Huel is one of the more popular meal replacement systems. Their products are mostly sold as powder which can be added to water, and Huel claims it’s equivalent to a “nutritionally complete meal in powdered form”.
While this format of food is very convenient, in past reviews like our Ka’Chava review we’ve found it to be inferior from a health perspective to eating whole foods.
In this article we’ll review the ingredients in Huel Powder to determine whether it really is as healthy as a meal composed of nutrient-dense whole foods. We’ll also review some of their other products like Huel Black Edition and Huel ready-to-drink.
Huel’s most popular product is their Powder, which comes in a variety of flavors. Their flavored powders contain sucralose as an artificial sweetener, which we recommend avoiding.
Medical research has proven that chronic sucralose consumption in healthy adults can cause aberrations in insulin and glucose response. We recommend avoiding artificial sweeteners generally, so for consumers who are set on purchasing Huel we’d recommend the “Unflavoured & Unsweetened” option, which is the ingredient label highlighted above.
The flavored Huel powders also contain natural flavor, which is a broad categorization that encompasses many chemicals, some same and some unsafe. We recommend that consumers avoid products with flavoring agents, so again the “Unflavoured & Unsweetened” option seems superior from a health perspective.
The only whole foods in Huel are oats and ground flaxseed, which are both relatively nutrient-dense and healthy ingredients. Both are high in fiber, which is associated with weight loss in medical research.
Huel contains pea protein as its main protein source, which is a good option because it’s one of the few vegan options that’s a complete protein, as we discussed in our Beyond Beef review. A complete protein means a protein source which contains all 9 of the essential amino acids that the body can’t produce on its own, and needs to source from food.
Three of Huel’s food ingredients (tapioca starch, sunflower oil powder, medium-chain triglyceride powder) are relatively low in nutrients and seem like strange choices for a “nutritionally-complete” meal replacement product.
Sunflower oil, as an example, contains a small amount of Vitamin E and essentially no other vitamins or minerals. It’s also shown to be inferior to more expensive oils like extra virgin olive oil in clinical research, likely due to its ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.
The rest of Huel’s formulation is a synthetic blend of vitamins and minerals. For consumers truly planning to use exclusively Huel for all nutrient intake, this is probably a good thing, but that’s almost certainly a small percentage of Huel users.
For the average user planning to use a meal replacement shake powder when they’re on the go or too busy to cook, we tend to think that synthetic vitamins and minerals are unnecessary and potentially harmful.
We know from medical research that supplemented micronutrients aren’t nutritionally equivalent to consuming the micronutrient from a whole food source, and for consumers already getting adequate nutrition from their diet, consuming added synthetic vitamins and minerals may push their levels of those nutrients into an unhealthy range.
We believe that vitamin and mineral supplements can be a useful tool for adults on restricted diets, or those with nutritional deficiencies proven through labwork, but that the risks of taking regular random blends of vitamins and minerals outweigh the benefits, which is why we never recommend products containing synthetic vitamin and mineral blends.
Overall, Huel Powder is a decent formulation, but we find it to be relatively low in nutrients not considering the added vitamin and mineral blend. It’s certainly a healthier option than fast food or many other grab-and-go packaged food options, but we don’t recommend it.
Other Huel Products
Huel Black Edition has a very similar formulation to Huel Powder. The main differentiator is the macronutrient ratios, with Huel Black containing 50% fewer carbs and 33% more protein than Huel Powder.
From a health perspective, these macronutrient differences don’t really make a difference (outside of specific disease states like diabetes), and while we don’t recommend this product, we recommend that consumers set on purchasing it choose the Unflavoured & Unsweetened option for reasons discussed above
Huel Ready-to-drink appears less healthy than the powder products because there is no unflavored option. All of the drinks contain added sugar and natural flavorings. The core ingredients and vitamin/mineral blend is nearly identical to the powder products.
Huel Bars all contain added sugar and natural flavoring, along with the vitamin and mineral blend, so we don’t recommend them.
We haven’t come across a commercial meal replacement product that we would recommend, but there are simple food-based at-home solutions for consumers looking to eat healthy in a rush.
Whey protein sourced from pastured animals could be mixed with unsweetened coconut milk and psyllium husk for added fiber. This is a whole foods meal replacement shake that would take under a minute to prepare and avoid all of the unsavory Huel additives.
As we referenced in our mass gainer alternatives article, nuts are a great, nutrient-dense option for consumers who don’t have the time to prepare a full meal. Try varying nut intake for optimal micronutrient intake. This is a cheaper and healthier option than Huel bars in our opinion.
For consumers looking for a healthy functional beverage, we’d recommend Vital Proteins collagen water over Huel Ready-to-drink. We have no association with Vital Proteins; we just found their formulations to be quality in our review of their brand.