Ultra Processed Foods & Huel - revisited

Hi everyone! I’m new here and I want to talk about Huel and ultra processed foods (UPF).
I watched an interview with Chris van Tulleken, who did an experiment for a BBC show. He ate only UPF for one month and a whole food diet for another month.

This made me wonder: Is Huel a UPF? Does it have the same bad effects on our health as other UPF? Or is it different because it’s nutritionally complete and balanced?
I’m aware this has been discussed before, but in light of Chris’ book ‘Ultra Processed People’ and the resulting articles and discussion surrounding it, so I thought I’d reopen.

Huel Powder is a nutritionally complete powdered food that has a balanced macro split and all 27 essential vitamins and minerals. It also says that Huel is not made to increase consumption or cravings, unlike most UPF that are very moreish and addictive.

But Huel also has some ingredients that are common in UPF, such as xanthan gum, sucralose, and sunflower lecithin. These ingredients are used out of necessity, but they may also have some problems. For example, xanthan gum may cause stomach issues, sucralose may change the gut bacteria, and sunflower lecithin may have pesticides.

On the other hand, Huel also has some ingredients that are good for gut health, such as bacillus coagulans and kombucha powder. These ingredients are probiotics that can help the gut and the immune system. How does Huel weigh up? Are there any experts on UPF hanging around here?

So, what do we think? Is Huel a UPF or not? And if it is, does it matter? I think it’s not so simple. Huel may have some features of UPF, but it also has some benefits over other UPF. It may not be as natural as whole foods, but it may not be as bad as junk foods, and I guess if you avoid worse foods then you’ll still benefit.

This is just my opinion based on what I know so far. I’m not an expert on nutrition or health, and I haven’t read Chris van Tulleken’s book ‘Ultra Processed People’ yet. I want to hear your opinions on this topic.

Do you think Huel should make a formula without the worst known offenders of UPF?

Thanks for making it this far! It’s my first post so please go easy on me. Keen to hear your thoughts. :slight_smile:

How bad is Huel as an ultra-processed food (UPF). Huel has some ingredients common in UPF, like xanthan gum, sucralose, and sunflower lecithin, but it also has probiotics and plant-based protein, which could be good for us. Huel might have some UPF features but it also has benefits over other UPF. Should Huel try to replace the worst ingredients?

Not. it is processed but not ultra processed in the sense that the processing changes some of the ingredients from their natural state.

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Thanks Phil. How about the inclusion of ingredients such as Xanthan gum? Surely falls under the ultra processed category?

Warm wishes,


it is true that Xanthan gum is an additive but is very commonly used in most prepared foods you buy - and falls within the categorisation of processed foods that can also cover adding salts, oil, sugars or other substances.

Here’s a good example of when foods move from minimal processing through to ultra processing:

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Is that a bit like the Super Size Me documentary when Morgan Spurlock ate only McDonalds for a month? Super Size Me - Wikipedia worth a watch if you haven’t seen it. Probably the highlight of his film making. Unfortunately his sexual misconduct experiment fared him less well and effectively put paid to his career.

The affects on his health in Super Size Me is somewhat more negative than would be achieved from eating the full menu of Huel products over a 30 days (as I’ve done many times)…admittedly I’ve never consumed a single McDonald’s product in my life, although I have used their toilet facilities in Oxford Street.

UPFs get a bad rep because most of them are bad for health. Fair enough, if they’re ultra-processed to be cheap (and not nutritious). But not all UPFs are bad - ie those ultra-processed to be nutritious (and not cheap).

The term UPF seems a blunt tool. The British Nutrition Foundation did a report on misunderstanding of it. Confusion about ultra-processed foods - British Nutrition Foundation

eg ‘while many ultra-processed foods are not healthy options, this isn’t always the case.’


You can also avoid the sucralose if you eat Huel Unflavored/Unsweetened if that’s something that worries you.

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It’s certainly a hotly debated topic! I’ll address a few points from a Huel perspective.

Firstly, In answer to your question, yes Huel is technically classed as ‘ultra processed’. I always think that it’s important to remember is that the word isn’t as scary as some think, the majority of food is processed in some way. Cleaning, drying, and packaging are all processes.

Some of the benefits of processing Huel is that it creates a convenient product with minimal food waste due to the long shelf-life, and it can also conserve nutrients, for example, grinding or soaking of flaxseed breaks them down so the body can digest the omega-3 fats.

