Questions and concerns about Huel nutrition


#1

Hi Folks,

I’ve been on huel as the majority (80 - 90%) of my diet since early october. In principle, Huel is perfect for me because I care a lot about getting the right nutrition and I’m very busy. Huel’s attraction is that it promises both ideal nutrition and significant time-saving in one package. However I have some concerns about Huel and I’m currently doing an experiment on myself where go back onto a (healthy) whole food diet over the christmas period and then switch back to Huel in the new year. To help with this experiment , and to help me make the decision about whether to continue with Huel or switch back to a whole food diet, I’d love to be able to get some answers to the following concerns/questions:

(disclaimer to all this: I have no formal education in nutrition so these concerns and questions are just based on the views that I’ve come to based on my own informal research - i.e. they might be totally wrong and I’d be very happy to hear from anyone who thinks so)

  1. Although the main ingredient of huel is oats, the oats are obviously finely powdered. So they differ from e.g. regular porridge oats insofar as they’re digested much more quickly. This presumably means that less of the nutrients are absorbed from a given weight of powdered oats vs regular oats. More generally - isn’t the fact that powdered food is digested more quickly an inherent problem for any powdered meal replacement?

  2. Huel contains all the micronutrients that we need. But these many of these micronutrients are isolated or synthetic. Many say, and there seems to be good evidence for this, that synthetic vitamins (such as those found in vitamin supplements) provide lesser health benefits than vitamins found in whole foods. If this is true then even though Huel technically provides all the micronutrients we need - it might be significantly less beneficial to health than a whole food diet that provides good amounts of naturally ocurring micronutrients. So two questions: (i) is it true that isolated micronutrients found in huel are comparable to vitamin supplements in that they provide lesser benefit than vitamins found in whole food, (ii) if this is true, how significant is the drop off in benefit?

  3. There have been no long term studies on the effects of replacement with Huel, since it has only existed for a few years. Should we not be cautious about replacing whole foods with Huel, or any powdered meal replacement, for this reason? Might there be drawbacks involved simply in the replacement of a whole food diet with a synthetic powder - quite independently of the nominal nutritional content of the powder? After all, we didn’t evolve to eat a synethic powdered meal replacement product.

  4. I didn’t count calories before starting on Huel. But it’s so easy to do with Huel that I’ve been doing so quite carefully. Now that I’ve switched back to whole foods for the purposes of this experiment, I’ve found it basically impossible to ingest as many calories per day in whole foods as I was intaking through Huel. Now it’s possible that I was just never ingesting as many calories as I have been on Huel - since I wasn’t counting before it’s impossible to say. But another hypothesis is that my stomach has adapted to liquid food that passes quickly through it, and therefore can’t accomodate as much solid food as it previously could. Does this sound plausible?

Many thanks


#2

Hi @pdhuel
I see you posted this a couple of weeks ago and no-one has responded so I thought I would respond to the best of my ability.
Please note, although I have studied human biology and also basic nutrition, I would consider myself a non-professional in this area and @JamesCollier is the best person to answer.

But some of your questions have already been posed and answered in the forum, so I will try to find some of them for you, and also answer from my own knowledge of biology and nutrition!

  1. In relation to your first point (concern around the ingredients being powdered):
    Huel has a Glycaemic Index of 27, which is very low, which means it is digested slowly.
    Also, generally, from a biological point of view, food being in smaller particles (ie like when it is chewed very well, or powdered) actually aids absorption of nutrients due to the total surface area of the food being greater than if it was in larger particles.

  2. The body cannot tell the difference between ‘synthetic’ vitamins and ‘natural’ vitamins - they are absorbed and utilised in exactly the same way, so there is no difference in benefit between the two. Also, the nutrients in Huel are not ‘isolated’, as you say, as they are consumed with carbs, fats, fibre and proteins as part of the whole meal, and all of these ingredients are natural foods (oats, rice, peas, coconut, flaxseed etc). Some vitamins do need to be taken with food to be absorbed efficiently. But Huel is not like taking a vitamin supplement, where you would need to take it with a meal to be absorbed. Huel is a meal that contains all the ingredients that are required to ensure efficient absorption of all the nutrients and vitamins and minerals within it.
    There are a few interesting articles on the nutrition of Huel, if you go to the main website - I would recommend you read through them - they are really excellently written, with sufficient depth and science to be informative, but in language that anyone without a scientific background can understand. They explain the ingredients of Huel in detail, and how the ‘ideal’ formulation has been arrived at, and why and how this creates everything the body needs to survive and be healthy.

