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Weight Loss Supplements That Really Work

Posted on August 31st, 2012 by Matt Schoeneberger

We’ve reviewed many popular weight loss supplements and, unfortunately, most of them are complete bullshit. So in order to help you out we put together this (short) list of supplements that really help with weight loss. Most of this is an excerpt from our book, SPEED, where we originally made the recommendations. So you’re aware, we do not get paid to endorse any supplements. NONE. 

If you can, imagine a world in which fat loss supplements actually worked the way their promoters would like you to believe. Everyone would be at their ideal weight with no trouble at all. Dieting would be easy and exercise would be almost unnecessary. And we’d all live happily ever after.

Well, that’s not reality now is it? In fact, if we look at how many millions of dollars worth of supplements are sold each year and at the general state of our waistlines it’s easy to see that most fat loss supplements suck. Many of them simply overpromise and underdeliver. Lucky for you, you found this helpful guide to which ones really work.


How Supplements Work

There are some good supplements out there which can directly or indirectly help promote fat loss. If you understand how they work, you’ll understand why they work. The three mechanisms that supplements are supposed to modify are;


  1. Appetite – decreasing your feelings of hunger so that you will eat less
  2. Thermogenesis – passive calorie burning due to an increase in heat production which, by burning more calories, will lead to weight loss
  3. Caloric absorption – decreasing the amount of calories that are absorbed by the digestive tract, therefore actually absorbing less calories from the same amount of food

There are three important questions that have to be answered about a supplement before a positive or negative conclusion about its use for weight loss can be reached.

  1. Does the supplement actually cause one or more of the effects mentioned above in a real-life setting?
  2. Does the effect of the supplement actually have a noticeable impact on weight change?This is when a cost-benefit view should be taken. For example, if you take supplement X for 1 month and it cost $30 and you lose 1 more pound than if you had not taken the supplement, the result is $30 per pound. We would conclude that this supplement’s cost probably out-weighs its benefit. However, if you take supplement Y for 1 month and it costs $40 and you lose an additional 5 lbs or more in a month, ($8 pound) the benefit probably outweighs the cost.
  3. Does the use of the supplement, short term or long-term, pose any real threat to health?


Supplements That Don’t Suck

The following are the supplements that may directly or in-directly help with fat loss. A brief summation of our reasons for the recommendation is listed with each supplement. Our recommendations are based on the six criteria mentioned previously.

Greens (whole foods) powders:

These products are basically made up of a variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs that have been dried and made into a powder. These products will not cause you to lose more weight, but they can increase the amounts of nutrients you get in your diet with minimal calories. This can help you achieve the optimal nutrition component of a CRON diet (calorie restriction with optimal nutrition). Also, for overall well-being, it’s a good idea to get more servings of vegetables, herbs and spices.73,74

Multiple vitamin and mineral:

There is no research that shows that taking a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement will help with weight loss. These are basically nutritional insurance. They are similar to the whole foods products, but differ in that they have more specific amounts of vitamins and minerals and lack other important food-based substances (phytochemicals).   These products have no calories and can also help achieve the optimal nutrition component of a CRON diet.

Omega 3/fish oil:

Omega 3 is one of two essential fats. There is some evidence that supplementing with fish oil or eating fatty seafood (mackerel, salmon, sardines, some types of tuna, herring) can help with weight loss.75,76 Also, getting the proper amount of this type of fat has many potential health benefits.77,78 Therefore, eating at least a few servings of fatty seafood a week or taking about 1 gram amount of omega 3 (EPA/DHA) from a fish oil supplement daily, about 2 to 4 capsules, is a wise choice.77,76

Fiber/ fiber supplements:

Dietary fiber is the term used for a number of different carbohydrates that do not get digested. This means that they do not release glucose into the body or contribute any calories. Due to how fibers function in the body, they have the potential to help with weight regulation. Fiber’s ability to help with weight regulation is mostly due to its ability to help you feel full sooner and decrease your overall food intake.79,80 The studies that have directly tested if fiber would help with weight loss have been inconsistent in their results. However, the cumulative data suggests that higher fiber intakes, 25-30g/day from food or supplements can be beneficial for weight loss. Supplemental fibers such as psyllium, oat and wheat bran are some good choices. The one type of fiber supplement that does not work well is guar gum.71 A word of caution; if you are eating a low fiber diet now, slowly increase your intake to reduce the risk of intestinal problems. Fiber supplements can often be added to protein smoothies or mixed in with food, such as tuna or egg salad. When eating a low carbohydrate diet, the best sources of fiber are non-starchy vegetables as well as nuts and seeds. Legumes are also a good source of fiber, but they are relatively high in carbohydrates.

