Herbalife Review: Are Herbalife products good for you?

Herbalife is a company I've seen on social media quite a lot recently. I had a vague awareness that it was an MLM company and knew that I wouldn't be able to buy their products from a shop and that I would need to find an independent distributor instead. So when I was put in contact with Personal Trainer & Herbalife Wellness Coach, Jordan Head, I wanted to take this opportunity to ask him about Herbalife products and how they fit into a healthy lifestyle and test out some of the product. I also consulted with Dr Carel le Roux, a professor from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, to find out more about the ingredients of the products and their health benefits.

So let's discuss the Herbalife and some of their products, specifically and from a health and nutrition perspective.

Herbalife Formula 1 Shake

The idea of this product is to be meal replacement shake. While these words usually send shivers down my spine (I love food, and for me, nothing can replace it!), Jordan explained how these nutritionally balanced shakes can be used by people who frequently skip breakfast to start their day right. This makes sense, as a breakfast lover myself, it's not something I'd given much thought to, but my husband for example, will happily skip breakfast first thing and then feels really hungry by 10.30am, when it's too near to lunch time to grab breakfast. I'm sure some of you reading this probably do this yourselves, perhaps its a time issue or maybe you just don't feel up to eating a meal when you've just woken up. From this point of view, having a shake first thing containing 18g of protein per serving and 3g fibre, could be a great way of keeping your macro nutrients for the rest of the day in check, and helping you swerve the urge to snack mid-morning. When mixed with semi-skimmed milk, the F1 drinks provide a macro ratio of 40/30/30 (carbs, fats, proteins). They also contain Vitamin A, C, and E, Calcium and potassium.

Herbalife Formula 1 Shake

I've been testing out both the vanilla flavor and also the Raspberry and Blueberry flavor. Both are really nice, but I would say that the vanilla F1 shake makes a better base ingredient for a breakfast smoothie or a green smoothie, whereas the raspberry and blueberry flavour is perfect for drinking on its own. When making a green smoothie, I like to mix 2 scoops of F1 Vanilla, with 250ml semi skimmed milk, a banana and two handful of spinach leaves.

Herbalife Formula 1 Shake

Herbalife Aloe Concentrate Drink

This drink contains 40% whole aloe vera leaf, extracted via cold pressing. It's a handy product for making plain water more palatable, by adding a few cap fulls to your 2 litres of water a day. I tried out the mango flavour, which is really nice tasting and I really enjoyed mixing it with the Herbal Beverage product (see below), first thing in the morning, before my workout. The only trouble is, I wasn't really sure what the benefits of drinking aloe were, or whether the sucarlose contained in the product were harmful, so I asked Dr Carel le Roux MBChB, MSc, FRCP, FRCPath, Ph.D from Imperial College London, who also sits on the Herbalife Nutrition Advisory Board to comment on this, you'll find his responses and references further down - it makes very interesting reading!

Herbalife Aloe Concentrate Drink

Herbalife Herbal Beverage with Tea Extracts

Jordan recommended this product to me, as a way of getting in the benefits of green tea and a morning caffeine perk, without having to have a hot drink. I also find the taste of some strains of green tea, are a little too much like dishwater, to be frank. So I tried this product with curiosity, and I'm pretty impressed! It mixes very well, particularly with water and aloe (see above), tastes good and helps to give me a boost first thing, especially when I've been up all night with a teething toddler!

Herbalife Range - Is it healthy?

Herbalife 24 Hydrate

This is an orange flavoured electrolyte drink, containing Vitamins C, B1, B2 pantothenic acid and B12. Jordan recommends that I use it during or after a sweaty endurance workout to re-balance my electrolytes. As well as tasting really nice, it's calorie free and doesn't contain glucose like many other electrolyte drinks on the market and it doesn't contain any artificial flavors or colours  but it does contain sucralose.

So they were the products, and my opinions of them, but what about the ingredients from a nutritional perspective? Dr Carel le Roux provides a very detailed response to my burning questions:

What are some of the proven health benefits of drinking aloe vera?

"Aloe vera has been used for its medicinal value for several thousand years. Its applications have been recorded in ancient cultures of India, Egypt, Greece, Rome and China (Ahlawat & Khatkar, 2011). Historically, oral preparations of Aloe vera have been widely used for its laxative effects, while topical preparations from the leaves have been used for skin application. The laxative effects of medicinal preparations of aloe vera are due to components present in the intensely bitter, yellow sap that is located between the rind and the inner leaf part of the plant (Waller, Pelley, & Strickland, 2004)."

I begin to panic, so I have I been drinking a laxative? The short answer is no, Dr Carel le Roux explains:

"Though very effective as a laxative for medicinal use, you can probably imagine that a commercial drink that would induce such strong laxative effects is not desirable and would not be detrimental to your health when consumed on a regular, long-term basis. For this reason, about 40 years ago, the aloe vera industry developed a processing method – termed decolourisation – to remove the laxative components from the aloe vera leaves. Decolourised aloe vera is currently widely popular as a food (supplement) ingredient."

Thank goodness for that! So what does it do in it's decolourised form?

Though the extent to which health effects of aloe vera as it is consumed in commercial products is fairly limited, there is evidence from human studies to suggest that aloe vera may support digestive health (soothe the stomach, supports healthy digestion, relieve occasional indigestion) and may support the body’s absorption of micronutrients (Bland, 1985; Langmead et al., 2004; Vinson, Al Kharrat, & Andreoli, 2005; Yun et al., 2010). Considering the popularity of aloe vera-based drinks and the need for more research in order to substantiate health benefits and health claims, Herbalife is currently running an extensive Aloe vera research program in cooperation with universities and research institutes from all over the world to learn more about the potential health effects of aloe vera-based food ingredients.

