The brand Huel has been around for a while now, after first gaining popularity with everyone from models to those in the military to bodybuilders. But are Huel meals (hello, Hot and Savoury range), shakes and bars actually good for you? And can they actually aid with weight loss, if that happens to be a goal you’re working towards?
Founded on the principle of stripping food back to the basics of nutrition, many people find Huel to be cheaper, and easier, than eating normal meals – with some even claiming that due to its nutritional makeup, they could live just on Huel alone. The company now have protein shakes on offer too, in a whole host of flavours. So really, there should be something for everyone!
But, before you start immediately adding twenty bags of this magical-sounding Huel powder or Huel foods to your basket, it’s important to keep in mind that there also online forums are filled with ‘Hueligans’, who are sharing initial unpleasant side effects…
So how nutritious is Huel? Does the powdered meal replacement really help fat loss? And should you consider switching out proper meals for a Huel shake? We asked an expert dietitian for her opinion.
What is Huel?
First thing’s first, what is Huel? Huel is a brand of nutritional powdered food – in other words, Human Fuel. Available in powder form or as a ready-made drink, energy bars or now in meals, the idea behind Huel is that it could fulfil all of the body’s nutritional needs if you were to switch to a diet exclusively based around the drink product.
The brand initially started out just with its ‘just add water’ shake, but now have a range of hot meals too (such as mac and cheese, Thai green curry and Mexican chilli) as part of it’s Huel Hot and Savoury range.
Key ingredients in the drink include powdered oats, sunflower, flaxseed, coconut, rice and dietary supplements of vitamins and minerals. Amino acids are also naturally derived from the ingredients – and given that it’s their OG product, that’s what we’ll mostly be discussing here.
“Nutritionally balanced powdered foods like Huel can be a convenient and useful meal replacement for use when it’s difficult to get a nutritionally balanced meal using other foods, for whatever reason,” registered dietitian Helen Gardiner explains. “For when we are in a hurry, they are preferable to a meal made up of convenient snack foods which may be nutritionally poor and high in fat, sugar and/or salt.”
How many meals a day could you substitute for Huel?
“This obviously depends on the individual – their lifestyle, their ability to cook, their access to healthy, nutritious foods, their eating habits, and their reasons for wanting to use a meal replacement product,” advises the dietitian.
“I would suggest that it could be used, if necessary, for up to one or two meals a day, maybe a few times a week, as part of a healthy balanced diet. But I would probably recommend it being used much less than this if possible.”
With a 400-calorie serving in each meal, Huel recommends swapping in its meals one to two times a day, but explain that some customers do also rely solely on their products for nutrition as it’s something they find works for them. In terms of the latter though, this is not something dietitian Helen would advise, citing an article that suggests the prolonged use of Huel could contribute to existing health problems in some cases, given the significant amounts of omega 3.
Psychological reasons are another important reason the dietician believes it’s not ideal to rely on Huel for the majority of your food intake. While Helen acknowledges that it may be possible to remain physically healthy consuming only Huel, “this is not something I would recommend as it would mean missing out on the pleasure of eating the wide range of other nutritious foods that are available to us, and all the social and emotional benefits of eating with friends and family.”
What is the Huel Black edition?
The difference between Huel Powder v3.0 and Huel Black is the macronutrient breakdown – the latter compared to the former has around 50% less carbs and 33% more protein. A 400kcal meal of Huel Black Edition contains a balanced macro split of 17:40:40:3 (carbohydrates, fat, protein fibre) and all the 26 essential vitamins and minerals your body needs to thrive, whereas Huel v3.0, whilst remaining 400kcal per meal, has a macro split of 37:30:30:3 (carbohydrates, fat, protein, fibre), along with the same vitamin and mineral content.
How to start adding Huel into your diet
Expert dietician Helen Gardiner shares her advice on best practice if you want to start ‘Huel-ing’ it up and shines a light on how to start adding Huel into your diet…
1. Check if it’s suitable
Whether Huel is right for you comes down to more than just nutrition, advises Helen. “Substituting meals with a product like Huel on an exclusive basis may lead to social or emotional wellbeing issues and should be discouraged,” she notes, adding that food isn’t just ‘human fuel’ – there are tonnes of advantages in consuming a balanced healthy diet (including a wide range of foods from all the different food groups). It can help with everything from reducing your risk of certain diseases to helping with your sleep cycle. “However, there’s nothing to say that a product like Huel cannot be included within said balanced diet,” Helen notes.
For vegans particularly, Huel could be a good way to ensure a balanced diet. “For those individuals wanting to follow a vegan diet, Huel is a good source of protein, vitamin D and B vitamins. [These] are found in good amounts in a serving of Huel, but may be lacking in a vegan diet.”
2. Choose the right product for you
Huel powder v3.0 is composed of a 37:30:30:3 macronutrient split. What that means is that 37% of the energy will come from carbohydrates, 30% from fats, 30% from proteins and 3% from fibre.
“The body principally derives energy from carbohydrates, fats and proteins, and this is normally split about 50% from carbohydrates, about 35% from fat, and about 15% from protein,” explains Helen. “However, it is not unusual for individuals to consume a higher percentage of energy from protein and a lower amount from carbohydrates, so the different split in Huel is not a concern.”
3. Add some flavour
Huel powders come in a variety of flavours alongside the ‘Unflavoured & Unsweetened’, including vanilla, banana, salted caramel, coffee, original (a natural, oaty taste), strawberries & cream, coffee caramel, chocolate, mint-chocolate, berry and coffee. Obviously this comes down to individual preference, but Helen advises avoiding the ‘unflavoured’ option as sometimes vitamins, minerals, amino acids, etc can have an unpleasant after-taste. If you opt for a flavoured mix instead, it’ll mask that.
Alternatively, many Huel-ers prefer to add natural flavours like bananas, frozen fruit or different types of milk to their shake. “Adding berries can improve the palatability of the drink,” says Helen. “This may increase the amount of overall drink consumed, if an individual normally finds the drink unpalatable and doesn’t normally drink the whole serving as a result, thus increasing the nutritional benefit.”
4. Be aware of potential side-effects
Online Huel forums contain threads of people complaining about stomach pains, flatulence and heartburn, mixed with positive reviews of clearer skin and even, surprisingly, fewer hangovers.
To fulfil your recommended daily calorie intake by Huel alone, you’d have to intake of 2.3 litres of the nutritionally-enhanced fluid. The dietitian notes drinking the product in that quantity would equate to “high levels of dietary fibre (38.3g)”. If an individual is not used to consuming so much fibre in their daily diet, Helen notes that “stomach pains and flatulence could be an issue”.
To help avoid this, she suggests “only using the product occasionally” or, alternatively, building up to this daily amount “gradually over quite a few days”. In terms of its apparent benefits as a hangover cure, there’s probably only one reason Huel-ers have found this to be the case. “It is a way of rehydrating, [which would] would definitely help a hangover,” she theorises.
Shop a Cosmopolitan editor’s Huel picks here:
Helen Gardiner BSc (Hons) is a dietician and registered nutritionist, specialising in healthy eating, lifestyle, behaviours and wellness. She has 26 years of professional experience.
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.