, race, age, socioeconomic status, or other identities.

They can be caused by any combination of biological, social, cultural, and environmental factors — not just by exposure to diet culture.

Feel empowered to talk with a qualified healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, if you’re struggling.

You can also chat, call, or text anonymously with trained volunteers at the National Eating Disorders Association helpline for free or explore the organization’s free and low cost resources.

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.

Foods to avoid

No foods are strictly forbidden on the Herbalife diet, but you should aim for lower calorie meals that are 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.

Here’s what 1 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 nonfat 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.

Shopping list

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: brown rice, beans, lentils, and quinoa
  • Healthy oils: olive oil, avocado oil, and other oils from nuts and seeds
  • Nuts and seeds: raw, roasted, or ground into flour or nut butter

Foods that are highly processed or high in calories or fat should be consumed in moderation.

HerbalifeOptaviaShakeologyIsagenixSlimFast
Average cost per serving$1.44$2.96–$3.46$4.33–$5.41 $1.36$1.92
Types of products offered• protein and meal replacement shakes
• bars
• supplements
packaged meals and snacksprotein and meal replacement shakes• meal replacement shakes
• bars
• snacks
• meal replacement shakes
• bars
Healthline overall diet score1.792.252.581.212.29
Weight loss score222.51.52.5
Healthy eating score2.252.54.51.52
Sustainability score2.533.51.752
Whole body health score11.510.52
Nutrition quality score1.51.520.51.75
Evidence-based score1.53223.5

Healthline’s diet scores are calculated on a scale of 0–5 using the following criteria:

  • Weight loss score: considers whether the diet may lead to rapid weight loss and if weight loss can be sustained for 3 months or more
  • Healthy eating score: considers whether the diet encourages balanced eating habits or limits entire food groups; also takes into account whether the program focuses on long-term lifestyle changes or if it requires changes that may be difficult to sustain, such as reliance on packaged foods or supplements
  • Sustainability score: considers the cost, guidelines, and available professional or peer support to determine how realistically the diet can be maintained long-term
  • Whole body health score: considers whether the diet sets unrealistic goals or makes exaggerated weight-loss claims; also takes into account whether the program is designed to support overall wellness and promote a healthy relationship with food and body image
  • Nutrition quality: considers whether the diet is nutritionally adequate and based around whole foods versus relying on more heavily processed powders and supplements
  • Evidence based: considers the strength of current research that supports the diet program’s safety and efficacy

Herbalife is for anyone looking for quick, convenient meal replacements. Most of the products are also intended for those seeking to lose weight and achieve a calorie deficit.

That said, there are better and more sustainable ways to lose weight, such as consuming mostly whole, minimally processed foods; increasing your physical activity; getting enough sleep each night; and managing your stress levels.

If you’re looking to lose weight and are short on time, you may be better off trying a meal-planning app or meal delivery service such as:

  • PlateJoy: a meal-planning app that creates customized menus and curated grocery lists to suit a variety of nutrition needs and goals
  • Daily Harvest: a frozen meal delivery service that provides whole food, plant-based items that are perfect for easy breakfasts, lunches, snacks, or light dinners
  • HelloFresh: a popular meal kit service that caters to a variety of dietary needs, including weight loss
  • Freshly: a service that delivers fresh, never frozen entrees featuring nutritious spins on takeout and comfort-food classics
  • Purple Carrot: a fully plant-based meal delivery service offering fresh and creative meal kits and prepared entrees

If you’re looking for additional support on your weight loss journey, we recommend making an appointment with a registered dietitian — if that’s an option for you — or trying a more sustainable weight loss program such as Weight Watchers.

Can Herbalife help you lose weight?

Because the meal replacement shakes are very low in calories and meant to replace two meals a day, Herbalife may help you lose weight by helping you achieve a calorie deficit.

However, keep in mind that because Herbalife isn’t a realistic long-term solution, you’ll need to switch to a more sustainable alternative to avoid regaining any weight you may have lost.

Are Herbalife products good for you to drink?

Herbalife products are considered safe for most healthy adults but are highly processed. While they may be a quick and convenient option, they’re less nutritious than whole, minimally processed foods.

Are Herbalife products safe to use?

Generally, Herbalife products are safe for adults to use.

However, it’s best to speak with a healthcare professional to ensure that they’re right for you, especially if you’re taking any other medications or supplements or if you have any medical conditions, such as kidney disease, liver disease, or diabetes.

Children, teens, and people who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use Herbalife.

Who should use Herbalife?

Though a whole, minimally processed diet is generally recommended, Herbalife meal replacements may be useful for those who have limited time to prepare meals and are looking to lose weight.

What is the 21-day Herbalife challenge?

In some places, including the United Kingdom, Herbalife sells a 21-day challenge kit. According to the company’s U.K. website, it “combines healthy daily nutrition with a simple exercise plan to follow.”

In the U.K., customers who purchase the product receive one bottle that contains 3 weeks’ worth of Healthy Meal Shake, a similar size bottle of protein drink mix, an instant herbal beverage blend, and an aloe concentrate.

The bundle doesn’t appear to be available in the United States.

Does Herbalife have side effects?

The most widely discussed side effect of Herbalife is liver damage, as mentioned earlier. However, because the studies that have reported these effects have several limitations, it’s difficult to know whether Herbalife products truly caused the liver damage.

In any case, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional before beginning any supplement regimen or any meal-replacement program like Herbalife.

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

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

However, it’s also expensive and may cause side effects, and the safety and effectiveness of the supplements haven’t been researched.

Overall, for sustainable weight loss, we recommend following a balanced diet that’s focused on whole foods and seeking the support of a nutrition professional.