Ephedrine (E), Ephedrine/Caffeine (EC):

Ephedrine is a specific compound derived from the plant Ephedra Sinica (Ephedra) also commonly referred to as Ma Huang. This compound, and products that contain it, are central nervous system stimulants. When combined with caffeine (Kola nut or guarana are “natural” sources of caffeine), due to the synergistic effects of each item, the results are excellent for promoting fat loss.72,81,82,83,84,85 We consider the EC mix to be the best weight loss supplement, but there are a number of issues surrounding the use of EC.

First, since 2004, the sale of ephedra-containing supplements is illegal. As of now, buying an ephedra-based weight-loss supplement is not an option. However, it seems that it is legal to buy ephedra/ephedrine by itself.  We feel that the removal of ephedra-based weight loss products by the FDA is hypocritical and illogical. Apparently this removal is due to some adverse events and a few deaths.81,86 There is no doubt that there have been some side effects, such as nausea, insomnia, tremor, dizziness, palpitation, increased heart rate and blood pressure.83,86 However, EC has been shown to be generally safe and effective in clinical trials when used in the proper amounts.82,83,85 To sum up this point, a 2002 paper that reviewed the safety and effectiveness of EC concluded:

Caffeine and ephedrine have a long history of safe, non-prescription use. The adverse events accompanying acute dose are mild and transient. Adverse events with caffeine and ephedrine reach and remain at placebo levels after 4-12 weeks of continuous treatment, but data from randomized trials up to 6 months only are available…The benefits of caffeine and ephedrine in treating obesity appear to outweigh the small associated risks (emphasis added, p.199).81

If you decide to use EC, check to make sure that you are not taking any medications that would negatively interact with it, have no medical conditions that would prohibit its use, use a dosage that is in the tested ranges, and listen to your body to see whether or not you are reacting well to it. The ephedrine intakes used in the clinical trials range from 20-90mg/day and is combined with 100-600mg caffeine/day, often divided into 2 or 3 doses/day.

Second, there is a potential alternative to ephedra which is called citrus aurantium/synephrine/bitter orange. This product is very similar to ephedra and it has been shown to produce similar effects but with less potential for negative side effects.87 Although, more studies are needed to confirm the effectiveness and safety of the product, the current evidence supports citrus aurantium as a reasonable substitute for ephedra.


Good old coffee or caffeine can aid in weight loss. This is due to the thermogenic and appetite suppressant effects of caffeine.86,88,89 Additionally, both coffee and caffeine can have many physical, mental and exercise performance benefits.90,91,92,93,94 One reason coffee has potential benefits is because it has a high level of antioxidants.95,96 An intake of 100-200mg/day, which is equivalent to about 2 to 3 cups of coffee, 5 cups of black tea and about 10 cups of green tea, is typically the amount that produces the desired effects.88 The exact amount that will elicit positive effects for a specific person can vary and each person needs to recognize if they are experiencing any negative side effects, such as jitteriness, feeling anxious, and

trouble falling asleep. Additionally, pregnancy and some medical conditions will warrant the intake of less coffee/caffeine, possibly none.93

Hot spices:

These include spices such as cayenne pepper, ginger, and black pepper. Spicy foods have the ability to decrease food intake and increase energy expenditure.86,97 It seems that adding hot spices, which have no calories, to your foods could be good for your weight and health.

Whey & casein protein powders:

Both of these products are milk derivatives and are high quality protein sources. These products can make meeting your protein intake requirements easier, but will not cause increased weight loss compared to whole food protein sources. Additionally, the cost of these products is comparable to whole food proteins. For comparison, the following chart gives the cost per gram of protein for some protein powders and high protein foods.


Product Total cost of the product* Cost per gram of protein*
Whey Advanced $40 for 2.2 lb container 4 cents
Whey Cool $45 for 2 lb container 7 cents
Chicken breast** 3.99 lb 3 cents
Ground beef(80% lean)** 1.99 lb 2 cents
Salmon** 5.99 lb 5 cents
Organic Cottage Cheese** 2.99 per container 6 cents
* Approximate costs  **From Trader Joe’s

The protein powders can be used as a quick and healthy option for protein at a meal (i.e., instead of eggs for breakfast or salmon for dinner). They should not be used as additional protein above what you should be getting or as the sole protein source in your diet. Due to their convenience, these products, often made into a smoothie, can increase compliance to a diet.98,99


Higher intakes of calcium, particularly from food, can help with weight loss and weight stability.100,101 The amount of calcium intake, from foods and/or supplements, should be in the range of 800-1,500 mg/day.72,100,101 Foods high in calcium include cottage cheese, cheese, yogurt, spinach, leeks, sesame seeds and chia seeds. If you take supplemental calcium, due to the interaction of minerals, it is best to supplement with a mineral complex (magnesium, zinc, copper, etc) so that an imbalance is not created.102,103