Of course, there is the bad side of processing, for example, we have ready meals in plastic trays containing preservatives and a quick blast in the microwave oven gives us a hot meal. To help alleviate any concerns, here are a few food additives that aren’t in Huel:

  • No trans fats
  • No monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • No artificial preservatives - e.g. benzoates
  • No artificial colourants - eg azo dyes

Xanthan gum- We use this as a thickener to make sure the ingredients don’t separate. It also gives a creamy texture to our Huel Powder. Xanthan Gum is a natural sugar from corn.
Sucralose- This has been extensively tested. Saying that, we also offer a sweetened version and an unsweetened version of Huel powder so people can make an informed decision and Black Edition Powder is naturally sweetened, should you prefer. We have a detailed article on sucralose here- Is sucralose safe to eat? – Huel
Sunflower- Huel contains seed oils (sunflower or canola/rapeseed) as they contain omega-6s which are essential in proportion to omega-3s. This means 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. In addition, we’ve taken steps to reduce the risk of the seed oils are cold-pressed.

Hope that helps :slightly_smiling_face:


Would you say that Huel is technically a UPF because the final result is consumable whereas flour is classified as processed because it is still a constituent ingredient, even though it has had its main ingredients milled and has many additives put into it?

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That’s an interesting distinction Phil.

I’m in favour of all sorts of processing if it’s nutritionally beneficial and improves sustainability and food security.

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I’ve a real problem wit the term and definition ‘ultra-processed food’. I discuss some of my issues in an article I wrote two years ago.

Also, this review published in Nutrition Research Reviews last year shares some of my objections - If this topic interests you, this article is a very useful read.


Very interesting article James, thanks.

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With so called “natural foods” you never know how many micronutrients are present there, or in what concentration exactly. If they are added, you can be sure to get the dosage that is displayed in the ingredients information.
Supplements are even better; I know exactly how many gramms of vitamin C I get per day; otherwise megadosing it would not be possible.

There is only one problem with “complete foods”: If you consume them hot. Temperature degrades many micronutrients. I’ve never considered Hot/Savoury products, and I don’t dare to have a Huel shake with hot water (although I was often close to preparing it that way because I love hot drinks).

I watched this BBC experiment with UPFs in general, and it was scary. Huel falls into UPF category, so I am now very concerned. I eat Huel every day. I would urge Huel to have a similar experiment done with subjects taking only Huel as food for a number of weeks, monitoring all their biomarkers. And have this study published transparently, peer reviewed.

As UPFs are getting a very bad rep among the health conscious, it would also be in the interest of Huel to defend its health claims with evidence. I think a lot of Huel consumers, like me, have picked Huel for its alleged health benefits. But my trust in Huel in this regard is undermined by a growing awareness about the negative effects of UPFs. I want to continue Huel, but I have second thoughts now. A reliable scientific study (or more than one) would help alleviate the concerns of the health conscious.

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Don’t forget the extent to which current on-trend clickbait headline UPF concerns are driven by journalistic interests. The BBC is certainly not immune to this. On the contrary.

But I agree that the more actual science we have access to, the better.

Maybe also worth mentioning the idea that there are too many of us on the planet for us all to be able to eat organic local wholefoods. UPFs might well be the answer to global famine in the future, as perhaps they have been in the past. Not all UPFs should be automatically tarred with the same brush…


They have already done 100% Huel trials, taken regular blood tests and published the results on their website (twice I believe).

You should probably have had a look on the website first or searched the forum before getting in a tiz.


I’m glad you know a bit more about what I mean when I refer to UPF’s!

A lot of intense Huel defensiveness on this thread. I am looking for reassurance, but yes I agree - with UPF’s being the fashionable health concern of 2023, we need a deeper dive into it.

In response to @Coup - I’ve seen the trials, I’ve even applied to be in them, I’ve been using Huel on and off for probably six or seven years. I am NOT anti-Huel. I am a data scientist though and previously a quantitative researcher, and I would love to see a higher number of higher quality studies commissioned on this issue.

It would only work in Huel’s favour ( assuming the outcome is positive, which I hope it would be).

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Hope this doesn’t come across as ‘intense Huel defensiveness’ :wink: … but (fwiw) I ask myself if I accepted the latest ‘fashionable health concern’ (with which books are being profitably sold and TV programmes being profitably commissioned, and tongues wagging all across the media) with what would I replace it?

I mean making all my own affordable nutritionally-balanced vegan meals using only wholefood ingredients? Impossible. I’m not a nutritionist, nor a chef, nor do I have access to all the necessary ingredients in required quantity, nor probably could I afford to buy them. Plus, I don’t have the time.

So I expect I’d inevitably eat an unbalanced diet, likely deficient in several ways, and probably including some of the unhealthy UPFs that give all the rest a bad name. Unavoidably, due to time, money, access, skills, knowledge and all the usual pressures.

Most UPFs are to be avoided, but not all.


I don’t understand your health concerns. Huel is not about healthy nutrition, but about convenience. And most probably you can survive on it for a very long time.

What drugs you on bro?