It seems like every year we are bombarded with messages about some new unknown supplement, fitness trend, or other health-related product that’s supposed to be the next big panacea for producing mind-boggling weight loss and the body you’ve always wanted. Don’t you know if somebody actually came up with that ever-elusive “magic pill” gimmick for improving weight and health that they’d make Bill Gates look like a welfare recipient with all the money that would start pouring in hand over fist? But, alas, it’s never gonna happen. Even still, the diet industry is big business because clever marketing and strategic products are being aggressively targeted to a captive audience of desperate people who are tired of being overweight, unhealthy, and out of shape. That’s why tactics like these have helped crazy diet schemes strike it rich seemingly out of nowhere overnight preying on the innocent. The latest of these is the “Body By Vi” program from Visalus Sciences.
I first heard about this company from a friend of mine at church (I’ll call him John) who has worked in various sales jobs as his primary source of income for most of his life. Knowing that I have a substantial following online from people who are interested in the subject of weight and health, John invited me over to his house to make me a healthy milkshake that he said he could taste like any flavor I wanted. Wow, sounds impressive. Actually, not really. I’m a natural skeptic and was hesitant about spending any of my valuable time listening to what he had to say. But because I respect John’s faith and sales success over the years, I decided to hear what he had to share. What I discovered in those two hours was a much bigger lesson in why low-carb dieters should be wary of these Visalus products.
What’s funny about Visalus is it is a typical MLM (multi-level marketing) company requiring you to buy into the company and to find other enrollees to sponsor as part of your personal pyramid network. I’ve never understood why I’m always approached by people to join their favorite MLM (from Amway, Avon, Pampered Chef, MovaVie, Cutco, Shaklee, Pre-Paid Legal and every other one you’ve ever heard of), but I guess I have that certain special something they are looking for. Maybe it’s because I enjoy talking to people and feel comfortable holding conversations that they think would make me a great salesman. I dunno, but I’ve been bombarded with people trying to get me to join their MLM since I was a teenager and it’s still happening to this day. John just knew with what I already do for a living promoting healthy nutritional concepts on my popular blog and podcasts that Visalus would be the perfect fit for me.
I suppose he knew what he was getting himself into asking me to try a protein shake product from Visalus…but maybe not. As he and one of his fellow Visalus promoters were trying to paint a picture of how I could attain financial freedom through being involved in this company (this is the major thing I ABHOR about MLM schemes–“join our team and all of your money woes will disappear”–UGH!), I was reading through the paperwork they had in a big 3-ring binder describing the Visalus plan featuring the aforementioned protein shake mixes. Anyone who knows me will tell you I read labels very carefully before putting something inside my body. If there is an ingredient in a food I am going to consume that I don’t want to have in me, then I want to know beforehand. Scouring the ingredients list of this Visalus protein shake mix, I noticed the very first ingredient in the shake was the primary source of protein–SOY!
I engaged John in a conversation about this expressing my concerns about the protein source being soy instead of whey, for example. He said, “Oh, I’ve only heard good things about consuming soy. I thought it was supposed to be healthy.” I explained to John about my podcast interview with Dr. Kaayla Daniel who wrote the book The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food and that I personally prefer to steer clear of this darling ingredient of the low-fat diet advocates. Speaking of dietary fat, there was only 1g of it in this Visalus protein shake mix along with 7g carbohydrate (5g of which is dietary fiber) and 12g protein in this 90-calorie meal replacement shake. When I told John the fat-protein ratio was way off base from what I would typically consume (my ideal food intake is high-fat, moderate protein, low-carb), again he repeated that he thought consuming less fat was healthier. It was a teachable moment that I didn’t mind sharing with him because I respect him and wanted to make sure he fully understood the concerns I had with this MLM company he had associated himself with.
