Huel: Human Fuel

Imagine you live in a world in which your species population has exploded. A world in which your species exploits fellow members of that species, strips the planet of its natural resources, and takes no responsibility or decent control of industry by-products in order to fuel this population. 

This is the world you live in. Humankind is currently expanding at a rate of ~353,000 members per day, producing a current population of approximately 7.3 billion people. Our food industry is not sustainable, no matter which way you look at it. Factory farming produces more methane than every vehicle in the world combined. Huel's introduction video poses their product as a solution to this problem:

"I see a food product that can help solve one of the worlds greatest challenges- how do we feed ourselves healthily without destroying our environment?"

Huel is a 'complete' powdered food - it contains all (currently known) human requirements, providing at least 100% of the vitamins and nutrition necessary for humans. I really liked that Huel has no added sugar, is vegan, is gluten free, and is produced from sustainable ingredients. Its pea proteins, brown rice protein, Flaxseed, MCT (from Coconut), Sunflower Lecithin, and a vitamin mix.

Human Fuel container and flask
Image from the Huel site

When their PR first contacted me, honestly my reaction was, "WTF?". However, the science of it all soon caught me. It also echoes some of the reasons that I became vegetarian, and the company blurbs reflect many of the things I think about when I think about food and the environment. So I said yes to Huel. Below, I'll chat about my experience, then discuss Huel in general.

My Experience

I decided I would eat Huel for breakfast and lunch, but not for dinner. This means I could still taste normalcy and eat with my partner. I ballparked 900kcals for dinner, so aimed my two Huel 'meals' as 300kcals and 500kcals for a total of 800kcals. I was planning to adjust the next day if it turns out dinner came well above or below that estimate.

Huel literally took a minute to mix up in my blender. I found the scoop very easy, as I could level it off against the sides. If you want to be more exact than me the website recommends weighing. The powder smells really nice- weirdly similar to Ben and Jerry's cookie dough ice cream. The drink smells slightly less nice. Luckily the taste is closer to the first smell- not dissimilar to vanilla porridge. Or pancake batter.

I drank/ate (drate?) the first Huel on my way to work. It was easy going until the last few mouthfuls but those were finished at my desk. So far, not so bad. I did feel really quite full.  It works. Its actually quite relaxing in the context of a PhD to not have to factor in lunch.

Huel shaker (with Huel) and tee

The issue is the next day. I just don't want it. Breakfast is okay - before Huel I kept skipping it. Its therefore great for me to make sure I get calories and nutrients in early in the day and don't survive on coffee till lunch. Lunch is the problem. I'd rather have actual food. I therefore use it only for breakfast for the next few days. I do find I prefer it a whole lot refrigerated. 

A couple of days later I'm headed to a work conference, so I've brought some Huel in an empty bottle. It looked very suspicious in baggies... and far too like it may go all over my things like sand. Here's where it really came into its own for me. At conferences often if there isn't time you just don't eat. Lunch is often sacrificed, dinners replaced with social drinks and shoveling in bar snacks. Even though there are lunch breaks scheduled by the time you talk to presenters and put your poster up, that's over. Add that to the issues with finding food places in unknown cities.

So over the five conference days I will carry a Huel a day. If I don't have anything else, I have that nice balanced meal. Shame there is no fridge in our hotel room mind! Eating it only once a day I'm not getting sick of it- it's easy to sip down over time and people are accustomed enough to protein shakes and their ilk that no one has asked about it either. If they do, I will just say its to keep me going, which everyone can understand.

Overall: I like the taste. I love the convenience. I felt good on it. But I could not cope with Huel for every meal. I think I will keep some in the house, to use for breakfast and work and other similar occasions (as Autumn pointed out, its good pre-parkrun!).

Discussion


Weight: Huel is a very easy way to control weight (lose or gain). You literally need a set of scales and some water to guarantee your daily intake. I also really appreciate that steps were taken to make sure Huel is not an addictive food. They do not want people wanting more of it, just enough. Its a delicate balance. People in the Western world are largely increasing in size and becoming more unhealthy- 64% of adults in Britain are overweight or obese. Huel wouldn't be a fun route, but it would definitely work to reduce weight with ease. Its very, very controllable- I edited my intake depending on what my non-Huel meal was, to hit my correct calorie ranges. 

Busyness: Huel is ideal for very busy people, especially people who would otherwise grab toast or a takeaway. That said, Autumn made a great point when she noted that we shouldn't necessarily encourage what I will refer to as the Cult of Busy- everyone should be able to savor a meal. Its perfect for times when you'd usually mainline 19347912 Haribos instead of making anything, or if you frequently grab a cheese baguette on the way to work, not necessarily to replace real food if you are already cooking lots of veggies from scratch. It also seems good for shift work.

Food waste: In the UK 30% of all food is thrown away. 30%?!  Huel's website also outlines the facts- The world produces 1.5 times the food required to feed everyone, yet over 800 million worldwide are hungry. 100 million children in developing countries regularly are significantly underweight. Think about how often you throw out food you failed to eat. I do it too. God, we are depressingly privileged. Huel aims to reduce that- it requires only water, and there are no leftovers. It also has fairly pared-down packaging, and encourages re-use of drinking receptacles.

Potential Uses: All this talk of those going hungry highlights that Huel and other similar products could be a great way to extend cheap food sources into third world areas. However, the key problem there is of course that Huel relies completely on clean water. Another first world luxury. Other commenters on the UK Fitness Blogs page, and on other blogs about Huel pointed out that it could be great for those in care homes or hospitals, that find it hard to eat.

Psychology: Of course, for me, the Psychology is incredibly interesting. Huel could be viewed as very depressing- food is how we bond. For humans, cooking and eating is often a joy. Cooking from scratch also represents a decision to make and a source of creativity. When we cook and eat we are surrounded by sensory stimulation. Surrounded by smells and texture and taste. I would miss the feel of real butter on toast, the way a correctly-done poached egg spills golden yolk everywhere, the fudgy density of really good brownies. There is a reason that kitchens are the places to be at parties. Huel removes that- its a 5-minute job, it largely tastes the same, it's fuel as fuel. 

However the same joys of food are also a psychological trap. Many people are caught up in obsessions about food- how to eat less and less, at war with their plates. Or the opposite- stuck in a stage where food is a strong source of comfort, where food is an addiction. Food can cost you your mental health. Perhaps too much of our culture is built around food and around avoiding food.

Human fuel Ingredients
Ingredients of Huel (image from their site)


Nutrition: Huel is, of course, based on current scientific knowledge of what human's need, which may not be perfect. Users of such foods are therefore almost a test group. How much do you know about food you buy online?  I'm okay with that though- Huel is just as certified and has passed all the same checks as the things you buy in the supermarket; yet we always trust that. Often supermarket bought food is actively lying to us, at least Huel isn't doing that. The company does have its own nutritionist with 10+ years NHS experience. I really like how quickly and fully he responds to customer queries about nutrition in their forums. Additionally, I listened to a podcast discussion between the founder and another nutritionist and loved this piece of honesty:


"If people could grow veg and raise animals in their own garden and produce it yourself, then it would beat Huel hands-down. But people are not doing that they are buying heavily processed foods from supermarkets."
Conclusions

Would I start eating Huel regularly? Only for breakfast- I already cook meals from scratch. I have the time and money to use good produce, and to cook as an interaction with my loved one. However, Huel is great for conferences, for hiking, and for situations where otherwise I'd eat nothing or crisps. 

I do genuinely believe in their message. The company appears to be operating on a brilliant ethos and has the best kind of transparency. Its not a whacko weight loss product, this is something the founders believe could save humankind. Could safeguard our future. I'm just honestly not sure I could give up all my privileges for the good of the world.

Huel were kind enough to send me a sample bag of their product and a free shaker bottle and tee shirt. I am always honest in my reviews, and was very interested in the product. No links are affiliate and this post is not sponsored. 

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What are your thoughts? Would you ever eat Huel or replace food with it?

For other reviews of Huel, see:

Fit & Happy* || TinyRunner || Ed Wiseman*

*Both of these reviewed over several posts but I have only linked the last one

PS: I do have my own images but am currently having a camera SD disaster, so own images coming soon!

12 Comments:

  1. I think this is a great idea for, like you said, homeless people or very ill people who struggle to eat - and very busy people. But for me this just wouldn't work. I love my food and everything about it and the thought of just having a drink/shake to get my nutrition would really depress me. I agree though that food waste is a HUGE issue. I try my best every day to not waste food and have a composter for all my veggie offcuts. I get really irked when people waste food or throw it away just because the label says it's gone off when really the food inside is perfectly fine. I could moan about this all day...

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment! I totally understand that food means a lot to people outside just fueling.

      Oh god yes- if it looks fine, and it smells fine, its fine no matter what the packet says.

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  2. I've been fascinated to read everyone's posts about Huel, and hear people's different takes on it. After the initial depressing fact that life without food wouldn't be as fun, the points you and others have raised are really thought-provoking! The uses for those people who struggle to afford to eat a healthy balanced diet, or those who can't physically cook anymore are something I didn't think of first of all.

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    1. I would be SO curious to take a peek into the future and see what would happen if we did have a standardised food like this. I suspect that after a period of initial depression and malcontent that actually people would readjust and would build socialisation around something else.

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  3. I turned down reviewing this as it didn't fit my philosophy or ethos around food at all, but I've actually come around to the idea of it since reading a few different views, and can see a time and a place for it. To be honest I could probably have done with trying it out, as life with a new puppy has been manic and I've not had time to cook at all, meaning it would have worked quite well over this period for me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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    1. As I said I originally thought 'urgh, no' then realised it actually interested me a whole lot. It has been useful so far for conferencing, and its definitely good for me for breakfasts.

      I really appreciate that their message is not a weight loss one.

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  4. Really interesting, I've also been enjoying reading about this. I'm fascinated by the fact it's being marketed as something other than a weight loss product (which is what I'd initially assumed). Great review

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    1. Firstly, thank you. Secondly, ABSOLUTELY. I would not have been remotely interested if this was a dietary aid (although it can work as that). What I am interested in is the science behind the nutrition, the environmental and cruelty free possibilities, and the psychology.

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  5. Thanks for posting this, it's a really interesting topic. Food waste is a massive problem and I'm as guilty as any. I think I would use it for breakfast as I know that I'd be starting the day nutritionally balanced, as well as saving time, but probably no more than that as it would get rather boring. It's a good money saving tactic too as our food bills can get a little out of control!

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    1. I agree, its actually much cheaper than I imagined, and quite tasty.

      I do still need 'normal' food but to be honest I found it easier to take in the morning than porridge (which I have a BIG texture issue with) and it tastes really similar. I will likely start blending it up with the water and a banana for breakfast to use the last of it up :-).

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  6. Really interested to read your take on Huel and thanks so much for linking to me! I also don't think I could change to a Huel-only diet but it's a habitual thing and so much emotional stuff is tied up with food. If kids grew up only eating this I wonder if it would be a totally normal thing in the future? I also wonder if there could be longer term issues with the nutrients in a processed drink like this -- as much as it's a 'nutritionally complete' solution, I sort of think there may be interactions our bodies and digestive systems have with raw nutrients that we don't fully understand yet and do need to achieve optimum health.

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    1. Definitely I don't think we know enough to know if we are really getting everything we need. I love the thought experiment that one day this could be very normal. Certainly on things like space missions it is!

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