Food For Thought On The Future Of Food, or Can You Stomach Huel
As someone who loves cooking and used to shy away from GNC cans of whey protein as a symbol of unhealthy compromise in an attempt to have more protein in one’s diet (aka burning fat and getting lean), the idea of replacing ‘real food’ with a protein shake to me was nothing but outrageous. I would also look down at powdered fiber that you can add to the food as ‘clearly’ it wouldn’t be as good for you as all the natural goodness that comes from fruit and veg and meat, chicken and fish.
At the same time all the ‘six pack is made in the kitchen and not in the gym’ statements and examples of personal trainers and their clients getting leaner with kitchen scale and dedicated food prep make a strong case for food being fuel for our body. If so, can one make ‘food of the future’ in a lab? AND, would this future food address the wider issues of food production such as the environmental impact of industrial agriculture, packaging and transportation and food waste?
Since a software engineer Rob Rhinehart invented Soylent, an open source meal replacement that ‘meets nutrition requirements for adults’ in 2013, its competitors started popping up across America and Europe with dozens of brands profiting from the industry that is likely to be $65 billion per year, according to Forbes. Turns out that one of Soylent’s closest competitors — Huel — has been working on its product since 2012 (and sold over 3 million meals since its launch in 2015). As I am putting Huel to test, in this article I will cover all the aspects that I find important and curious, and that answer questions and concerns I had prior to trying ‘the future of food’.
WHAT IS HUEL, REALLY?
Huel is a ‘nutritionally complete powdered food’ formulated by a sports nutritionist James Collier BSc (Hons), RNutr. It comes in a form of a nutritional powder and is designed to provide all of the body’s daily needs in terms of vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Made of oats, pea protein, flaxseed, MCTs from coconut, sunflower lecithin, sea salt, a bespoke blend of 26 vitamins and minerals, vanilla flavour and a sweetener, Huel has the macros balance of 37:30:30:3 with 37% of energy coming from carbohydrates, 30% from fats, 30% from proteins and 3% from fibre.
It’s 100% vegan, high in protein (148g per 2000 calories) and fibre (35g), and contains 4.6 grams of sugar per 2000 calories (no added sugar). One scoop of Huel (38g) is 156 calories and one would need to have 12 scoops to hit the daily intake of 2000 calories. That means 2–3 scoops 4–6 times a day if you go 100% Huel.
TASTE THE DIFFERENCE
When you order Huel, it comes with recommendations to add 1 part of Huel to 5 parts of water, shake it well and drink it. You are welcome to experiment by adding more or less water, blending in flavors for taste variety or using ice/cold water for a different taste.
While many reviews (not only those of Huel but also Soylent and other powdered drinks) criticize its taste, I find it delicious due to two main reasons: it’s not sweet (not only in comparison to other powdered food and protein shakes like DNC but on its own as well) and it has a natural oaty taste. It doesn’t leave any unpleasant aftertaste like many protein bars do and doesn’t give you a heartburn or anything like that. Oh, my Huel is Vanilla flavored, in case you wonder.
WHAT IT DOES TO YOUR BODY
With the precise macro split of Huel, it’s easy to manage the food intake, whether your goal is to loose, maintain or gain weight. Having replaced my breakfasts and some lunches with Huel, I noticed that it kept me satisfied for a few hours, improved my digestion and overall left me feeling lighter and not bloated. Flatter stomach and lower weight followed within days.
In fact, Huel carried out one month trials when they put 2 people on 100% Huel nutrition for a month and performed blood screening before and after the experiment to monitor the progress. To me, it was interesting to see the precise data and the details of the experiment: not only because it demonstrates the improvements using hard data but also because the company is transparent about its product and its effects. I am curious to see more of such experiments (eliminating factors such as possible infection that affected the results in the above mentioned trial) that can show even further evidence of how Huel nutrition works and what impact it makes on one’s body.
