Huel is a vegan UK-based company in the powdered food market. It's been one of the fastest growing markets in the Western world, starting with the likes of Soylent in the US, but rapidly growing to include entrants from all over the world now. Alongside Huel and Soylent, there's Joylent, Ambronite, JouleFuel, Jake Shake, and literally hundreds of smaller competitors who've jumped into a market that's barely two years old. Honestly, this concept has barely been around long enough for the first batches that have been produced to even reach their expiry dates.
I don't want to get too sidetracked into an explanation of the powdered food concept, as many reviews do. Instead, I'm going to give my two cents on the market, and then get straight into what puts Huel at the top of this game at the moment. If you've read the last two paragraphs and are sat wondering what the heck I'm talking about, take a look this Guardian article on powdered food or Huel's homepage to learn what I'm talking about.
Is this a market that matters?
Do I envision a world which we will be living off of powdered food in the future, like some articles (and some powdered food companies) suggest? Nope.
But I do think there is a very large proportion of the market who will turn to these drinks several times per week in the not-too-distant future. They're cheap, convenient, and nutritionally dense. The protein shake market has exploded over the last couple of decades, so why there is such fear around these meal replacements is beyond me. The world has already moved on from enjoying food mindfully, with the exception of some dining experiences. Considering 20% of US meals are eaten in people's cars, driving to and from destinations, like it or not the majority of people's eating habits are already distorted. Powdered food is not responsible for our screwed up relationships with food, and actually has potential to do a lot of good.
In addition, it offers a lot of benefits from health to environmental. And it's a damn sight more culturally appealing than chowing down on crickets so can we please stop pretending that that will be the future of sustainable protein?
Why Huel is ruling the powdered food market
To understand why Huel is ruling the roost right now, it's important to understand the motivations behind these products. In short, whoever wins has got to offer the best nutrition at the lowest price. Convenience is roughly equal across the board - these are mix-and-go shakes - and whilst taste is a factor, it merely needs to be pleasantly palatable for most people.
So is Huel the cheapest? No, it's not. It's not staggeringly more expensive than the others (and in comparison to Ambronite, coming in at approximately £8 per meal, it's far more affordable), but there are cheaper options out there... and depending on where you are in the world, postage and packaging play a role. The UK gets it free, but other areas of the world could be paying a fair bit. This being said, there's little in it. The most economical product for me would be Joylent, but the difference in cost is small.
So, that leads us to the other main variable - the nutrition. This is where Huel truly shines. Huel is killing it here, going above and beyond its competitors in pretty much every way. Outside of Ambronite (a product that's at the opposite end of the scale - it's basically luxury powdered food), it just cannot be beaten. Here's why...
Protein in Huel
Huel hasn't shied away from protein at all. On a 2000 calorie Huel plan you're packing in a whopping 150g of protein, with a 30/40/30 macro split in protein/carbs/fats. This dwarfs most of the others. Soylent, by comparison, achieves just over half of this protein content, whilst most other brands are behind by between 10 and 50 grams per 2000 calories.
What's more, Huel using rice and pea as its protein powders of choice. I've got no interest in whey, and whilst I'm not averse to soy, I know many people are. I personally consume plenty of tofu so to ensure I'm getting protein from other sources is important. To this end, a rice and pea combo is very welcome.
Huel is packed with fibre - something that's proving to be ever more important in the field of gut health. Soylent had my jaw drop. Describing itself as 'optimal nutrition' yet packing under half of your daily requirement of fibre seems, at best, disingenuous and at worst, criminal. Huel packs approximately 150% of your RDA of fibre in a 2000 calorie diet. I'm conscious about taking in plenty of fibre based on recommendations by the likes of Dr Rhonda Patrick, so this is a great inclusion.
Sugar? No thanks
Huel is leading the way in terms of sugar reduction. It comes in at around 1g of sugar per meal, depending on how much you take. That's 3.4g per 2000 calories. This is staggeringly low - in fact, I wouldn't know how to engineer my diet myself to get my sugar count this low. 2000 calories of spinach contains about 30g of sugar. That shows how low this really is.
