May 17, 2012

ViSalus Shakes: The "Science" Behind The Shake

In part I of my ViSalus review, I left off by suggesting that ViSalus charges premium prices for products based on inferior ingredients.

Today, I’ll go through that claim in greater detail by evaluating the nutrition facts of a ViSalus shake.

I figured that instead of putting words into ViSalus’ mouth, I’d actually use this lovely promotional video I found extolling the many healthy benefits of a ViSalus shake.

According to the ViSalus spokeswoman, ViSalus manages to cram more “nutrition” into their shake mix than is possible to achieve using real food. Best of all, ViSalus is able to provide all this “nutrition” at a cost savings of hundreds of dollars for the consumer.

Geez ViSalus, you are such a swell bunch of guys.

Now by the sounds of it, such an amazing product could quickly put me out of business, so what’s a nutritionist to do?

Well obviously run a full nutrient analysis on their claims to see how well they stack up!

Below is a copy of the label from a Vi-Shape Nutritional Shake mix (you’ll have to multiply the Vi-Shape label by 2 to come up with the levels of each nutrient discussed in the video) and the Nutrition Facts label I compiled after analyzing all the foods they talked about in their video.

Now even for the mathmatically challenged, it’s apparent that the real food provides hundreds of grams more protein, dietary fibre, healthy fats, and also boasts a micronutrient profile that’s roughly 10x as robust as the ViSalus shake mix.

Looks like someone in the ViSalus marketing department really dropped the ball on this one, but if any ViSalus rep cares to chime in with a correction with how my math or nutrient analysis was done, I’m all ears!

However, I think we can all agree that not every North American has a nutritionally complete diet. The real appeal of a shake mix comes from offering consumers a convenient and well-designed supplement to round out there nutrition.

To that end, let’s see how well a ViSalus shake stacks up with some other commonly available products on the market.

Vitamins and Minerals

The ViSalus video seemed to imply that getting all the vitamins and minerals in a Vi-Shake is too great a challenge to get from food (I think they meant to suggest it was impossible to get from any one whole food, although they never actually said that).

But how about if someone just took a multivitamin?

Below, I took the liberty of breaking down exactly how much of each micronutrient is provided by a ViSalus shake compared to two popular (and pretty basic) brands of Multivitamins commonly found in stores or online.

I also took the the liberty of highlighting the product that provides the most concentrated dose of each micronutrient, because I’m a nice guy like that 😉

Nutrient ViSalus Centrum Forte NOW Foods Adam
Vitamin A 1500 IU 1000 IU 10,000 IU
Vitamin C 18 mg 90 mg 350 mg
Calcium 300 mg 175 mg 175 mg
Iron 0.9 mg 10 mg 10 mg
Vitamin D 120 IU 600 IU 400 IU
Vitamin E 9 IU 50 IU 200 IU
Vitamin K 24 mcg 25 mcg 50 mcg
Thiamin 0.45 mg 2.25 mg 25 mg
Riboflavin 0.51 mg 3.2 mg 25 mg
Niacin 6 mg 15 mg 50 mg
Vitamin B6 0.6 mg 5 mg 25 mg
Vitamin B12 1.8 mcg 20 mcg 250 mcg
Pantothenate (B5) 3 mg 10 mg 100 mg
Phosporous 300 mg  —  —-
Iodine 45 mcg 150 mcg 225 mcg
Magnesium 120 mg 50 mg 100 mg
Zinc 4.5 mg 7.5 mg 30 mg
Selenium 21 mcg 55 mcg 200 mcg
Copper 0.6 mg 1 mg 0.5 mg
Manganese 0.6 mg —- 3 mg
Chromium 36 mcg 35 mcg 200 mcg
Molybedum 22.g mcg 45 mcg 50 mcg
Cost per serving $1.63 $0.17 $0.15


Well now there’s a surprise! (or not)

ViSalus finished dead last when it comes to the amount of vitamins and minerals contained in their product. In fact, it would appear that their shakes contains 5-10x less of most nutrients than was were provided by the NOW Foods multivitamin.

Even the crappy Centrum vitamins trounced ViSalus.

It is also worth noting that a serving of both the NOW Foods or Centrum multivitamins costs less than a quarter.

Guess that’s one strike against ViSalus.

The Protein

So it appears the cost of the Vi-Shape Shake can’t be justified by some amazing amount of vitamins or minerals.

But all is not lost, perhaps ViSalus can redeem themselves by providing a sweet amount of protein in their product.

According to the label, one serving of the Vi-Shape shake mix provides 12 grams of predominantly soy protein (if you can call 12 g of protein a serving).

