Lower calorie version? E.g. vegan alternative to Optifast, Slimfast or similar

Hi Julian,

Have you considered making a version of Huel with all the necessary micro nutrients, but significantly less calories?

I’ve been reading a bit about the Newcastle University experiment into curing Type 2 diabetes, by using a very low calorie diet.

The standard NHS viewpoint is that there is no cure for diabetes, but the Newcastle Uni research project found it was potentially reversible, within the first four years after diagnosis. Their method was a very low calorie diet based on Optifast, at 600 calories per day, plus about 200 calories from vegetables.

For some of the subjects, after a few weeks of that diet, the amount of fat in the liver and pancreas was reduced enough so that they both started working properly again - the pancreas was able to produce insulin, and the liver was able to process it. The result appears to be permanent - i.e. a cure, not an ongoing treatment.

I don’t have diabetes, but I meet some of the criteria for being at risk, so this interests me. Optifast, like Slimfast is not vegan, it’s based on milk as the source of protein. There’s no good reason for that though, other than convenience and cost to the manufacturer. As a vegan, I wouldn’t buy it.

It seems to me a product like Huel would be a good candidate for making into a vegan version of Optifast / Slimfast etc - i.e. a meal replacement with very low calories. Possibly just by reducing the amount of macro nutrients in it, and maybe bulking it up with a little more fibre. You’d then have a slimming product version, in addition to the normal meal replacement version that you sell now.

I’m very cynical about big pharma companies. In my opinion they sell things that can make them the most profit. They have no interest in promoting things they can’t patent and put a big markup on. It seems to me a cure for diabetes may go unnoticed because those big companies have nothing to gain from it. A company like yours is much better placed to make a difference.

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Looking around the forum, I see the Newcastle Uni treatment was discussed before, but the discussion turned to gradual weight loss as being healthier.

Gradual weight loss is a good way to avoid diabetes, and it’s a good way to maintain it, to stop it getting worse. However, it will not cure it. If it did, that would be the standard advice handed out by the NHS.

The study was concerned with losing weight in a very short period of time, and did appear to be a cure, for some of the test subjects. In its current form, Huel would not be suitable for that process, because of the calorie content.

What I’m wondering is if a suitably low calorie version of Huel could be made, that provided enough micro nutrients to help keep the body reasonably healthy during that process.

Hi Andy

Thanks for your post.

The aim of Huel is supply food. A version of Huel, like you describe, would be similar to the VLCD (very low calorie diet) meal replacement formulas.

In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas is still producing insulin. Indeed, in most cases, too much. The problem is with insulin resistance.

There is significant legislation to consider for producing VLCDs and currently we’re focusing on launching Huel for people in the correct weight range.

Hi James,

The Wikipedia entry has this to say about insulin resistance:


The concept that insulin resistance may be the underlying cause of diabetes mellitus type 2 was first advanced by Professor Wilhelm Falta and published in Vienna in 1931, and confirmed as contributary by Sir Harold Percival Himsworth of the University College Hospital Medical Centre in London in 1936, however, type 2 diabetes does not occur unless there is concurrent failure of compensatory insulin secretion."

It gives references, but I haven’t followed them up yet,

I can see legislation could be a problem, but it could also be classed as a food supplement, if all it contains is normal food ingredients and vitamins and minerals.

As far as I’m aware, there is no VLCD product available that’s suitable for vegans, so it would probably be the first.

I appreciate that you’re busy launching Huel. It would be nice to think that someone would make such a thing, and I don’t suppose there are many companies that would.

Pharmaceutical companies don’t even bother to make tablets lactose free, though they have a better idea than anyone about how many people that excludes. They use it as the bulk ingredient because it’s cheap, and it’s more profitable for them to exclude a percentage of their potential customers than to spend more making the product.

The key word in your bold bit is ‘compensatory’ - the pancreas produced insulin, but insufficient to cope with the insulin resistance.

Huel is not a food supplement: it’s food. And supplements themselves have a whole realm of legislation.

But, yes it would be great to have a vegan style weight reduction product. We’ll bear it in mind when we’re considering future products.

Huel as a small company has, like any other, to cover development and production costs. VLCD diets are, I assume, short term so potential sales may be too small to be viable,

I’d suggest that complete food in powder form is a bit of a niche market too. I notice most supermarkets sell SlimFast in their pharmacy section, so that apparently does quite well.

I suspect dieting is not short term, for some people. It’s longer term, or keeps getting repeated at intervals.

I guess you could call veganism a niche market too, but I live within easy walking distance of a vegan grocers that does very well. I spend a lot more money there than I do in supermarkets. I expect that’s the case for a lot of their regular customers.

One thing about niche markets is that it’s fairly easy to be the only major contender in that market.

When I was a lad, it was practically impossible to buy biscuits without animal fat in them. Presumably the manufacturers had a rough idea how many potential customers they were turning away (not just vegetarians), but had decided that carrying on as they were was their best option.

Any company that could have got vegan biscuits onto mainstream supermarket shelves at the time, would no doubt have done very well - as they’d effectively have had no competition for their product. Of course now, hardly any biscuits contain animal fat. And now, we have the internet and direct selling, so getting things into supermarkets isn’t the only way to sell them, any more.

Huel is a mix of powders in a sealy bag. A VLCD meal replacement product is too, just a different recipe. I don’t suppose the appearance of the bag would be much of an issue to the people who’d buy it either.

Yes, development would cost something, no doubt, but the basic idea is already there in Huel. The difference would be that the VLCD would have to have more micro nutrients and less calorific macro nutrients, so it could provide the necessary recommended daily intake of vitamins and minerals with fewer calories. It’s not a vastly different product, just a different recipe. Arguably, it’s still just food too.

Weight loss, or maintaining a healthy weight is not just vanity. It’s a way of avoiding serious health problems, as we get older. The Newcastle diabetes study is interesting because it shows a dramatic result - in some cases, curing a condition that’s normally accepted as incurable.

All good points. There are legeslative issues also to be considered when marketing products for weight loss.

We will look into alternative formulas when things have settled down for us

Hi Andy, I entirely agree it’s a great idea in principle and I’m trying to lose weight (not fat but borderline obese) it still means developing and ongoing cost of producing a separate product competing with established Slimfast etc. Suppose the good people at Huel have to decide where they want to take it in terms of size of operation…

@Andy 64% of uk adults are over weight or obese. I would say that the vast majority of these would lose fat if they consumed 2000 cals, especially the men. If not, they could increase their exercise. This seems like a better way to lose weight rather than a 800 cal per day diet, which would not be easy at all to stick to because you would be very hungry all the time.