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Founder of F-Factor diet responds to claims that products caused severe side effects

Tanya Zuckerbrot addressed on the 3rd hour of TODAY allegations by women that certain F-Factor products have caused serious health problems.
/ Source: TODAY

The creator of the popular F-Factor diet responded to people who alleged they experienced serious health issues from the program by sharing more information about the products she says are "100% safe for consumption."

Tanya Zuckerbrot, 48, a registered dietitian who popularized the high-fiber diet in a 2006 book, said in an exclusive TV interview on the 3rd hour of TODAY that the company decided to share a certificate of analysis, or COA, on Thursday from its line of fiber and protein powders and bars, which critics have requested to be released.

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A COA is a document ensuring that testing results confirm a product meets a certain specification. It lists the test results for metals and microbiological content like E. coli bacteria or salmonella that may be found in a product.

"The certificate of analysis, it's not an industry practice to share it because there is competing proprietary information, but because of the recent health concerns of the products, we are releasing this certificate of analysis because it will show that our products are 100% safe for consumption," Zuckerbrot told Sheinelle Jones.

Supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and companies are not required to list their ingredients.

NBC News has independently reviewed the COA from F-Factor's chocolate fiber protein with two nutrition consultants, who reported that trace metals like arsenic and lead that were found in the product are at safe levels. Zuckerbrot was asked why the products don't indicate on its packaging that they contain trace amounts of metals.

"That is not standard to list trace metals because they're not ingredients, they are compounds of the two main ingredients, which are organic whey protein and the fiber," Zuckerbrot said. "Because our product is all natural is why it contains these trace metals. Anything grown in the soil, even organically ... can contain trace amounts of metals. It does not mean that they are not safe for consumption. In fact, we have the highest standards of testing to ensure our products are 100% safe for consumption. I do regret that we did not share this information sooner."

The high-fiber program has come under fire after social media fashion influencer Emily Gellis Lande, 34, claimed she received thousands of anonymous messages from people alleging the diet made them sick. She shared many of those claims with her 174,000 Instagram followers.

Lande has never tried the diet or its products but feels she is giving people a voice who claim the diet has caused them serious health problems.

"People have shared with me that after doing the F-Factor diet, and more specifically about after ingesting their 20/20 protein powder and their F-Factor protein bars, a range of symptoms including, but not limited to, hives rashes, bleeding, extreme gastric distress, trips to the hospital, getting colonoscopies, having tests run, (and) hair loss," Lande told TODAY in an interview that aired Thursday.

None of the adverse reactions reported by some of the anonymous women have been corroborated, verified or linked to F-Factor products.

"It is a well-known, documented fact that whey protein, which is the first ingredient, is an allergen for some," Zuckerbrot said. "If you are allergic to whey, the symptoms will include rashes and hives and maybe bloating. In addition, it is also well documented by many health professionals that ingesting fiber, especially in large amounts and quickly, can also result in gastric distress.

"In the F-Factor book, we encourage people to introduce fiber slowly, and there is also a warning on our package that says if you are going to use the products for weight management, please read the F-Factor book."

The F-Factor creator also commented on the company's social media team deleting negative comments about the diet.

"We follow the guidelines set forth by Instagram and Facebook, and we have deleted comments that were slanderous in nature, but we take all health complaints seriously," she said.

Lande says consumers have particularly reached out to her about F-Factor's fiber protein powders, demanding to see the company's COA or product information.

"At this point three weeks have passed," Lande said ahead of the company releasing the COA. "They haven't released (the COA), (and) they continue to make claims that there's proprietary information. It's not meant to be a secret document, and the idea that withholding product information from consumers is something that they're going to stand behind scares me."

Sami Miller, 24, a former follower of the F-Factor diet, told TODAY she lost weight by eating the crackers, fruits and vegetables espoused by the program but said she had to seek treatment for an eating disorder.

"I had originally started the diet to have something sustainable," Miller said on TODAY. "When I went into my eating disorder program, they also said they couldn't believe what I was consuming in a day."

Kristin Kirkpatrick, a registered dietitian with the Cleveland Clinic, told TODAY a high-fiber diet is beneficial when consumed in moderation.

"When you take too much fiber in and you’re taking it a lot and your body's not used to it, you can have several different side effects," Kirkpatrick said. "You can have gastric distress, you can get bloating, you can get gas. All of that is actually quite normal."