Reluctantly, I agreed to have him make me one of the Visalus shakes as he promised to me when we spoke on the phone. He said, “I’ll make whatever milkshake you want and it will taste just like the real thing!” My favorite flavor is cookies & cream, so that’s what I requested. When I inquired about how many flavors Visalus made, he said he likes to take the vanilla shake mix and blend it with ingredients to make whatever flavor I wanted. I was confused somewhat by this answer. When I inquired further about my cookies & cream milkshake, he assured me it would taste amazing and be healthy because he used skim milk and Oreo cookies! O-M-G! Are you freakin’ kidding me?! Here I thought it was a cookies & cream flavor and he’s putting sugary, wheat-based carbage in this “healthy” shake. I was flabbergasted to say the least and explained that the supposed benefits of consuming the nutrition contained in this shake don’t override the huge insulin-spiking carb bomb he just added to it. Since he took the time to make the shake, I appeased him by having one small sip. YUCK! It was so gross I told him I wouldn’t be able to finish it. I was sorely disappointed. John said he’d share my concerns about the soy, fat content, etc. with the Visalus company and see what they say in response. More on how they responded in a moment.
I’d been meaning to blog about this for a while, but it came to a head again recently after I received the following e-mail from a new blog reader who was excited about this new company she’s involved with–Visalus:
I’m a big fan! You don’t know me, but I’ve found your website very helpful the last several months while low carbing again. I’ve low carbed for many years and truly believe it’s the only way and best way to lose weight and lose fast. Recently I became concerned about my health because I was losing a lot of weight, but I knew I wasn’t eating very healthy.
I live alone, don’t cook much and rather than cook healthy vegetables for myself, I would end up eating quick low-carb things instead. I could tell my health wasn’t good. I was felling very lathargic. I had to find something to give me the nutrition I knew my body needed and was missing from the way I was eating. But I didn’t want to add any carbs to my diet either.
I know many people were raving about this new diet shake made by a company called Visalus. I was like, yeah, yeah and paid no attention until becoming concerned with my health. The first thing I asked my friend was how many carbs does it have? I was happily surprised it only had 7 carbs, 5 being fiber grams and only 1 gram of sugar! I said, well no wonder people are losing weight using it! LOL! But what was even more impressive was what was in this shake! I could get a full day’s recommended serving of proteins, fruits and veggies and much more in one shake. Not to mention all the other great, low-carb friendly products they have!
I ordered the products and have am so happy with the way my health and the way I feel has improved. I have energy now and feel better than ever, and continue to lose weight like crazy! They do not really push the low-carb angle with their products as I think they should. But that leaves an awesome opportunity for people like you and I.
See, this company has the most amazing compensation plan for becoming a distributor for their products and has an impeccible leadership and financial backing. It is the #1 growing direct sales company in North America and is only getting started. You and I both know that these low-carb shakes will continue to help people lose weight and they don’t even realize they are low carbing–they are just amazed at how fast the weight is coming off.
A friend of mine referred it to only four people and it grew so fast that in only two weeks he qualified for a BMW with the company. Crazy! I only officially signed up as a distributor a few days ago and already half way to the BMW! I know this may sound like another one of these deals, but all I ask is that you take a good look at the product and company and see if you saw what I saw.
I think some people like you and I who know the value of something like this can use the low-carb angle and help a lot of people and make a lot of money and help other to make a lot of money! I have teamed up with an amazing team of networkers and we all are going to the top fast. If I get the chance to talk to you, I think you will be amazed at what we are doing and who we are teamed with and where this is going!
Please just take about 5 minutes and look at the attached videos and overview of the company. I know as a team, you and I will do some amazing things in the low-carb arena!
Wow, what enthusiasm! You certainly can’t deny she’s excited to be a part of something she can believe in and I wish her well in this personal and professional business venture. But I wrote her back expressing my serious concerns about the Visalus products and that I’d be blogging more about it soon. That’s what this post is all about today. You know I’m all for people finding what works for them, following it exactly as prescribed and then doing it for the rest of their lives. But I also believe it is important for people to have all of the information available to them so they can make smart choices deciphering right from wrong.
