Ultra Processed Foods & Huel - revisited

You talk some shite on this forum sometimes.


just for interest…

‘The NOVA classification of food items has become increasingly popular and is being used in several observational studies as well as in nutritional guidelines and recommendations. We propose that there is a need for this classification and its use in the formulation of public health policies to be critically discussed and re-appraised. The terms ‘processing’ and ‘ultra-processing’, which are crucial to the NOVA classification, are ill-defined, as no scientific, measurable or precise reference parameters exist for them. Likewise, the theoretical grounds of the NOVA classification are unclear and inaccurate. Overall, the NOVA classification conflicts with the classic, evidence-based evaluation of foods based on composition and portion size because NOVA postulates that the food itself (or how much of it is eaten) is unimportant, but rather that dietary effects are due to how the food is produced. We contend that the NOVA system suffers from a lack of biological plausibility so the assertion that ultra-processed foods are intrinsically unhealthful is largely unproven, and needs further examination and elaboration.’

The ultra-processed foods hypothesis: a product processed well beyond the basic ingredients in the package - PubMed (nih.gov)

It seems pretty obvious to me in a very common sense unscientific way that it’s not the processing that’s the problem but the resulting chemicals that you put o your body. Most UPF is full of harmful stuff geared towards taste and short term satiation. Huel is especially designed to provide good quality healthful chemicals.

I get people’s concerns. The problem is the term ultra-processed food is flawed.

I wrote this article a couple of years ago which covers some of my current feelings. I recommend reading it. However, I have a lot more to say on this issue and I’m working on a couple of follow-up pieces.

The BBC experiment was part of the Panorama documentary. If any of you follow me on Instagram, I voiced some of my concerns after it came out.

@chriseu - if you let me know exactly what you are concerned about in relation to Huel being a processed food, I’ll try to put your mind at rest.

The issue with a lot of so-called ‘ultra-processed food’ is that they are high in sugars, the wrong sorts of fat, low in fibre and low in protein.


Claiming that we can design the perfect food by combining isolated components with synthetic micronutrients is based on the assumption, that we know everything about nutrition and metabolism that can be known. That there are no open question marks. Whether you believe this is a matter of choice or preference, not of “truths”.

That’s a weird thing to say. They’ve done the best they can by following current science. If there are new discoveries, they’ll adapt.

You’re arguing against something that no one has said. Go and have a sit down.


@mbs spouts more mental garbage. Never seen so much idiocy from one person and I’ve followed Trump and Johnson’s careers


Don’t think anyone’s claiming ‘perfection’. More like a trustworthy safe & practical effectiveness, based on the ‘truths’ of long-established universally-accepted scientific evidence.

People who have doubts about accepted science (based on nothing more than an intellectually indulgent suspicion that there may be contrary evidence lying as-yet undiscovered) call to mind anti-vaxxers, climate-crisis deniers and other post-truth conspiracy-peddlers, a blight on the (post)modern age.

You did not really understand what I said. Science is an ongoing process. We have a model, but you must not confuse the model with reality. Updates of previous data are made based on new data - that’s kind of a Bayesian approach.
The only thing we know is that “normal” food has worked for thousands of years. But “complete foods” are a relatively new concept, so there is not so much evidence.

But no one here wants to hear this as it seems - maybe Huel has become some substitute for religion here.
For me it is just one of many products, and many companies are offering similar products. All of them have good and bad features.
In my opinion convenience is the most important aspect. So the question of whether something is healthy or not is of no interest to me.

So what parts of the accepted scientific model do you feel diverge from reality? Let’s be specific, otherwise it’s mere sophistry.


James has it nailed.
It’s not the processing that’s the problem but the ingredients and the motivation for processing.

I was quoted in this article on the topic last week. I’ve a lot more to say on this issue, so keep an eye on my Substack.


My regular consumption of Pot noodles hasn’t killed me yet so they can’t be that bad

Thanks James, I agree the NOVA classification is simplified to the point of being almost redundant.

My original post was trying to look beyond that, and perhaps looking at preservatives and emulsifiers in Huel rather than going back to the reductive NOVA classification. This is what Ultra Processed People spends a lot of its time examining.

I take a slight issue with a quote (not yours) in the article - the idea expressed is that there is little evidence that UPF’s alone are associated with negative health outcomes.
How about the reversal of this? Is there any evidence to suggest they aren’t associated with any negative health outcomes, or is there simply a lack of evidence altogether?

