I’ve always been a bit sniffy about meal replacement shakes but when I first heard about Huel in a recent Times article I felt more intrigued than judgemental. It seemed to be selling itself as an ethical, low allergenic alternative to real food and not as a quick fix diet shake. So when I was offered a week’s supply of Huel to try out, I obviously jumped at the chance.
Huel is vegan, dairy free, soy free, gluten-free food replacement product and claims to be nutritionally complete providing at least 100% of the UK Governments Reference Nutrient Intakes. Personally I’d rather not trust the Government with decisions about my health but at least they’ve opted to follow the UK model rather than the US Government’s view of a healthy diet.
If I were to claim affinity to any particular nutritional bandwagon it would have to be Weston A Price with its focus on traditional foodstuffs, well reared meat and fermented products so Huel doesn’t fit in so well with that – it’s hardly traditional to live off mail order powder and there isn’t even a sniff of an animal product, well reared or not. The ingredient list is pretty tame, there isn’t a single product that I could complain about with the bulk comprised oats, pea protein coconut, flaxseed and sunflower seed.
When I took delivery of my weeks supply of Huel, I planned to trial a 100% Huel day based on 1500 cals. Here’s my day’s supply weighed out and combined ready for use. By the time I had made it through the first 8 hours or so of my day and consumed my breakfast and lunch Huel, I was getting pretty desperate and I decided to change the experiment and adopt a more sustainable approach of 2 on and 1 off.
Quite a lot of people choose to substitute Huel for breakfast and lunch and then opt for their typical evening meal with the family. This seems eminently sensible to me. Breakfast is usually the most nutritionally lacking meal in most people’s diets. Unless I can bothered to cook up an egg meal I rarely get a satisfactory level of protein in the first meal of the day. Huel at least ensures that I get a good kick-start with a so-called balance of carbs, protein and fat. Lunch is a bit easier to control but if I haven’t bothered to make myself a pack up chicken salad I find myself spending a fortune on organic produce near work and I’m happy to swap a £7 salad for a 96p bottle of Huel (300 cals worth), safe in the knowledge that my nutritional needs are accounted for.
I admit, it is poor to design an experiment and then change the goalposts half way through implementation but if you want to read about someone who has jumped on the 100% bandwagon and has so far stuck at it for 3 unhappy days, check out Ed Wiseman who is in the midst of 7 day Huel experiment.
I’ve now been using Huel for 12 days and I’m really happy with it. I weigh out the powder in the morning and mix to about a 1:5 ratio of powder to water (you can amend to your desired consistency). I do find that Huel is quite resistant to mixing and it takes a fairly hefty blast with handheld blender. I haven’t tried the shaker approach but can only imagine that it would result in major lumps.
Huel is not particularly tasty but neither is it vile. I’d describe it as a strangely sweet, runny porridge. Its bland really, but I’ve always found that bland works pretty well for me, it seems to turn off all my high alert, food-neediness sensors.
On a normal, non Huel day, I typically have breakfast, arrive at work and start wondering if its ok to have my morning snack of cashew nuts, then an hour or so later I start clock watching til 12 noon when I think I can reasonably start on my lunch. With Huel, I start the day with a pint of the whizzed up concoction and although I do feel hungry in the morning, I know that the Huel is sitting there waiting for me and I can eat it (or drink it) whenever I like. I just don’t seem to “like” that much. On Huel days I regularly make it through til 2-ish before I finally crack the lunchtime supply open.
As someone who constantly struggles with my weight and any form of dietary restriction, I find this behaviour to be a revelation and one that I want to hang on to.
So 12 days in I feel good, healthy, lighter, slimmer and I’ve saved money on my grocery bill. That’s a bit of an obvious thing to say given that my first bag of Huel was a freebie but I did buy the second bag. A weeks supply of Huel (based on 2000 Huel calories per day) costs £45 and at the moment comes with a free t-shirt (I like mine), a shaker and a metal drinks bottle.
Hacking the Huel
They have a fairly active customer forum at Huel and there seems to be an acceptance of altering the mix or spicing it a bit. Here are my suggestions for hacking the Huel.
Changing the Flavour
I’ve already said that the bland flavour works for me so I don’t want to dabble with the flavouring and make this a moreish product, having said that I did try adding the dregs of my black Americano one morning and it was surprisingly good. Other users have tried an assortment of flavour enhancers including syrups, coffee powders and cinnamon.
Altering the MacroNutrient mix
I don’t buy into the Governments view of what constitutes a healthy diet and would prefer to have some more control based around my personal requirements. So while Huel is currently constructed around a 30 30 40 split (fat, protein, carbs), I would prefer to increase the protein and fat at the expense of the carbohydrate. When I’ve been weight training I add some additional grass fed whey powder and/or collagen to the mix. Obviously it adds to the calories but it also shifts the macronutrient mix in favour of protein.
Making it Live
I’m also a big fan of fermented products and kombucha, yoghurt, kefir and sauerkraut are a regular addition to my diet. Since opting for two Huel meals a day I’ve reduced my opportunity to sneak in my home-made Bulgarian heritage yoghurt, and that’s a bit of a tragedy as I have to maintain the lactobacillus line. I’ve started to sneak a bit into my morning Huel to ‘live’en it up a bit which also has the benefit of taking the edge off the sweetness. As with all additions though, it affects the nutrient mix and the calorie content.
I don’t see why anybody without complex health needs or a psychological aversion to food, would choose to use Huel as a complete food replacement. It’s quite possible to do and might well be more nutritious than most people’s dietary alternatives, but food means so much more than just nutrition and I don’t ever want to lose the joy of sitting down to a good meal with friends and family.
I do think that there could be a longterm role for Huel in my life though. I’ve already ordered my next weeks supply and will continue to adopt a breakfast and lunch replacement for the forseeable future. I’m impressed with the level of food control I seem to have developed while using Huel and the result is that I’ve been losing weight but I also feel good, my energy levels are up and my mood is steady. If I were to try to restrict my consumption in a similar way using “normal” foods, I’d be going up the wall within a day.