Huel: Is this really the future of food?

BTBS asks, is Huel the future of food?Picture this: You've just sat down at a table in your favourite restaurant. You're out with family to celebrate a promotion at work. The waiter greets you and passes you a menu. The only choice you can make on the menu is whether you have your powdered meal presented in a stainless steel bottle or a plastic shaker. 

Could this really be the future of food? On first glance it certainly doesn't fit into our present day food-centred culture, but with issues such as the increasing strains on the food industry and a prevalent office culture that sees people skipping meals or eating convenience food at their desks, it may well be that products, such as Huel, may well be a viable solution...


What is Huel?

No, I'm not talking about Saul's body guard in Breaking Bad! Huel, is a powdered meal replacement that claims to be nutritionally complete. Founded by Julian Hearn and formulated by qualified nutritionist, James Collier, Huel provides your daily requirements of carbs, fat and protein from natural food sources, meaning it goes far beyond being a protein shake or a diet drink. Huel has been designed so that it could replace all of your daily meals or simply replace the meal that would have been a junk food at your desk. 

What's Huel made from? 

The main ingredients are oats, peas, brown rice, sunflower seeds, flax seeds and coconut.  Sounds like a pretty standard health-fix smoothie doesn't it? Of course, with these ingredients Huel is vegan and vegetarian friendly. 
Huel nutrition label

Would I be missing out on calories and nutrients with this? 

A week's worth of Huel (it's sold in bags designed to be a complete week's worth if you are replacing all meals with it) contains 14,000 calories, or 2,000 a day. Not everyone will need this amount for a week, of course. This is entirely dependent on your own body and activity levels. 

Each 38g scoop (which ships with the purchase of one week's worth) contains 153 calories. 

You would simply need to calculate your calorific needs based on your daily activity, weight, height and additional exercise and then work out how many scoops at 153 calories you need to consume a day or perhaps for just one meal, along with other food that day, to reach your particular goal. 

You can of course tailor your goals for whether you're trying to lose, increase or simply maintain your weight. There's also a handy calculator over at Calculator.net to help you with this, alongside charts on the Huel website to assist with working out how many scoops you need in order to reach your goal.

In terms of macro nutrients, the ratio is 30:30:40 (fat, protein and carbs). Which is pretty consistent with the frequently recommended ratio, dating right back to the original 'Zone Diet' and still touted as the optimal ratio by various strength training books.

There's also no shortage of vitamins, as you can see from the label, if anything I may be a little concerned at the risk of taking in too much of certain vitamins, particularly fat soluble vitamins A, D, E & K, as any excess of these vitamins is not passed out of our bodies.

What does it look and taste like?

In terms of looks, taste and texture (because you're all sitting there wondering about this, aren't you?). It looks like a regular vanilla protein shake. Just a beige powder, mixed with 5 parts water in a blender (though a shaker cup can be used, I just prefer it really smooth!). It tastes quite oaty, with a hint of vanilla, kinda like an oat cookie made with vanilla essence. If it was lumpy, you would be forgiven of mistaking it for porridge, which is why I prefer mine smooth (personally, I'm not a fan of the texture of porridge!).
    
Is it safe?

For the general population, yes, it does appear perfectly fine to use, especially if you're just using to replace one meal a day. My only two concerns are consequences of taking in too many vitamins (again, the risk is completely eliminated if you're not using it for every meal or using alongside a multivitamin and/or energy drinks) and the consequence of replacing all solid foods for liquid. Though Huel does contain both soluble and insoluble fibre, which somewhat alleviates my concerns of 'lazy gut' syndrome, I'm still uneasy about the idea of not physically chewing food on a long term basis.

You may notice the advisory notice on the label for pregnant (*waves*) or nursing women and children. I asked my midwife for her opinion, who advised me that as a pregnant woman, I should avoid swapping all of my meals for this (as Vitamin A is something pregnant women need to avoid consuming high quantities of) and use it for the times where I feel so ill I can't manage a meal - which happened quite often in the early months of pregnancy with Hyperemesis

If anything, I think this is a brilliant example of where Huel could be incredibly useful! It's a quick way of getting everything you need in when you're too bedridden, dehydrated and malnourished to make a meal and would certainly prevent the rapid weight loss that accompanies Hyperemesis. It would have also made a good alternative to hospital food too, as that contains pretty much no fibre, often making constipation and diarrhoea an issue for those who are hospitalised for longer than a couple of days.

What does it cost?

A week's worth of Huel, if you're replacing all meals with it, that is, costs £45. That's £6.43 a day, or £2.16 per meal. It is therefore very affordable for those living on their own, but perhaps not so much for those with bigger families who are able to save money on the shopping by buying, cooking and freezing meals in bulk - as it means having to buy Huel alongside the rest of the family's food. 

The upside is, with a 1 year shelf life, and the option to use it just to replace certain meals, there's no wastage, so it would be better for purse and environment! 

Honestly, would you want to live off it forever?


Fringe Egg Sticks
Image source: Evil Geeks
Anyone else reminded
of the 'Egg Sticks' in the
final season of Fringe?
Nope, without a doubt, no. The taste is ok and it's perfectly fine for replacing junk food with, but I just couldn't do it. I wouldn't even want to replace all of my meals with it. I feel this way because we live in a culture of food; it's a social construct that you have family meals, celebratory meals, meals out to catch up with friends. A caveat to this though, without a somewhat restrained approach to social meals, this is undoubtedly one of many causes behind the obesity epidemic. 

Personally, as a pretty disciplined person these days, I'd rather be somewhat conservative with my food choices, rather than feel like I'm depriving myself entirely of the food experience.  I love different textures, different flavours, wide arrays of colours - you name it! It's what makes a varied healthy diet so enjoyable and is why I love cooking. I'm a foodie at heart! 

At the same time however, not everyone is, and not everyone eats a variety of healthful foods. If a person is living off a diet of yellow and brown junk full of empty carbs, salt, sugar and artificial rubbish, then from a nutritional perspective, they would be far better off trading it in for a powdered meal replacement like Huel. 
  
If you want to know more about Huel, you can check out the Huel website along with this video by Anthony Cuthbertson of the International Business Times, which I highly recommend for gaining a balanced perspective of the product and similar products on the market. 

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