Why Huel is not a Meal Replacement

There has been some confusion as to what Huel is and what it isn’t. By looking at the similarities and differences between groups of products, it’s pretty easy to see where Huel sits.

Protein Shakes

Protein shakes are typically powders that are high in protein but don’t offer much else. The most common protein powders used are whey, casein and soya as they are ‘complete’ protein sources. This means they contain all nine essential amino acids in adequate amounts. Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body so must be provided by our diet. These shakes typically contain 15 to 30g per serving. They contain only small amounts of carbohydrate, fat, fibre, vitamins and minerals, in contrast to Huel. Protein shakes are most commonly used by individuals who want to increase their daily protein intake to support their exercise regimen.

Most plant protein sources are considered incomplete because they provide inadequate amounts of one or more of the essential amino acids. Huel provides a complete protein source by using a combination of brown rice and pea protein. For a 500kcal serving of Huel Powder, there is 37g of high-quality protein; further details are provided here.

Meal Replacements

Meal replacements on the face of it may seem similar to Huel; however, they are far from it. They are generally marketed and designed to support either weight loss or a fitness programme. In the UK and EU weight loss meal replacements are defined and regulated as providing between 200 and 400kcal per serving (no more than 1,200kcal per day) for the purpose of weight loss and cannot be used for 100% of the diet for more than three weeks without medical advice[1]. The US and Japan has no regulations on meal replacements.

Meal replacements are often low in calories, i.e. not enough for a meal, high in sugar (above 10g per serving) and lacking in fibre, fat and low glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrates. Inferior carbohydrate sources, namely maltodextrin, may be used which have little nutritional value beyond the calories they provide[2].

An average Huel meal (Ready-to-drink or Powder) is low in sugar, contains a good amount of fibre, good fats – for example, 2 to 4g of omega-3 fatty acids – and a low GI of 25-27. It’s super easy to add more or less powder to suit the number of calories you want each meal. If weight loss is your goal it’s worth checking out this article. The carbohydrates in Huel Powder are predominantly from oats. You can see more here.


Food can be defined in many ways; one example is “any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink or that plants absorb in order to maintain life and growth”[3]. Some people struggle with Huel being a food because it is not in a “traditional food” format. Humans have been turning foods into flour – a powder – for over 30,000 years; it’s not a new phenomenon[4]. Huel is typically consumed in a liquid format and, while this may seem strange for a meal, soup is also a liquid! You wouldn’t say “I’m replacing ramen with sukiyaki”, you would say “I’m going to have sukiyaki instead of ramen tonight”; the same is true for Huel.


To build on the points above, Huel is a nutritionally complete meal providing all 26 essential vitamins and minerals. Huel has an ideal macronutrient split, with good-quality carbohydrate, fat and protein providing nutritious convenient food. It’s as simple as that.


  1. The European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. Commission Directive 96/8/EC of 26 February 1996 on foods intended for use in energy-restricted diets for weight reduction. Official Journal of the European Union. 2007.
  2. Hofman DL, et al. Nutrition, Health, and Regulatory Aspects of Digestible Maltodextrins. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2016; 56(12):2091-100.
  3. English Oxford Living Dictionaries. Definition of food in English. Accessed 21/01/21. [Available from: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/food].
  4. Mariotti Lippi M, et al. Multistep food plant processing at Grotta Paglicci (Southern Italy) around 32,600 cal B.P. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2015; 112(39):12075-80.

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