Time for another quick cost comparison. This time I will source my protein from two other popular online supplement companies, and True Nutrition:

ViSalus True Nutrition
Basic package Balance Kit 2 lbs 100% Soy Protein 1 lbs Soy Protein Isolate
Cost per package $49 $18.99 $5.09
12 g servings/package 30 76 38
Cost per 12 g serving $1.63 $0.25 $0.14


Once again, we see the concentration of ingredients in a serving of the ViSalus product lags behind that of their competitors, yet their price is dramatically higher.

Question: if True Nutrition can turn a profit selling soy protein at $0.14 per 12 g, why can’t ViSalus do the same?

Mind you, I haven’t even brought up the question of why anyone would opt for soy protein in a fat loss product to begin with? Does ViSalus assume everyone using ViSalus is vegan?

Incidentally, I’m not a staunch anti-soy crusader who believes consuming a serving of soy protein will instantly cause men everywhere to grow a fine set of breasts.

However, there seems to be enough compelling published research suggesting that dairy sourced proteins are more effective in terms of suppressing appetite, assisting with lean mass gain and encouraging fat loss.

Science nerds, here you go:


Considering that dairy protein are pretty cost effective and are arguably better for body recomposition, I wonder what was ViSalus’ rationale for including soy protein in their product?

P.S. That was a rhetorical question.
P.P.S. It was actually a sarcastic rhetorical question.

So let’s call the inclusion of soy protein in a weight loss product strike 2 against ViSalus.

But there’s still a chance for a comeback… let’s see what ingredient is behind door #3!

The Fibre

As we make our way through the ingredient list, the last potential ingredient that might be the magic behind the ViSalus secret sauce is the 5 g of fibre!

And as everyone knows, fibre helps people lose weight…

Except that ViSalus seems to have included a type of fibre (Fibersol: a low-viscosity, digestion resistant maltodextrin) that hasn’t been shown assist with weight loss.

According to the Foods for Specified Health Uses report issued by the Japanese Health, Labor and Welfare’s board linked to on the  Fibersol website (thankfully, this company actually knows what a white paper is): Fibersol IS NOT considered a food/compound approved for use in conjunction with a reduced body fat claim.

Making matters worse, low viscosity fibres don’t appear to be very effective in suppressing appetite either:


ViSalus-Sciences… your product formulation decisions deserve a slow clap!

Regardless of it’s apparent ineffectiveness as a weight-loss agent, I still took the liberty of running a price comparison on Fibersol:

ViSalus True Nutrition
Balance Kit Fiber Balance* (350 g) 1 lbs Fibersol-2
Cost per package $1.63 $17.99 $8.99
5 g servings per package  1 70 91
Cost per 5 g serving  $1.63 $0.26 $0.10

* not a pure Fibersol formula

So by the looks of it, a 5g serving of pure Fibersol should set you back a dime.

Well that about settles it, the inclusion of a useless fibre (for weight control purposes) is strike three!

After tallying up the costs of all the key nutrients in a Vi-Shape shake (based on True Nutrition prices), we discover the market rate of the ingredients used to be:

Multivitamin blend: $0.15
12 g soy protein: $0.14
5 g Fibersol: $0.10

For a grand total of…. $0.39!

Yet ViSalus believes their magical wonder shake is worth $1.63/serving.

Now my math isn’t as good as it used to be, but that’s an over 400% mark-up over the already inflated costs of the materials.

Remember, I sourced the materials from retailers, not from distributors themselves. All these items cost pennies to produce.

I could go on longer, but I think that’s more than enough justification for why no fitness professional should ever be caught dead peddling ViSalus shakes.

No matter how you slice it, ViSalus products are a giant piece of over-priced crap.

The saddest part of this analysis is that I limited myself to the “cheapest” offering in the ViSalus product line. On their website, they heavily push the Transformation kit ($249/month) for best results.

Look, any fitness professionals interested in recommending a quick “grab and go” meal replacement for their clients should look into any one of the countless low-cost and high quality products offered through distributors like True Nutrition, or your local sports supplement store.

Any trainer pushing ViSalus cannot in any way, shape or form argue that they are doing so in their client’s best interest… neither the science nor the cost of the product compute.

P.S. I don’t think ViSalus products are dangerous (like some weight loss products)… just poorly designed and embarrassingly over-priced.

P.P.S. Do the trainers recommending ViSalus actually use ViSalus themselves? Kinda makes you wonder…

Of course, I’d be more than happy to hear the opposite side of the story presented by a ViSalus distributor or two… but I don’t hold out much hope.

Till next time, train hard and eat clean!


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