Food/protein bars:

There are hundreds of these types of bars which are made with an assortment of ingredients. Therefore, knowing whether or not a particular bar is good for weight loss and good for you has to be decided on a case by case basis. With that in mind, we think some bars could be a useful choice for a quick meal or snack if the bar is made with a high quality protein (whey, casein), is low in sugar, has some added fiber and some vitamins and minerals. Due to the convenience, portion control, and ingredients (protein and fibers) that can help with weight loss, some bars that are available could be helpful for weight loss.


If a supplement is not listed, it probably sucks. There are thousands of supplements in the marketplace and trying to keep track of them would be a full time job, so it is certainly possible we may have missed a supplement or two.  If you’re surprised you don’t see a supplement on our list and think we should add it, let us know. If we find a supplement that doesn’t suck we will add it to our list and post it on our website.

Wrapping It Up

Supplements can play a part in a successful fat loss plan. However, supplements will not take the place of the really important things: eating the right foods, getting some exercise, sleeping 8 hours/night, setting S.M.A.R.T. goals and building self-efficacy. One more thing to consider is that supplements do not directly change your habits or thinking processes. Also remember that more is often not better, particularly when it comes to the supplements that have a stimulatory affect on the body and a bit of caution and common sense will go a long way in making the use of supplements effective and safe.


In Health,

Jeff Thiboutot and Matt Schoeneberger


Where To Go From Here

If you likes this guide, you might want to learn more about us and our site:

New to Start Here!




71 – Pittler, M. & Ernst, E. Dietary supplements for body-weight reduction: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr 2004; 79: 529-536.

72 – Kreider, R. et al. ISSN exercise & sport nutrition review: research & recommendations. Sports Nutr Rev J 2004; 1(1): 1-44.

73 – Lampe, J. Health effects of vegetables and fruit: assessing mechanism of action in human experimental studies. Am J Clin Nutr 1999; 70(suppl): 475S-490S.

74 – Lampe, J. Spicing up a vegetarian diet: chemoprotective effects of phytochemcals. Am J Clin Nutr 2003; 78(suppl): 579S-583S.

75 – Mori, T. et al. Dietary fish as a major component of a weight-loss diet: effect on serum lipids, glucose, and insulin metabolism in overweight hypertensive subjects. Am J Clin Nutr 1999; 70: 817-825.

76 – Thorsdottir, I. et al. Randomized trial of weight-loss-diets for young adults varying in fish and fish oil content. Inter J Obesity 2007; 31: 1560-1566.

77 – Harris, W. Fish oil supplementation: evidence for health benefits. Clev Clinic J Med 2004; 71(3): 208-221.

78 – Simopoulos, A. Omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune diseases. J Amer Coll Nutr 2002; 21(6): 495-505.

79 – Slavin, J. et al. Weight regulation. Food Technology 2008; Feb: 35-41.

80 – Burton-Freeman, B. Dietary fiber and energy regulation. J Nutr 2000; 130: 272S-275S.

81 – Greenway, FL. The safety and efficacy of pharmaceutical and herbal caffeine and ephedrine use as a weight loss agent. Obes Rev 2002; 2(3): 199-211.

82 – Greenway, F. et al. Effect of a dietary herbal supplement containing caffeine and ephedra on weight, metabolic rate, and body composition. Obesity Res 2004; 12(7): 1152-1157.

83 – Boozer, CN. et al. Herbal ephedra/caffeine for weight loss: a 6 month randomized safety and efficacy trial. Inter J Obesity 2002; 26: 593-604.

84 – Hackman, RM. et al. Multinutrient supplement containing ephedra and caffeine causes weight loss and improves metabolic risk factors in obese women: a randomized controlled trial. Inter J Obesity 2006; 30(10): 1545-1556.

85 – Molnar, D. et al. Safety and efficacy of treatment with an ephedrine/caffeine mixture. The first double-blind placebo controlled pilot study in adolescents. Inter J Obesity 2000; 24: 1573-1578.

86 – Diepvens, K. et al. Obesity and thermogensis related to the consumption of caffeine, ephedrine, capsaicin, and green tea. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 2007; 292: R77-R85.

87 – Preuss, H. et al. Citrus aurantium as a thermogenic, weight-reduction replacement for ephedra: an overview. J Med 2000; 33: 247-264.

88 – Astrup, A. et al. Caffeine: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of its thermogenic, metabolic, and cardiovascular effects in healthy volunteers. Am J Clin Nutr 1990; 51: 759-767.