But we're comparing Huel to other meal replacements here, not spinach. And, unsurprisingly, it's leagues ahead. Components such as maltodextrin in other products means that sugar counts sit at around 60g per 2000 calories for most. I can attest to Huel giving me incredible levels of sustained energy. Rival products has always smacked me with a minor sugar crash, tired periods and more, and reading customer experiences online shows that this is a common side-effect of other products. It also makes Huel diabetic friendly. Truly impressive.
Vitamin and mineral balances
Perhaps the most tell-tale sign that you're in good hands with Huel. Nutritionally, Huel appears to be the only meal replacement with numbers all over the place in terms of micronutrient inclusion. Other products sit neatly at 100% across the board for every micronutrient's RDA on a 2000 calorie plan. On paper it looks great.
Huel, meanwhile, whilst never dipping below the 100% RDA, seems to have no logic to the numbers. 143% of this, 264% of that, 114% of something else... only there is logic to it - lots of it in fact. Nutritionally speaking, many micronutrients are known to interfere with each other in significant ways and impact upon absorption rates. Calcium and iron are an infamous example of this. So, Huel has been formulated to include quantities of respective nutrients that negate these effects. In short, this means that rival products, whilst containing the RDA requirements, aren't actually providing the right balances to ensure your body is taking up vitamins and minerals correctly. This kind of foresight and dedication to a quality product, instead of cost-cutting behaviour that detriments the consumer, is why Huel is a product I trust.
Huel is also pushing the sustainability angle in a big way
I don't think this is the make or break for Huel, but I dig that they're pushing the sustainable angle of their product. They originally reached out to me due to the sustainable vision of True Icon, and you only have to watch their intro video to see how inspired by combatting animal agriculture they are. It's explicit, without being pushy, and it's something that most competing companies aren't even considering. I look forward to seeing where this company's values take it next - in particular, there's huge social value that this could offer in terms of its ability to feed the world in a very sustainable way. Techy geeks and athletes glugging this stuff down is one thing, but imagine what good this could do for developing countries. Huel are wearing their values on their sleeve, and I strongly suspect they'll lead the way in terms of the social value that powdered food companies can offer.
Where Huel could improve
It's not all perfect - there are a few things I would hope to see Huel work on in the future.
Vegan D3 would be a great replacement for the current D2. D3 has been proven to have numerous benefits over D2, and if Huel could find a way to integrate this without a significant price rise then that would no doubt appeal. D3 is all the rage right now, and I strongly believe we should all be supplementing with large doses of it in addition to our diet anyway, but switching D2 to vegan D3 would be an easy win for Huel.
Huel packs tremendous amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids already, but primarily from flaxseed. I've given Soylent a bit of a bashing in this review, but one area that they are getting it right is by including algal oil. DHA and EPA Omega 3 from algae is a far better option to ALA omega 3 found in flaxseed.
Phytonutrients and antioxidants
Huel has shown itself to be the innovator in this market by its reduction of sugar content. I would love to see it innovate further. A cocktail of powerful compounds and phytonutrients would be incredible. Currently I've been mixing my Huel with a few green powders and concentrates, but it's totally feasible to see this stuff being added by default. Whole powders such as spirulina and spinach, as well as specific compounds like anthocyanins, lycopene, and resveratrol. Heck, I'm not the nutritionist here, but adding powerful nutrient compounds that have been continually linked to long-term wellbeing and health would be a killer addition.
How you'll use Huel
All-in-all Huel is an incredibly well-rounded and thought out product. How you use it will vary upon your needs, but that's the beauty of powdered meal replacements. I've known people using these for weightloss, for convenience, as post-workout shakes, or for wellbeing. Personally, I'm now using Huel most mornings as a breakfast, along with a few fruits, but finding if and how it fits into your life is your own prerogative. If they do appeal to you, then Huel is the best on the market at the moment.
Intrigued? Head here for £5 off your first order.