WHAT IT DOES TO THE WORLD
This is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when we talk about food but our diet choices do indeed have a much wider impact on the environment. Think about the production, packaging and transportation processes involved and see how the food we eat damages the planet we live on. Thus, I personally feel better when what I do produces less waste. Drinking Soylent from plastic bottles? Convenient but tossing a bottle every time you drink it something I feel very uncomfortable with. On the contrary, here’s the amount of waste one person would produce if they were only to eat Huel:
Needless to say, the powdered food is available for you as you need it eliminating food waste that is another huge problem that we are as a society still to address. It is reported that 40% of the food produced is discarded in the US…
ONE OF MY BIGGEST QUESTIONS
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, one of my biggest concerns when it comes to formulated food is whether it retains the nutritious qualities of the ingredients it’s made of. Is the protein or fiber added to it the same as the protein or fiber I would get from a steak with broccoli? By no means an expert on the subject, I addressed the question to the company itself.
“That is a really great question! It’s important to note that the ingredients in Huel are significantly less processed than many of the products in the supermarket. For example our oats are simply taken from the field, cold-milled and that is it. Looking at something as staple as bread, you can see how much more processing and potential for artificial ingredients to be added. Although we do add artificial vitamins and minerals (VM), the majority of the VM are naturally occurring in the whole food ingredients — oats, pea protein, rice protein, flaxseed, sunflower lecithin and MCTs from coconut.
However, we firmly believe that a diet of whole foods that is balanced and complete is the best, but Huel certainly comes a close second. The point is that most people are not eating a whole food, healthy, balanced diet. If they were then 64% of the UK population would not be overweight or obese. We have got to this state by eating unhealthy junk food, but Huel offers a solution to unhealthy convenience food so that when we are strapped for time you have a good alternative to junk and hopefully save some money in the process too”.
Judging by how satisfied I felt after my Huel meals and an improved digestion, I am keen to accept that formulated food can offer a like-for-like alternative to ‘normal meals’ and the trials carried out by the company definitely make this thought more acceptable.
Also, as with any food, please read the label before eating it and report anything unusual to the company whose product you are using. Recent issue with Soylent demonstrated that food formulation experiments do not always go as planned and there are certain risks associated with it.
BEWARE OF ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS
If Huel sounds too good to be true, there is a trade-off to consider. The powdered food contains sucralose — an artificial sweetener that is 600 sweeter than sugar — and a natural sweetener Stevia. Huel has a very transparent and straightforward position on this that is outlined in the FAQ here.
There have been multiple reports on sweeteners provoking blood sugar spikes however unfortunately it doesn’t seem that scientists have enough data to make a specific evidence-backed claim on whether it’s true or not. Until then, it has to be everyone’s personal preference and choice whether to use products containing artificial sweeteners or not.
FOOD FOR INTROVERTS
One of Huel reviews calls it ‘the food optimized for nutrition’ and I would add that it’s optimized for convenience. It’s easy to make (mix it with water in a shaker and your ‘meal’ is ready in less then 30 seconds), easy to store, you don’t need to do weekly food shopping and washing the dishes, it’s affordable and you can save money too!
It can however be pretty lonely! Huel will not replace you the flavors of freshly made lasagna or the happy moments of having a meal with friends or family. You will most likely want to give up your ‘spaceman’ food when you pass by a pizza hotspots on a Friday night (Tonny’s Pizza that’s you I’m talking about!) and you might need to prepare a variety of holding statements about Huel as your family will try to feed you thousands of calories in seconds over a holiday meal (protecting our food preferences and choices at a family dinner is now as easy as coming up with new responses to ‘Why are you still single?’ at friends and family gatherings). If you do stick to your Huel routine the benefits are there for you to enjoy.
GOING ALL IN?
Huel recently advertised a job that was paying 35,000 British Pounds a year to replace your food with Huel only for a year, received hundreds of responses and filled the position. I personally chose to have 1–2 Huel meals a day blending it into my day-to-day routine but not giving up ‘normal’ food completely. Right now it’s resting in a cupboard in San Francisco while I am on a trip in Russia which is annoying however I thought that I’d rather reunite with Huel when I’m back than explain to Russian Customs that that powder in a plastic back is a nutritional meal.
If you made it to the end of the article, I appreciate you taking the time to read it! Is there anything I missed that you wanted to know? Tweet at me or leave a comment here. Have you tried Huel? Love it? Hate it? I want to know!
Disclaimer: this article is not advertising and I am not paid to do this review. The article reflects my personal views and experiences and does not endorse Huel or any other brands mentioned here. First published on Start Up Your Happiness