Huel Review: Are Meal Replacement Shakes Unhealthy?

Huel Review: Are Meal Replacement Shakes Unhealthy?


| |
| |


Huel is one of the most popular meal replacement products. It's a powder that can be mixed into water or other liquids, and the brand describes their product as "nutritionally complete" and "the no-prep meal that doesn't compromise on your health."

But what's actually in Huel and is it unhealthy? Are there any questionable additive ingredients? What happened in a clinical trial where participants could only use Huel as their source of calories for four weeks? And how do real users rate the product's taste and effects?

In this article we'll answer all of these questions and more, as we analyze the ingredients in Huel Powder v3.0 based on clinical studies to give our take on whether or not this product is healthy.

We'll also review some of Huel's other products like Huel Black and Huel bars, explain which retailer has the best prices on Huel, and feature unsponsored customer reviews of the brand.

Ingredient Analysis

Huel Powder v3.0 ingredients updated

The ingredients in the unsweetened and unflavored version of Huel Powder v3.0 are shown above.

Oats and flaxseed are relatively nutrient-dense and healthy ingredients.

One serving of Huel Powder provides 7 grams (g) of fiber according to the Nutrition Facts label, which is higher than most meal replacement powders we've reviewed, and fiber intake is associated with weight loss in medical research

Pea protein and brown rice protein are the main protein sources in this blend, and each serving provides 30 g of protein, which is clinically shown to be a dose that supports optimal post-workout muscle protein synthesis.

Sunflower oil is a suboptimal choice in our opinion, as a clinical trial in animals found that sunflower oil may cause more DNA damage than olive oil due to its polyunsaturated fats. 

Acerola cherry and kombucha tea powder are new additions to this formulation (not present in the previous v3.0 version that we evaluated).

These are both nutritious whole food ingredients, but it's challenging to determine any potential health benefits since the dose of these ingredients isn't published on the Nutrition Information page of the brand's website at the time of updating this article.

The remaining ingredients in Huel are a blend of added vitamins and minerals like niacin and vitamin B6

While it makes sense for a meal replacement product to contain supplemental vitamins and minerals, to ensure that consumers who only use this meal replacement rather than eating whole foods get adequate levels of those nutrients, it may be suboptimal for some consumers who eat a regular diet and supplement outside of Huel.

As we referenced in our review of the Feel Great System (another diet program containing supplemental vitamins and minerals), taking high levels of supplemental vitamins and minerals without a documented deficiency may cause blood levels of those nutrients to increase to unhealthy levels.

As a few examples, a day's worth of Huel provides 220% of the Daily Value (DV) of iron, 144% of the DV of copper and 378% of the DV of molybdenum.

One benefit of this formulation is that it's free of unhealthy additive ingredients like artificial sweeteners and artificial flavors.

The brand's flavored powders contain sucralose which is an artificial sweetener. This ingredient was shown in a clinical trial published in the Nutrition Journal to have negative effects on blood sugar and insulin levels.

Overall, we do not consider Huel Powder v3.0 to be particularly healthy, but we don't consider it to be unhealthy either. Healthiness exists on a spectrum and this is a better formulation than most meal replacement products we've reviewed to date on Illuminate Health.

Huel Tested in Clinical Trial

A clinical trial published in the Frontiers in Nutrition journal tested the effects of a Huel-only diet for four weeks.

Participants received full blood tests before the diet intervention, and another round of full blood tests after four weeks of eating Huel for every meal.

Blood levels of certain nutrients like iron, vitamin D, vitamin C and choline increased, while blood levels of other nutrients like potassium and manganese decreased.

Side effects were not reported in this study, which we find to be strange. We're unsure if this means there were no side effects, but in most clinical trials we've reviewed there is a section for side effects, even just to document that none occurred.

In our opinion, this trial suggests that Huel is relatively safe to use even as an exclusive calorie source for the short-term, but it did not prove that Huel improved overall health.

The researchers concluded:

"This study potentially demonstrates that consuming only Huel for 4 weeks does not negatively affect micronutrient status."

Real People Try Huel

A YouTube creator named "Miss Sarah E K" explains why she doesn't recommend Huel after trying nearly every product sold by the brand:

A YouTube creator named "Hooper's Beta" tried using Huel as his only source of nutrition for 30 days, putting the "meal replacement" marketing to the test:

We Review Other Huel Products

Our ingredient analysis focused on Huel Powder v3.0 which appears to be the brand's most popular product. Here's our take on other Huel products:

Huel Black Edition: 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 in healthy individuals. We don't believe that protein intake of 40 g per serving is necessary, but it's not harmful either.