UPF consumption is clearly correlated with negative health outcomes, but I understand it is almost impossible to separate the UPF’s from the reasons people turn to them, and that’s before we consider the difference within the UPF categorisation (NOVA vs other aspects).

I’m not trying to scaremonger here by any means, but I think it’s a worthwhile area of investigation. That’s why I’d be curious to see experiments with some of these additives isolated in an RCT to test for negative health outcomes, perhaps with a Huel that has the ‘accused’ additives removed vs normal Huel.

The only other way it’d be testable would be through big data analysis I guess, which would show if variables such as emulsifiers and other additives are predictors of long term negative health outcomes, even if not statistically significant by themselves on a small scale study. Even then, we wouldn’t understand the mechanism of action even if it did find something.

I am a data scientist and would love to access to a decent data set on this. Hopefully one day!

Warm wishes,


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There will always be the possibility that certain benefitial micronutrients have not been identified - even if they aren’t “essential” for survival, they may prevent certain diseases. I doubt that knowledge will ever be complete - both regarding nutrition, health and disease. Perhaps we don’t ask the right questions - and answers always depend on the question that we are able to conceive of.

Maybe “conventional” food is not the best way, too. There is just more evidence that you can “survive” on it, but there might be better ways that we don’t know yet. For some it might feel “safer” because it is more common - social justification if you want. If someone is used to something, it feels “right” - these are certain mental biases that only few are able to identify. Maybe on a cognitive, but not on an emotional level, and the latter is what counts with regard to long-term-lifestyles.

For someone like me, with an autism-related eating disorder, complete food powders are the best strategy to survive, so I am glad that these products are available, and that there are way better and way more choices than several years ago.

What bothers me, though, is the social aspect - that you are jugded by other people for a lifestyle that is not regarded as “mainstream” or “antisocial”. As if social life was all about food - unfortunately it is for too many people. This is the real problem - a much larger one than health concerns could ever be.

It’s not about the scientific model per se, as long as you don’t forget it’s just a model and not reality itself.
I am old enough to have experienced first hand several developments in nutritional science, like the first undifferentiated cholesterin uproar in the 80s with a strong emphasis on nutrition as a causing factor for physical evils, later the differenciation between HDL and LDL and even later the role of nutrition for it a bit decreasing. Or the discovery of the role of omega 3 vs. too much omega 6, while before all polyunsaturated fats were regarded as equally healthy.

These were cases, were science had different viewpoints at different times, so was wrong some - if not all - of the time. It’s just a matter of extrapolation to assume that in some cases science still is. Secondary plant ingredients might be one of these topics. Microbiome might be a biggie for the future as well.

Therefore I think it’s good practice to have some non-isolated (basically just dried) ingredients “just in case” in the mix, as in my perception huel does.

We should discount the unknowns. It’s pointless by definition to speculate on anything which we know nothing about. Things (or rather concepts of things) that are considered to be unreal (ie unknown and unmeasured) lie in the realm of religion, not science.

Reality is what we agree is a general shared observance, shaped into our scientific model. That’s the reality we perceive. There is no other, none worth consideration.

I agree we might choose to eat all sorts of things which aren’t understood in our scientific model to be beneficial. This would be based on ignorant speculation that in some unknown way they might be good for us, but there’s no reason why the exact opposite might just as easily be true.

The fact that flavoured Huel contains Sucralose makes them UPF. Their own definition of Sucralose states:

Sucralose is a trichlorinated sucrose molecule; i.e. it’s a form of sucrose (table sugar) that’s been altered chemically.

It’s linked to migraines which is how I discovered it, triggers them for my son and myself. In the UK they are now taxing sugar in drinks which means we’re having this kind of artificial junk forced onto us, even in non diet versions of drinks.

Be glad that Huel offers an unsweetened version, so you can add your own sugar.

We’re all very individual and different people can respond differently to different foods and ingredients. Sucralose is no exception. If you and your son are experiencing migraines and this has been linked directly to sucralose, then our sucralose-sweetened products probably aren’t for you. If you have concerns surrounding this, I’d always recommend chatting with your doctor. Those migraines really can’t be pleasant :face_with_head_bandage:

We want to give Hueligans choice surrounding their preferred sweetener. As a result, our Black Edition and Ready-to-Drink v2.0 flavours are sweetened with stevia, and we also offer Unflavoured & Unsweetened versions of our v3.1 Powder, Black Edition and Complete Protein, so you can employ whatever sweetening agent you fancy. :blush: