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!


Destiny says:

Let me clear, I do not sell Vi. I can attest to the fact that I tried to formulate my own recipes and they all tasted like crap. Might as well eat chalk. If worried about vitamins, take a multivitamin like you suggest. Vi tastes good, it is easy and it works. Personal experience.

Brandon says:

Hey Graeme do you have a great concauction for a shake?

Graeme says:

It mostly depends on what you are trying to accomplish… weight loss vs. weight gain. Appetite suppression vs. maximize protein synthesis post-workout… animal vs. vegetable blend.

If you fire me off a message with a few more details, I can give you some general guidelines for what you might want to investigate.

Mike says:

I’m on the same page as the Vi Promoter.. I see you made him a list of things that are cheaper and produce similar results..
I buy Visalus because it’s easy. It’s convenient. My bags show up at my doorstep each month, I scoop it in and turn on a blender. Done.
I’m sure I could assemble my own health shakes for cheaper. I could also change the oil in my car and motorcycle for 90% cheaper than going to a shop. But then it becomes a question of, “Do I want to do this myself, or do I want to pay someone else for convenience?”
Sometimes, there’s just too much to do in life to worry about doing everything yourself. That’s my opinion, anyway.

Elaina says:

Great break down. Just as I had suspected. Thank you for solidifying my concerns and doubts about the ALL MiGHTY ViSalus. Another interesting fact I learned, was during my 2 month trial with ViSalus…..I noticed an increase in moodiness and I was breaking out in sweats. I went to my local Health Food store and asked them about it. To my surprise, soy protein (in SOME women, can actually trick the body into producing more estrogen then needed. Which was the case for me. I immediately stopped taking the product and right away I felt better. I now still drink 2 shakes a day, but use whey protein powder, and a rich multi vitamin. I’m still losing weight, and I’m saving a heck of a lot of money. Bt most importantly….I feel sooooo much better!!

 hydrolyzed protein is a code word for MSG. It is a way that food
manufacturers hide MSG. They even go as far as to label food “No Added
MSG” and it is full of hydrolyzed protein. They hide it because it is
addictive and causes people to eat more food; sort of like nicotine for
food. The problem is that it is a neuro-toxin and causes headaches in
~20% of the population. ( Question: How is  Hydrolyzed Whey Protein different than hydrolyzed protein?)

graemethomasonline says:

Hi Joyce,

Hydrolyzing a compound is the chemical process of adding a water molecule to a compound, often causing the initial compound to split into 2 parts.

The hydrolysis of “vegetable” proteins (HVP) results in the formation of glutamic acids, which are then neutralized with sodium hydroxide yields monosodium glutamate (MSG). However, nowadays most MSG is produced through a process of bacterial fermentation…
Regardless, there does appear to be some anecdotal and preliminary evidence which support a link between MSG and neurotoxicity.

In the case of hydrolyzed whey protein, it is done to break the protein into smaller peptides which are easier/faster for absorption. 

Although hydrolyzed whey protein is typically not neutralize with sodium hydroxide (which is why hydrolyzed whey retains such a bitter/acidid taste…) there still will be free glutamate produced (although far less in 100 g of whey compared to 100 g of wheat gluten protein or even 100 g soy).So if someone is hypersensitive to glutamate in any and all forms, they may also experience a negative reaction to hydrolyzed whey… but in general, most people find they are able to tolerate it in small amounts, so long as they can put up with the terrible taste.

love this post!!!!!!!! thank you 

Guest says:

Very neat tool! That’s a great option to explore. Thanks, Graeme!

graemethomasonline says:

Hey – you seem like someone genuinely interested in helping your clients, which is awesome. So I took the liberty to help you put together the ViSalus formulation using TrueNutrition’s build your own supplement feature. 

To help your clients get the same nutrition and taste as the Vi-Shake, here is what you’d need to do (2 lbs of the following mixture provides 30 servings similar to the Vi-Shape kit):

– 55% Soy Protein Isolate
– 10% hydrolyzed whey protein
– 5 % whey protein concentrate
– 15% Fibersol-2
– 5% maltodextrin
– 5% MCT (medium chain triglycerides)

Then also tack on the

– protease enzyme/vitamin and mineral mix
– Premium French Vanilla Cream

The total comes out to $15.21 for 30 servings. [I’ve attached the nutrient facts label as well so you can see how bang on the formulation in].

Now instead of asking your clients to pay $49 for their shakes, imagine how impressed they’ll be with you when you can offer them the same goodness for only $15.21 a month!

I wouldn’t be surprised if extra referrals even start coming your way once word gets out about how you go the extra mile on your client’s behalf.

I’m glad you brought up the car salesman analogy, because I agree that selling ViSalus once you realize how cost-effective you can make the blend would be like 2 different dealerships selling the same Honda Civic… only one selling the car for $20,000 and the other for $80,000. Feel free to drop me a line if you need more help putting together product formulations that save your clients money and them get results!

Guest says:

Great post and I’m glad to see it coming from a credible source such as yourself. I am a distributor, and yes, I use the products. Why do I recommend it ? Like you said, it incorporates many GOOD things that alot of my clients are NOT getting. Meal plans, taking them to the grocery store to show them the exact item to purchse, sending them to a nutritionist, have them do a hemocode with a naturopath…. did not produce the results they wanted. ViSalus TASTES good to them, and is an easy substitution for the poor choices they were making before. Could I recommend egg whites and ezekiel bread for a breakfast as well? Yes – and I do. But the shakes are faster, they are easier and based on feedback….. they are tastier. So, people are willing to spend the extra money (even though $1.63 for a meal compared to what they would buy usually isn’t really extra money) to have a system that they enjoy and look forward to consuming. I can’t speak for every rep, but I ensure that they have a full understanding of the snacks and meals they should be eating, and that this is a temproary meal replacement to teach better habits while we work together. My client who worked for countless years  running,personal trainers, nutritionist, dietician, bernstein clinic, Dr. Poon, Eat cleat diet etc etc etc… saw no changes (could have been for a multitude of reasons, the point is they didn’t reach their goal). When they came to me to train and following the simple system – they started to FEEL better, they SLEEP better, they have dropped the excess weight “adding years to their life and life to their years,” and they are doing things they never thought possible like run 10k. I’m not sure you can put a price on  that feeling.

To speak to your point about soy protein – I am not sure why you did not include the fact there are three types of protein in the shake. Whey protein is a component as well.

Finally, I understand that everyone is entitled to an opinion and I respect and appreciate everyone working the health care system with the clients/patients best interest as heart. To generalize and suggest that every ViSalus rep is not doing so is unfair. I liken it to a car salesman – you will always have slimy ones, and you will aways have the ones that are going above and beyond to give you what you want. The client has a choice to what they spend their money on. It’s business, yes, but jeopardizing professional integrity is not something that every rep has given up.

Thank you.