After John asked me to compile a list of questions I would like to ask the marketing minions at Visalus Sciences, I was hoping there would be some sort of logical explanation provided in response to my concerns with their shake mixes. Unfortunately, I was left even more disappointed with the company and sealed the deal that I’d NEVER even consider working with this company as a consumer of their product or to sell their stuff. Here are my pertinent questions to them, the very telling feedback I received from them, and my response to each:
1. With all the latest research concerning saturated fat being an essential part of a healthy diet, why was it omitted from the Visalus protein shake mix?
You could easily add saturated and total healthy fats to the Visalus product simply by including some coconut-based ingredients in it. This would make the protein shake a far superior product to your competitors. Most people eat too much fat in their diet. We do have 1g of fat and it is a healthy fat. Saturated fats tend not to be healthy. Not sure what fat you would prefer, but we found ours has many health benefits. Additionally, we recommend the Omega Vitals be part of the product usage, as it provides healthy fat along with essential fatty acids.
My response: This answer alone is further evidence of why I believe low-carb dieters should be wary of associating themselves with Visalus in any way. They are lipophobes refusing to acknowledge the latest research vindicating saturated fats as posing a risk to cardiovascular health. While it’s admirable that the single gram of fat in this shake mix comes from coconut sources, the smugness and self-assured attitude of this response regarding dietary fat lets me know they are less interested in examining the latest science and more interested in profiteering off the low-fat lie!
2. Why is the #1 ingredient in the Visalus product soy? Most of my educated blog readers and radio show listeners are eliminating soy from their diet completely. A solid whey protein source would have been a much better choice for this essential macronutrient.
There is a lot of misinformation and confusion about soy in the marketplace today. In countries where consumption of soy is high (like Japan) the populations are healthier and have fewer health issues than in America today. So we know that there is misinformation, and facts being taken out of context.
Of the concerns over soy, there are a few common ones:
First, the negative press about soy is referring to raw soybeans that can contain a form of phytic acid that can block certain mineral absorption. However, that is based on massive consumption quantities of the raw soybean and only occurs in those animals that lack the digestive enzyme phytase. It is only an issue for people who consume those foods to get minerals in their diet and in massive quantities. The issue is in developing countries, and may have a genetic basis as well because they are lacking the digestive enzyme (which can be supplemented and therefore alleviate the concern). It is not an issue for our products because of how we process the ingredients.
The second common concern with soy are due to some of the components of soy, particularly the isoflavones genistein and dadzein which can affect and inhibit thyroid peroxidase which is necessary for the production of T3 and T4. Thus there is some evidence that it could lead to thryoid enlargement (Goiter). Our soy has been processed to remove the isoflavones, so this is not an issue.
A third common concern about soy is the effect it may have on estrogen levels in the body. This is again due to the isoflavones which we have had removed. So this is a non-worry. We should note that many menopausal women do supplement with isoflavones as it has been shown to help them experience fewer side effects of menopause.
Lastly, our soy is not genetically modified (it is non-GMO). Many people worry about genetically modified soy and if any of the ingredients got altered in the breeding process. We use the most natural form we can get, that has not been genetically modified.
Why use soy? It is a complete protein, it is easily digested, it can build lean muscle equal to (if not slightly better than) whey protein, and adequate consumption of soy in the diet can help the body lower cholesterol and C-reactive protein, an indicator of inflammation and heart disease.
My response: Hoo boy! You gotta hand it to them for having their talking points in order. But I had a sneaky suspicion they were merely trying to pull the wool over my eyes on this one. That’s why I contacted my go-to resource on this subject Dr. Kaayla Daniel who is an expert in all things related to soy. She explained to me that the soybeans in Asia are not consumed in high quantities but are rather used “as condiments in the diet, not as staple foods.” She added that soy foods like miso, natto, tempeh and tofu have long been consumed in traditional forms in Asia and NOT as a part of the kind of products consumed in modern times such as soy milk, protein shakes, and energy bars which are all “a whole lot more hazardous than the old-fashioned soyfoods because of processing methods.”
