Is there more to optimal nutrition than just being "nutritionally complete"?

Apologies for the slightly meta/philosophical post.

We know Huel is “nutritionally complete” - and by that they mean “contains a balance of all 26 essential vitamins and minerals, protein, essential fats, carbs, fibre and phytonutrients in a single product”.

But is being “nutritionally complete” the same as being nutritionally optimal for human health?

We know certain types of diet, most famously the S.A.D (Standard American Diet), are associated with more health outcomes - cardiovascular disease, obesity, high blood pressure, cancers etc.

The S.A.D is renowned for generally being highly processed. Huel is also highly processed.

What stops someone who say consumes 100% Huel, not having negative health outcomes as a result of their nutrition, compared to someone who eats 100% S.A.D?

What are the main differences in these two highly processed foods?

  • Huel is low GI versus S.A.D meals typically being high GI
  • Huel doesn’t contain added sugar, most S.A.D meals do
  • Huel is nutritionally complete, most S.A.D meals are not
  • Huel has generally lower saturated fats than S.A.D meals

So which is the most important factor, or is it a combination of all four? What is it that means highly processed Huel is good for you, whereas a highly processed frozen pizza/microwave cheeseburger/birthday cake etc isn’t?

Then we have to consider macros…

The S.A.D is typically high carb, high fat, medium to high protein.
Huel is 37/30/30 in terms of Carbs/Fat/Protein, so simialr to the S.A.D

Lots of studies out there that suggest either high carb/low fat or low carb/high fat is optimal, but a balanced macro diet is too similar to the S.A.D. What makes Huel better, even with Huel’s macros being similar to an average S.A.D food? Some say seed oils are bad, yet Huel contains them.

Is it having a Low GI number?
Having zero added sugar?
Not eating animal products and therefore eating less cholesterol?

I’ve kinda gone off on a tangent here. I suppse I’m really just asking, aside from the extra vitamins/minerals etc, what makes Huel “healthy”?

I know in relative terms that Huel having more vitamins and minerals, no added sugar etc makes it “healthier” than S.A.D - but doesn’t necessarily mean Huel is inherently healthy.

I think your post indicates many of the ways in which Huel is healthier than a standard American diet.

Food can be highly processed to be healthy, for example by mixing macros and micronutrients into a nutritionally balanced and palatable vegan powder; or highly processed to be profitable, tasty, addictive, and unhealthy, with unbalanced macros and excessive levels of harmful ingredients.

The processing isn’t itself an issue, problem or concern. it’s only the finished product as consumed which matters; and also the motives of the companies doing the processing. Not to mention associated environmental harm and animal suffering.


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With due respect, I didn’t want to venture into ethics or the environment - just purely on a health/nutrition basis.

When you say it’s the finished product as consumed which matters - why is Huel healthy and the S.A.D? I was just looking for specifics - is it Huel’s O3:6 ratio, the vitamin/mineral blend, the fact it’s plant-based or something else? Where’s the threshold/line between highly processed McDonalds and highly processed Huel?

Understood that you want to set environmental and welfare concerns aside.

To compare the relative value for health of a McDonalds meal and a Huel meal should be easy if you go to the appropriate nutritional/ingredient lists.

The only point I wanted to make is that the pejorative tag ‘highly processed’ is unnecessary to any comparison, and potentially misleading.

Hey, it seems like there are many smaller questions within a couple of key ones, so I will address the major points, but please let me know if you’d like me to add anything else.

Processing- There is a need for clarity regarding the term. Cleaning, drying, and packaging are all processes. Processing Huel offers several benefits, such as convenience, minimal food waste, and nutrient preservation. For instance, grinding or soaking flaxseed breaks down the omega-3 fats for better digestion. Unlike many unhealthy ultra-processed foods, Huel products are scientifically designed to provide a nutritious, sustainable, and affordable alternative.

Seed oils- Huel contains seed oils (sunflower or canola/rapeseed) as they contain omega-6s which are essential in proportion to omega-3s as well as essential vitamins E & K. You can rest assured that in Huel, there is a great ratio of omega-6s to 3s due to the inclusion of sunflower and/or canola oil and flaxseed. We have a great blog on the misunderstandings here- Are Seed Oils Bad for You? – Huel

The key question you’ve asked ‘is Huel healthy’ has been addressed in our study and follow up article here, this should help! - Is Huel healthy? We Did a Study to Find Out?

Huel black does contain added sugar.
The others use fake sugar which is worse for you than sugar

The unflavoured doesn’t. You can feed that to your monkey with no problem.

Ingredients are the difference between processed McDonald’s and processed huel.

What is a “typical meal” - there are a lot of choices everywhere. At restaurants, but also between complete food products. And we never know how “complete” our knowledge on nutrition really is, so you can never know for sure what would be “the best”.
The best thing would be to listen to your body - given that there are no artificial substances that interfere with it. That is why it is recommended to have unprocessed food only, or at least predominantly.
The problem is that it is just not conventient, and not suitable to everybody; if you have for example several allergies or intolerances, dysphagia, temporomandibular dysfunction, eating disorders etc. And in that case complete food shakes can be real game changers.