89 – Westerterp-Plantenga, M. et al. Metabolic effects of spices, teas, and caffeine. Physiol Behav 2006; 89(1): 85-91.

90 – Antonio, J. Caffeine: the forgotten ergogenic aid. Strength & Conditioning J 2004; 26(6): 50-51.

91 – Baker, J. et al. Consumption of coffee, but not black tea, is associated with decreased risk of premenopausal breast cancer. J Nutr 2006; 136: 166-171.

92 – Van Dam, R. Coffee consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer risk. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 2008; 33: 1269-1283.

93 – Higdon, J. & Frei, B. Coffee and health: A review of recent human research. Critical Rev Food Sci Nutr 2006; 46: 101-123.

94 – Smith, A. Effects of caffeine on human behavior. Food Chem Toxicol 2002; 40(9): 1243-1255.

95 – Pellegrinin, N. et al. Total antioxidant capacity of plant foods, beverages and oils consumed in Italy assessed by three different in vitro assays. J Nutr 2003; 133: 2812-2819.

96 – Richelle, M. et al. Comparison of the antioxidant activity of commonly consumed polyphenolic beverages (coffee, cocoa, and tea) prepared per cup serving. J Agric food Chem 2001; 49: 3438-3442.

97 – Ahuja, K. et al. Effects of chili consumption on postprandial glucose, insulin, and energy metabolism. Am J Clin Nutr 2006; 84: 63-69.

98 – Noakes, M et al. Meal replacements are effective as structured weight-loss diets for treating obesity in adults with features of metaolic syndrome. J Nutr 2004; 134: 1894-1899.

99 – Li, Z. et al. Meal replacement: a valuable tool for weight management. Obesity Management 2007; 2: 23-28.

100 – Heaney, R. et al. Calcium and weight: clinical studies. J Amer Coll Nutr 2002; 21(2): 152S-155S.

101 – Zemel, M. The role of dairy foods in weight management. J Amer Coll Nutr 2005; 24(6): 537S-546S.

102 – Bland, J et al. Clinical nutrition: a functional approach. Institute of Functional Medicine. Gig Harbor, WA; 1999.

103 – Whitney, E. & Rolfes, S. Understanding nutrition. Wadsworth. Belmont; 2002.

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7 Responses to “Weight Loss Supplements That Really Work”

  1. Angst says:

    Saw your youtube review of Fluidity….
    Great that someone tells it like it is about the bullshit out there.
    Amazing that a chiropractor defended this fluidity crap. People don’t realize how rampant, ubiquitous The Ripoff is.

    • Matt Schoeneberger says:

      Thanks. It’s refreshing to get someone who actually comprehends what the fluidity video was all about :) YouTube comments started to make me doubt the intelligence of the populous, or at least comprehension skills.

  2. Carol says:

    Thanks for the review on Fluidity. I was really considering buying it but I thought it did sound a little too good to be true. There is so much crap out there it’s hard knowing sometimes what will really work.
    I hate going to the gym. I would much rather be outside walking or jogging but living in CT certainly doesn’t always allow for that :( . It would be nice to have one decent machine that really did work well… I’m sick of my treadmill.

    Thanks for saving me some $$ and aggravation!

    • Matt Schoeneberger says:

      Glad I could help! I know what you mean about being outside – I prefer it as well. Why not try some at-home workout DVDs for when the weather is bad in CT? There are more and more available to fit different fitness levels and styles of activity, from intense resistance training like P90X to dance videos like Zumba. Inexpensive, fun (depending, haha), and very effective!

  3. Jack Thomas says:

    Good advice! I’ve had good results by 1. Cutting out coffee, sugar, white bread, 2. Engaging in low level exercise – in my case walking/hiking 1 hour per day, 3. Using a supplement by these guys – don’t know if it is in my head or real, but I feel like I have more energy and I eat less 4WIW, 4. Focusing on eating ‘real food’, nothing from a package, 5. Drinking lots of water every day. Granted, it is a simple plan, but I’ve lost 24 pounds over the last 6 weeks.

  4. Janet Rice says:

    Good advice. But supplements that assist with the neurotransmitters are what have helped me the most. I read about these in Julia Ross’s and Eric Braverman’s books. They are amazing. (aminos — tyrosine, glutamine, GABA, theanine, tryptophan, plus zinc plus B6 and biotin.) I have lots of energy and decreased appetite.

  5. Janet Rice says:

    Good advice — but what about the amino acids that support neurotransmitters and help curb appetite? Hunger is a srong primal urge. It is almost impossible to overcome it with just willpower. Why do some people have greater urges? See Julia Ross and Eric Braverman on this.

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