On the issue of raw soybeans being the culprit in the health concerns surrounding soy, Dr. Daniel noted that “there are plenty of studies on the phytates, trypsin inhibitor and other problems involving cooked soybeans” and that the claim made about developing countries is “nonsense.” She added: “The problems occur whenever animals, including the human animal, overconsume soy. And hardly anyone anywhere consumes raw soybeans.” On the assertion that Visalus has removed the isoflavones, Dr. Daniel asks, “Are they using solvent extraction? Because that’s the only way the isoflavones come out.” Whether or not soy lowers cholesterol is “mixed at best” because the scientific evidence is all over the board about it. Dr. Daniel says there is no research on soy’s impact on C-reactive protein while it is a known fact that soy raises homocysteine levels.
Learn more about the truth about soy and that health claims made about it in this petition to the FDA requesting a retraction of the soy/heart disease health claim. And don’t miss Dr. Daniel’s brilliant response to two MLM products like Visalus.
3. What is the source of the MCT oil contained in the product?
My response: Well, at least they got this one right!
4. Why does this product contain artificial sweeteners like Splenda instead of natural ones like stevia or a stevia/erythritol blend?
People that are allergic to artificial sweeteners tend to be allergic to aspartame, which has phenylalanine compounds. We don’t use aspartame for this, and other reasons. We use sucralose for taste and also to keep our products diabetic friendly. It is unfortunate that there is so much confusion and misinformation about sweeteners.
Sweeteners have received bad press, primarily because of aspartame, which degrades when heated (it is safe when cold) and tastes bad. Sucralose has been found safe both in hot and cold applications and has had over 110 peer reviewed studies completed. This is why sucralose has been approved by over 80 countries globally. I like to say that many people feel the FDA approved drugs too easily (i.e. Vioxx, Phen Phen), so that if you trust other countries more (several globally are more stringent), then looking abroad is a good benchmark as well. We use a very small 0.03 grams per serving, which is about 1/3 of the amount in a diet soda.
We know that several people would prefer we use stevia or xylitol because they are natural. Xylitol is a natural sugar alcohol. Unfortunately it causes diarrhea in approximately 20% of the population! To get the same amount of sweetness in our Neuro product, we would need about 1 tablespoon, which can be toxic or fatal to a 40 pound dog. It also has not been approved globally.
Stevia is a sweetner derived from a plant. It has only recently been approved in the U.S. and is still in process of being reviewed globally. There have been some concerns on liver toxicity and so there may be more studies needed. The manufacturers of stevia have recently published some safety data and many countries are now reexamining it as a sweetener. It does impart a licorice type flavor that some people do not like. We have been trying to work with stevia companies to create some new formulations, but are struggling to make them taste good.
I’ve been asked a lot about agave recently. Agave is nothing more than high fructose syrup…about 90% fructose. Fructose has many properties but one bad one is that it increases appetite and this is exactly opposite of what we want in a weight management product. We do strive to make our formulas as natural as possible, while balancing taste, texture, safety, efficacy and stability. We are looking at some promising natural sweetners coming on the market (there is one from Japan that is very promising). Our hope is that we will be able to replace sucralose to alleviate those concerns, but for now have not found a suitable substitute that tastes as good, has as much research, and has global approval.
In terms of things being “safer” because they are natural, is not always true. Consider mushrooms. Many are medicinal and healing, but some are just plain toxic. So natural is great, but we really need to ask about safety and dosage too. I would love to see studies done with stevia, or xylitol, or agave that doses them consistently, in the same levels that sucralose had to go through to be approved. I’ve not seen any studies on what the affect would be if we mimicked the same clinical trials.
Stevia has recently been approved in the U.S. for use in foods (Coca-Cola is using it). Some physicians are concerned about it being consumed in massive quantities, since it did not need to go through as rigorous a testing plan as sucralose. So in the scientific world the concern is that the risks of high amounts of consumption of stevia is not known. We are working with it though, and if we can get the shake to taste as good, we will consider moving to using it.
