Fueling with Huel: How an early adopter counts calories

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As part of my quest to lose weight, I’ve been sticking to a strict limit of 1800 calories a day. I've been doing that now for about nine weeks. Only forty-four weeks left to go...

If you’ve already read why it was so difficult for me to start a diet you’ll know I have a condition that makes it hard to maintain an even blood sugar level during the day. I’m busy too, with little time to calculate and document how many calories are in every meal I eat. One strategy that works for me is reasonable repetition; eating similarly composed meals for breakfast and lunch.

I’ve not written about the other strategy before because, when I do, people look at me funny.

Here’s my confession. I am using a “nutritionally complete” meal replacement system called Huel. A powder that you mix with water, it’s made mainly from pea and rice protein, oats, sunflower oil and a cocktail of micronutrients. It looks like a thick milkshake and tastes... sort of like a thick milkshake.

I feel like I have to explain this. You see, I was a technology journalist in a previous life, which means I’m a serial early adopter. I must be one of the only members of Gen X with a TikTok account. I first wrote about nutritionally complete meal replacement drinks back in 2013 and I’ve tried quite a few of them since – some for longer periods than others. Huel is the only one I’ve ever really, honestly, liked.

For me, there are lots of things to recommend Huel. First off, it’s vegan. I’m a slightly less militant, common-or-garden vegetarian, but I appreciate the work that’s gone into formulating a meal replacement that contains no animal by-products at all. Second, it doesn’t contain any soy protein. Soy protein just doesn’t agree with me. It bloats my stomach and makes me gassy. Goodbye, veggie burgers and meal replacements full of soy protein powder.

Third, Huel has a really low glycaemic index or GI. Its GI of 27 (out of 100) is lower than lentils or porridge oats. There's a ready-mixed version that has an even lower GI of 25. Anything over 70 is considered high and there are more foods close to this bracket than you might think (most bread, potatoes, white rice). This is a good thing. It means that Huel doesn’t spike my blood sugar and cause the reactive hypoglycaemia I dreaded so much going into this challenge.

I left the main reason I like Huel to last. It enables me to count calories really quickly. I should point out that Huel isn’t specifically designed for weight loss at all. It’s not like those horrible pink diet shakes you can probably still get from Boots or Superdrug. It’s a consistent, predictable and nutritionally complete food. Two scoops blended with about 450ml of water makes a replacement meal that’s just over 300 calories. It takes about two minutes to prepare.

Some people, hardcore Silicon Valley post-human, bulletproof-coffee swilling types, replace all their meals with Huel or similar systems. Me? I just use it to make my dieting day easier. Most days, especially when I have a long or tough day ahead, I’ll have 300 calories worth for breakfast – but it’s most useful for me in between meals. Instead of having a muffin or flapjack mid-morning, I have 150 calories of Huel. It helps me to avoid impulsive, fattening snacks, keeps me on an even keel and, when you mess with it a bit, doesn’t taste at all bad.

The most important thing is that it's working. With carefully balanced diet and exercise, I've lost 15 lbs in nine weeks.

A typical, busy day’s menu might be:

Then, at the weekend or quieter days, I’ll have overnight muesli or banana and peanut butter on thick, wholemeal toast for breakfast. Because I can. Other days I’ll have what I call a “Huel fast” which isn’t a fast at all because Huel is food. It’s just food that you drink.

It’s not all sunshine and unicorns. The standard flavoured versions are too sweet for my mature palate. Fortunately, there’s an unflavoured, unsweetened version. I mix this half and half, a scoop of each, with the vanilla or banana flavoured versions. I’ve also experimented with my own “recipes”. My favourite is two scoops of vanilla Huel, a scoop of unflavoured, a shot of cold espresso and a teaspoon of cocoa powder. Topped up with water in a tall shaker and thoroughly mixed, it’s mocha flavoured. This makes enough (for me) to have breakfast and a mid-morning snack.

A general tip; I always make up my Huel the night before and leave it in the fridge until morning. It tastes better cold and leaving it overnight improves the consistency massively.

To repeat, Huel isn’t diet food – but it is vegan, nutritionally complete, easy to make and easy to calorie count. It’s the latter characteristic that has made it a Godsend for my diet. As a long as I have a flask of it in my bag, I can always let others eat flapjack.