Food for thought on the food of the future, or can you stomach Huel
As someone who loves cooking and used to shy away from GNC cans of whey protein as a symbol of unhealthy compromise in an attempt to have more protein in one's diet (aka burning fat and getting lean), the idea of replacing 'real food' with a protein shake to me was nothing but outrageous. I would also look down at powdered fiber that you can add to the food as 'clearly' it wouldn't be as good for you as all the natural goodness that comes from fruit and veg and meat, chicken and fish. At the same time all the 'six pack is made in the kitchen and not in the gym' statements and examples of personal trainers and their clients getting leaner with kitchen scale and dedicated food prep make a strong case for food being fuel for our body. If so, can one make 'food of the future' in a lab? AND, would this future food address the wider issues of food production such as the environmental impact of industrial agriculture, packaging and transportation and food waste?
Since a software engineer Rob Rhinehart invented Soylent, an open source meal replacement that 'meets nutrition requirements for adults' in 2013, its competitors started popping up across America and Europe with dozens of brands profiting from the industry that is likely to be $65 billion per year, according to Forbes. Turns out that one of Soylent's closest competitors - Huel - has been working on its product since 2012 (and sold over 3 million meals since its launch in 2015). As I am putting Huel to test, in this article I will cover all the aspects that I find important and curious, and that answer questions and concerns I had prior to trying 'the future of food'.
What is Huel, really?
Huel is a 'nutritionally complete powdered food' formulated by a sports nutritionist James Collier BSc (Hons), RNutr. It comes in a form of a nutritional powder and is designed to provide all of the body's daily needs in terms of vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Made of oats, pea protein, flaxseed, MCTs from coconut, sunflower lecithin, sea salt, a bespoke blend of 26 vitamins and minerals, vanilla flavour and a sweetener, Huel has the macros balance of 37:30:30:3 with 37% of energy coming from carbohydrates, 30% from fats, 30% from proteins and 3% from fibre.
It's 100% vegan, high in protein (148g per 2000 calories) and fibre (35g), and contains 4.6 grams of sugar per 2000 calories (no added sugar). One scoop of Huel (38g) is 156 calories and one would need to have 12 scoops to hit the daily intake of 2000 calories. That means 2-3 scoops 4-6 times a day if you go 100% Huel.
Taste the difference
When you order Huel, it comes with recommendations to add 1 part of Huel to 5 parts of water, shake it well and drink it. You are welcome to experiment by adding more or less water, blending in flavors for taste variety or using ice/cold water for a different taste.
While many reviews (not only those of Huel but also Soylent and other powdered drinks) criticize its taste, I find it delicious due to two main reasons: it's not sweet (not only in comparison to other powdered food and protein shakes like DNC but on its own as well) and it has a natural oaty taste. It doesn't leave any unpleasant aftertaste like many protein bars do and doesn't give you a heartburn or anything like that. Oh, my Huel is Vanilla flavored, in case you wonder.
What it does to your body
With the precise macro split of Huel, it's easy to manage the food intake, whether your goal is to loose, maintain or gain weight. Having replaced my breakfasts and some lunches with Huel, I noticed that it kept me satisfied for a few hours, improved my digestion and overall left me feeling lighter and not bloated. Flatter stomach and lower weight followed within days.
In fact, Huel carried out one month trials when they put 2 people on 100% Huel nutrition for a month and performed blood screening before and after the experiment to monitor the progress. To me, it was interesting to see the precise data and the details of the experiment: not only because it demonstrates the improvements using hard data but also because the company is transparent about its product and its effects. I am curious to see more of such experiments (eliminating factors such as possible infection that affected the results in the above mentioned trial) that can show even further evidence of how Huel nutrition works and what impact it makes on one's body.
What it does to the world
This is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when we talk about food but our diet choices do indeed have a much wider impact on the environment. Think about the production, packaging and transportation processes involved and see how the food we eat damages the planet we live on. Thus, I personally feel better when what I do produces less waste. Drinking Soylent from plastic bottles? Convenient but tossing a bottle every time you drink it something I feel very uncomfortable with. On the contrary, here's the amount of waste one person would produce if they were only to eat Huel:
Needless to say, the powdered food is available for you as you need it eliminating food waste that is another huge problem that we are as a society still to address. It is reported that 40% of the food produced is discarded in the US...
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