  3. My opinion is… sure! Be cautious. Use Huel sensibly, in a way that suits your lifestyle, and still consume healthy fresh wholefood when possible. Personally I use Huel to replace previously unhealthy (or less healthy) meal choices, and for convenience, but still cook fresh whole food when I can. I think the majority of people use Huel in this way. Its always a good idea to be intuitive to how your body feels on whatever dietary and nutrition choices you make, and then adjust it if you feel it’s necessary for you personally. It would be great to have a long-term trial to see how healthy Huel is in comparison to an ‘average’ diet and also a ‘super healthy wholefood’ diet, but scientific trials like this cost 100s of thousands of pounds and cannot be run by Huel themselves as it would be considered biased. It would be great if a research department of a university decided to take this up as a project, but unless that happens, we (as Huel consumers) can use our own personal experience to see how our diet is affecting our health in a positive or negative way. Its always good to monitor your diet and your health. So many people just ignore their diet and their lifestyle choices, and when they become ill they don’t make changes. Other people actively monitor their nutrition and lifestyle choices in relation to their health - this is far more valuable knowlege to the individual, than any generic scientific trial, in my personal opinion.

  4. I have had a similar experience. I agree that the stomach adapts to whatever your usual diet is, and transitioning to a different diet takes a while. This is the same for anything though. If you live on a high calorie chocolate and sweets diet for a while, it is quite difficult to switch to eating wholefoods as your stomach isnt used to the quantity or the bulk. It takes a little while to adjust to a mainly Huel diet, and it takes a little while to adjust back to a mainly ‘normal meal’ diet.
    For me personally, I have found it of great benefit consuming mostly Huel, most of the time, for a period of time, as my stomach now feels full much more quickly when I am eating other food. Previously I could eat and eat and eat and never feel full, and this caused me to gain some unwanted weight. I wouldn’t worry about initially struggling to accommodate quite as much ‘normal food’ when stopping Huel - give yourself some transition time, and you will be fine.
    If it is a concern to you that you cannot consume enough calories and you need to maintain your weight, try eating more calorie dense foods eg add healthy oils to your cooking, eat avocados, peanut butter, meats (if you are not vegetarian), full-fat dairy (if you are not vegan) etc. It will only take a week or two for your stomach to adjust again, and you will be able to go back to your previous quanitity of solid food.

I hope that helps!


#3

Nice reply


#4

I missed this thread too…but I would probably have given a fecetious (sic) answer, so I believe this was worth the OPs wait.


#5

Similarly sorry for missing this, clearly we were all immersed in Christmas Eve festivities! Great reply from @ChristinaT (thank you very much :slight_smile: )

I would add that 74% of the vitamins and minerals in Huel Powder come from the whole ingredients (particularly oats and flaxseed), we only top up with synthetic vitamins and minerals. I would stand by what Christina said though.

This comes up regularly and is definitely interesting to us, but we do not say that people should use Huel 100%, we just say they would not be deficient in any essential nutrients if they did. Huel is convenience food, so most eat Huel when they would otherwise skip a meal or eat something unhealthy. Huel is far, far better than those options.

However, the one time we did a mini-study ourselves it was widely disregarded for a few reasons, the main ones being:
Not enough people - fair comment, but more people requires more resources and at the time there was ~5 people working for Huel. Actually less people meant that we could improve compliance in a 100% diet
We conducted it - people are sceptics and science is riddled with biases that we try to mitigate. We conducted the mini-study to the best of our ability, andshowed all the results, but when the results were good (if not great) people said we had fudged them. A study would essentially need to have no involvement from Huel whatsoever for people to believe it. Which is weird, because if you look at pharmaceuticals this is exactly how it’s done – not saying that’s perfect but clearly they have lots of dosh $$$.

Hope that makes sense.


#6

Technically it does not mean that is digested slowly. Glycemic index is a measurement that takes into account how foods (carb containing) affect blood glucose levels). As such, it is true that Huel has a low glycemic index, meaning that the carbohydrates in Huel are absorbed slowly creating a slower rise in blood glucose. This does not mean however that all the nutrients are absorbed slowly. For instance, MCTs have a GI of 0 (no containing any carbs) but are rapidly absorbed into circulation.

I think this is the biggest takeaway. Use Huel to keep your diet in check and “avoid” the unhealthy options you might make. Or use it when you are lazy. Just use it as a tool to maintain a healthy diet. There’s no black and white (100% Huel or no Huel); thus there is little point on arguing over it.

Would a 100% Huel diet be OK. I think most people would survive and live healthily. Some might have some issues because their genetic predisposition, to certain people it would affect more and to others less. But as most are commenting here, getting reliable data about that is almost impossible. Not only because the ££ needed, but also because there are plenty of parameters you could look for (you need to assess); and the likelyhood is that a very broad study will only bring a very broad answer.

It is much easier to research a very specific topic like: “Does consuming Huel solely increase the levels of iron in healthy individuals between 20-30?”. And yet, to conduct this study you would need a researcher team, the voluteers and the ££ to do it. Is this worth it?


#7

Yep, thanks for giving a more correct explanation - I was massively over simplifying, and my use of language wasn’t correct. It does have a low GI. The GI is very low. It is digested slowly (enough to enable good absorption of all the nutrients). I didn’t word it well at all. But correct language and correct science is important.


#8

I like this statistic! I missed this in the Huel literature. It makes me feel even better about the nutrition of Huel - even though just about every scientific study has shown synthetic and natural vitamins to be used by the body identically, its still great to know that the majority of the nutrition comes from whole food ingredients.