Herbalife Aloe Gel

Is the sucralose contained in many low-calorie products harmful to our health?

"Sucralose, a non-caloric sweetener, has overwhelming scientific evidence of safety and regulatory acceptability around the world.
Sucralose, although 600 times sweeter than sucrose, is a non-caloric sweetener. Most sucralose is not absorbed and is excreted unchanged in faeces. Sucralose that is absorbed is excreted unchanged in urine. Sucralose is a popular choice of sweetener because it is heat stable for cooking and baking. It is permitted as a table-top sweetener and for general use in foods in more than 90 countries around the world, including the United States, the European Union, Canada, Japan, and Australia and New Zealand, and the use of sucralose as a sweetener in numerous food categories is provided for in the Codex General Standard for Food Additives."

"More than 110 studies over the past 25 years have demonstrated that sucralose is safe in humans and animals at doses higher than the estimated daily intake. In particular, the absence of toxicity for sucralose has been repeatedly documented in published reports.
In Europe, the most recent assessment was conducted by the Norwegian Food Safety Authority (VKM) in 2014, reporting whether the consumption of drinks with added sweeteners poses any health risk to the Norwegian population. The VKM concluded that for all age groups the intake of sucralose is well below the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) values, and thus, that there is no concern related to the intake of sucralose."

Nutritionally speaking, do plant-based protein supplements offer an advantage over dairy based when it comes to sports nutrition?

"The ingestion of plant-based protein generally results in a lower muscle protein synthetic response when compared with an equal amount of animal-based protein (Wilkinson et al., 2007; Tang, Moore, Kujbida, Tarnopolsky, & Phillips, 2009; Phillips, 2012; Yang et al., 2012). This is thought to be due to differences in protein digestion, amino acid absorption, and (essential) amino acid composition (van Vliet, Burd, & van Loon, 2015), with leucine content being of particular relevance, as leucine is considered the strongest determinant of the capacity of a protein to affect muscle protein synthesis (Phillips, 2016). Most plant-based sources have a leucine content of ~6–8% (with maize, at 12.2% representing an interesting exception), whereas animal-based protein sources tend to have a leucine content in the range of 8.5–9% and >10% in the case of dairy proteins (13.6% in case of whey protein) (van Vliet et al., 2015)."

Interesting! But we shouldn't throw out the pea protein in favour of whey...

"Importantly, in the studies mentioned above protein was matched on a gram-per-gram basis, which does not necessarily provide a complete picture. For instance, several studies have shown that at larger quantities a lower quality protein can equal a higher quality protein in terms of muscle growth (Brown, DiSilvestro, Babaknia, & Devor, 2004; Joy et al., 2013; Babault et al., 2015). This implies that it is all about the right quantity and mix of amino acids, and not the protein source per se (plant, animal, dairy) – in other words, what matters is getting the amount and type of amino acids above a threshold level. This is supported by studies in which the leucine content was either increased or matched (Engelen et al., 2007; Norton, Wilson, Layman, Moulton, & Garlick, 2012; Wall et al., 2013), suggesting that adding a couple of grams of leucine may provide an effective strategy to augment the anabolic properties of plant-based protein sources (van Vliet et al., 2015)."

What's the deal with protein blends? Do these offer any additional benefit?

"Besides increasing the quantity of protein that is consumed and amino acid fortification, an interesting concept that has recently emerged is the use of protein blends. For example, Reidy et al. (2013) reported that a soy-dairy blend (25% soy, 25% whey, 50% casein) was capable of stimulating muscle growth to a similar extent as whey and, interestingly, sustained elevated levels of blood amino acids and muscle protein synthesis later into recovery as compared to the whey-only group. It might thus be that protein blends combining both rapidly and slowly digested proteins from high quality dairy and plant protein sources offer a unique advantage for muscle growth as compared to the use of a single source of protein."

"It should also be noted that animal-based protein sources do not always perform better in terms of muscle building capacity, as for instance soy protein induces greater muscle protein synthesis rates than dairy-derived casein protein (Tang et al., 2009). In addition, purified plant protein sources such as soy protein isolate, pea protein concentrate, and wheat gluten display a digestibility that is similar to that of animal-based protein sources (van Vliet et al., 2015). Taken together it can be hypothesised that plant-based protein supplementation may support exercise-induced muscle growth as well as animal-based protein sources through the application of various strategies and combinations thereof, including consuming greater quantities of protein, increasing the level of specific essential amino acids and in particular leucine, and making use of protein blends instead of relying on a single protein source (either a mix of animal- and plant-sourced or a mix of plant-sourced proteins only, for example in case of vegetarians/vegans). Research is currently underway to explore these ideas in detail and provide more definitive answers."

"Finally, when you consider that plant-based foods are considered advantageous over animal-based foods from the perspective of global sustainability (Tilman & Clark, 2014; Marlow, Harwatt, Soret, & Sabate, 2015), that there is an increasing consumer market interest in plant-based foods (Mintel, 2017), and that most of the dietary protein consumed worldwide is actually derived from plant-based sources (FAOSTAT, 2013), the way to move forward might indeed be amino acid fortification and/or the use of protein blends."

So in conclusion, in all comes down to the general advice of eat a balance diet made up of all food groups to get a full range of nutrients. Meanwhile there's still ongoing research into the benefits and any potential side effects of modern health supplements (because that's what they are 'supplements', rather than 'substitutes'), so I think using these products is really down to individual preference, and whether you feel the convenience of nutritionally balanced supplements outweigh any hypothetical risks.

You can find out more about Herbalife and see their product range on the Herbalife website.


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