My response: What a convoluted answer! I can appreciate the information but it still doesn’t address the primary concern–why do you have an artificial sweetener in a protein shake product that is supposed to be deemed as healthy to consume? This business about stevia not being put through the same “rigorous” testing as sucralose (Splenda) is simply a red herring and ignores the crux of my question. More and more people are moving away from artificial sweeteners to more natural options because they don’t want chemicals in their body. Trying to undermine the definition of “natural” with the mushrooms example is yet another attempt to deflect attention away from the issue at hand. And she totally ignored saying anything about erythritol and instead chose to blather on about xylitol and how toxic it is for dogs (which I was already abundantly aware of!). Then at the end after lamenting the lack of science supporting stevia she said if they can make it taste good that they’ll “consider moving to using it.” Which is it?! Hoo boy, I’m getting more and more disgusted with this Visalus company by the minute!
5. What is this “Digestive Resistant Maltodextrin” and why is it an essential part of the Visalus product?
It is a patented fiber that is non gassy, derived from corn.
My response: Oh great! Another product with some form of corn in it. Gee, that’s real healthy. I wonder if that corn has been genetically modified in some form or fashion. Venture to guess?
6. Why were high omega-6 fatty acid ingredients like sunflower oil used in the product when the Standard American Diet is loaded with omega-6s already? Where are the much better omega-3 fats that are sorely needed to counterbalance this?
We have 1g of fat. It contains linoleic acid, tocopherols, and other healthy and helpful nutrients. It is high in Vitamin E, and low in saturated fat. Since the average person consumes 40g of fat (or more per day) our program provides a low-fat, low sodium, low glycemic, and low-carb program.
My response: And therein puts the nail in the coffin of these Visalus protein shake mixes. While totally dismissing my question about omega-3 essential fatty acids, she notes this program is low-fat AND low-carb. Can I tell you right now that this is a recipe for disaster if you are trying to lose weight and get healthy? In the absence of carbohydrate in your diet, dietary fat becomes fuel for your body to energize you and keep you satiated for steady energy all day long. Cutting the fat as the Visalus company expects adherents to their “Body By Vi” program to do will stoke hunger and cravings while leaving you lacking in some essential nutrients your body needs. Sure, you might lose some weight but I shudder to think what impact this plan will have on your health over the long-term.
7. If these shakes are supposed to eliminate two meals per day, then what should the one real meal look like?
In our program guide, in our literature, and in our videos we teach people what a healthy meal should be. Plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, lean protein, low “beige” carbs.
My response: Okay, so I’ll have a banana, orange, carrots, potatoes, chicken breast and one slice of whole wheat toast. Yeah right! That’ll never happen in my house because I prefer to keep my blood sugar levels steady thank you very much. This still doesn’t address what is sure to be a constant state of ravenous hunger from the lack of proper fat in the diet if you consume two Visalus protein shakes instead of breakfast and lunch. There’s a humungous void in this diet and it’s healthy dietary fats–embrace saturated fats and omega-3 rich fats and perhaps this plan would suffice. In the end, there’s just too much wrong and not enough right about it.
The unanswered questions that still remain about this Visalus company should make it next to impossible for any low-carber dedicated to the high-fat, moderate protein, low-carb lifestyle change to embrace this concept wholeheartedly. And I can’t in good conscious promote something that I myself cannot believe in. Before I work with any company, I personally vet them out for myself to see if what we believe about nutrition and health is on the same page. I’ve turned down some extremely lucrative sponsorship offers from companies to advertise on my blog/podcast simply because I would not expose my fans who trust me to something I’d never use or consume in a million years. It’s a promise I’ll always strive to keep to you for as long as I’m entrusted to sharing information publicly on my sites.
If you’re already involved in promoting or participating in Visalus or their accompanying “Body By Vi” 90-Day Challenge and are happy with it, then I’m happy you’ve found something that works for you. But I couldn’t ignore writing about what I discovered about this company and sharing it with my beloved readers today. It is my hope and desire to arm people with information so they can make an informed decision about what is best to do for their own health. Hopefully that’s the service I’ve provided for you guys today. THANKS for reading and feel free to share your comments about this below.
By the way, if the MLM aspect of Visalus still sounds good to you, then you might want to check out this third party review from Darrin Little who did a closer examination of the tactics used to entice people to join the company and the ramifications that could have on you personally.