Huel Black contains green tea extract which is an ingredient we recommend avoiding when the dose isn't listed (as it isn't in this product).

As we documented in our ProbioSlim reviews article, it's been shown in some clinical studies that green tea extract at high doses can cause liver damage. For this reason, we would recommend Huel Powder v3.0 over Huel Black.

Huel Ready-to-drink: comes in flavored versions and also contains added sugar. We consider this product line less healthy than Huel's powder formulations.

Huel Bars: contain flavoring agents and some contain added sugar, so again we would recommend Huel's powder products over these.

Where to Buy Huel for the Best Price

Here's a price breakdown for a one-time purchase of two packs of Huel Powder v3.0 at the time of updating this article (consumers must buy a minimum of two packs on the brand's website which is why we chose this amount):

Amazon: $129.95 (free shipping, third-party seller, link)

Brand website: $94 (free shipping, link)

Huel also offers discount codes on a Savings page on their website.

Huel is currently 28% cheaper on the brand's website than on Amazon, and the Amazon listing is from a third-party seller, so it may be safer to purchase directly from the manufacturer in any case.

Our Clean Meal Replacement Pick

Bulletproof Collagen Powder is our top meal replacement pick.

Its formulation is a core reason: Bulletproof's collagen powder only contains one single ingredient: collagen protein sourced from grass-fed animals. No questionable additives at all.

Bulletproof's collagen powder currently costs $43.95 and provides 25 servings, which equates to a per-serving price of $1.76

Huel Powder v3.0 currently costs $94 and contains 34 servings, which equates to a per-serving price of $2.77.

As the core structural protein in skin, supplemental collagen is also clinically shown to reduce visible signs of skin aging like wrinkles, which is a secondary benefit not offered by other types of protein like whey.

Interested consumers can check out Bulletproof Collagen Powder at this link to the product page on the brand's official website.

Real Customers Review Huel

Amazon is a better resource for unbiased customer reviews than a brand's website in our opinion.

Huel Powder has been reviewed over 250 times on Amazon, and has an average review rating of 4 out of 5 stars at the time of updating this article.

The top positive review from a verified purchaser comes from a user named "Nicole Ramirez-Zimmer" who gives the product a 5/5 star rating, and claims that both her and her husband experienced benefits:

"He slimmed down after starting to use it, and it helped boost my milk supply (I’m currently breastfeeding). It definitely makes you feel full, and we both felt a boost in energy."

The top negative review from a verified purchaser is written by a user named "Paul" who gives the product a 1/5 star rating, and dislikes both the mixability and taste:

>"It doesnt mix in or disolve in water!! Gross!...I've tried lots of different mixes like this and this is the worst so far. I let everyone in the office try it and we all decided it would be best to get thrown in the trash. Its that bad."

Pros and Cons of Huel

Here are the pros and cons of Huel in our opinion:

Pros:

  • Convenient
  • Healthier than most meal replacement products we've reviewed
  • Effective protein dose for muscle building
  • Offers unflavored and unsweetened powder
  • Decent fiber dose per serving
  • Added two nutritious ingredients in new formulation
  • Clinically tested

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Sunflower oil may be less healthy than olive oil
  • Contains synthetic vitamin additives
  • Some flavored versions contain sucralose
Stay up-to-date on our research reviews

Conclusion

Huel has improved the formulation of their v3.0 Powder since our initial analysis.

This product contains a relatively high protein and fiber dose, so it should be good for satiation. It also contains some nutritious whole food ingredients like acerola cherry.

We don't currently recommend Huel due to the added vitamins and minerals, but we consider this brand to be healthier than most meal replacement brands we've reviewed to date on Illuminate Health.

For consumers planning to purchase Huel Powder, we recommend the unsweetened and unflavored version for health reasons.

Huel Black has a worse formulation than Huel Powder v3.0 in our opinion, because of the use of green tea extract. We do not believe this product is worth the added cost.

A clinical trial with participants consuming Huel as their only source of calories reported increased blood levels of some nutrients, and decreased blood levels of other nutrients.

The Huel website currently has a better price on their products than third-party retailers like Amazon.




Illuminate Labs is a proud member of