8 positive things about meal shakes that are never reported in the mainstream media
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I first wrote about meal shakes in June 2014. At the time I noted that every article I’d ever read about them follows the same predictable trajectory; a journalist goes on a diet of Soylent or Huel for a week or so and then reports back on the experience. The results invariably have a negative slant.
There are dozens of articles like this and they all have the same cliched beats:
- The clinical, other-worldliness of making a meal from powder and water
- Comments about the texture and colour, which make the replacement sound undesirable
- Observations about unpalatable flavours
- The longing that the writer had for basic foods during the experiment
- Some discussion of undesirable physical side-effects
- Relief at the end of the experiment and a conclusion that we’re still a long way from finding the future of food
When the BBC programme “Trust Me, I’m a Doctor” aired a package depicting its hapless presenter, Alain Gregoire, giving Huel a go this week, guess what? It had all the same moments as every other version of the story. Worse, it buried the key research finding that using Huel statistically improved the presenter’s health over one week in a dismissive footnote.
I think it’s time for a journalist who actually knows something about meal shakes to say something positive.
I’ve been using Huel every day for well over six months. Before that, I used other meal shakes on and off for about five years. There are clear advantages that these tourists miss when they parachute in and jot down a few notes about their food hacking holiday.
Meal shakes are not meal replacements. They are meals. I’ll talk about Huel as its the shake I’ve used most. It’s a complete meal with a balance of carbohydrate, protein and fibre, vitamins and minerals. It’s made from recognisable foods like peas, coconut and oats. It is food. Yes, it’s a shake – but we don’t call an oatmeal and fruit smoothie a “meal replacement” when we have one for breakfast.
If you don’t like the taste – that’s a personal thing, but as it’s a shake you can hack the flavour really easily. Like coffee? Add a shot of espresso. Mad about chocolate? Add a teaspoon of premium cocoa. Too sweet? Cut it with the unflavoured and unsweetened version. Add bananas or peanut butter or berries or maple syrup and blend the heck out of it. Too thick? Add more water. Not creamy enough? Mix with milk. Lactose intolerant? Use Oat milk. And, for the love of all that is precious and lovely, blend it, then chill it before you drink it. There is nothing about the taste and texture of meal shakes that you cannot fix.
Huel is vegan and, for those concerned about phytoestrogens, soy-free. I’m already vegetarian and trying to be vegan. Huel has helped me to reach that goal. I haven’t had an egg for breakfast in six months.
Meal shakes strive for nutritional balance and have helped me become the fittest I’ve felt in years. I’ve been using it to control weight loss – true – and many of the benefits come from that. But I’m also getting a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals I wasn’t getting on my haphazard former diet.
There are some enthusiasts who drink meal shakes for every meal – but they are probably in the lower percentile of users. Personally, I replace breakfast and snacks with Huel. Occasionally I have it for lunch. It varies, but there’s no narrative of denial going on here at all. I’m on a calorie-controlled diet but if I want a slice of toast or two, that’s what I’ll have.
These stories always focus on meal shakes as a wholesale replacement for food, rather than on why a person might need or want them. It’s the same argument as vegetarianism – no one is making you do it; it’s a choice that fits a lifestyle. For me, they’re a quick option that I can fit into a time-poor day. It takes me ten minutes of scooping and blending in the evening to make three meals. That’s time saved I can use to make a stew or curry or chilli from scratch for dinner.
Counting calories with Huel is simple. One scoop equals 200 calories. Two scoops equal 400. I even have a couple of smaller scoops that are about 150 calories each. Whether you’re trying to bulk up or slim down, you know exactly how many calories you’re having, every time.
And finally, they are convenient. Some of my job is leading workshops and giving lectures. On one day every week, I do that for seven hours straight – with a health condition that makes me prone to low blood sugar. With a meal shake I can “eat” in the middle of a workshop. I just take in a flask of chilled Huel and have a glug in a quiet moment. I can eat in the middle of my commute, standing up on the train. Try doing that with a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs.
Gregoire’s conclusion was that he “missed the social aspects of eating a meal with other people, as well as the pleasure in preparing and eating food”. It was a curious thing to say, given that almost no one who uses Huel uses it for every single meal.
You don’t have to give up the enjoyment of food; the meditative moments spent prepping and cooking, sitting down and savouring tastes, smells and textures. You don’t have to give up your social interaction with the people you care about at the end of the day. You can still have all of that. In fact, you can have more – because you have more time.
You can have your Huel and eat your cake.