Food is a big deal for all of us. It costs us time, and it costs us money. For increasing numbers of us, it also costs us our health. Throughout the developed world, we eat nutritionally-imbalanced diets. This leads to a broad range of severe health problems. In fact, we’re seeing life expectancies actually falling in certain countries – notably the US.
Governments have struggled with this situation. Constrained by a perfect storm of consumer tastes, income inequality, and a powerful industrial lobby, they’ve struggled to control public health by changing diets.
Meanwhile, the consequences of producing the food we eat pose severe challenges to society. Climate change caused directly by farming may be less than 15% of the total – but clearing forests for farmland doubles that. Then, you have to add emissions from food processing, transport, retail and disposal. Taken together, it’s a huge amount of our total impact on the planet.
But what if we just stopped eating?
That might sound crazy, but today I’m talking to a man who may have a way. I’ll hand you over to James Collier, registered nutritionist from Huel.
For transparency: I’m a Huel customer. I have not requested or received any products, payments or discounts from the firm.
AL: Hi James. What is Huel?
JC: It’s “Human Fuel”; that’s where we got the name. Huel is a nutritionally complete powdered food, which you drink as a shake. It contains all the proteins, carbs and fats you need – and in the right balance. For every 2,000 calories, it contains at least 100% of the European Union’s “Daily Recommended Amounts” of all 26 essential vitamins and minerals. In short, Huel contains absolutely everything your body needs, all in the correct ratios.
AL: So it’s possible to live off nothing but Huel shakes?
JC: Yes – you’d be meeting all your nutritional requirements, at 2,000 calories of Huel per day. We don’t claim that Huel is as good as the “perfect” diet of high-quality, well-prepared fresh food. But how many people truly follow such a diet these days? The “5-a day” fruit and veg guideline is an absolute minimum – and most people don’t even consume the five! Huel is the next best thing. It’s certainly better than the “typical” Western diet.
AL: We don’t fully understand what makes fruit and vegetables healthy. How can you be sure you’ve not missed out crucial nutrients from Huel?
JC: Indeed, fruit and veg do contain a lot more than vitamins and minerals: they contain phytonutrients that, like you say, make them healthy. Phytonutrients are substances in food that act as antioxidants. These quash bad free-radicals, and, in turn, have a wealth of health benefits. Huel is primarily based on natural foods, so the phytonutrients from the ingredients are naturally retained. They are a component of the milled oats and ground flaxseeds we use. Furthermore, as well as the naturally occurring phytonutrients from the Huel ingredients, we’ve added three additional ones that we feel are important for health: lutein, and zeaxanthin, for long-term eye health; and lycopene, which may help protect against cancer.
AL: There are other products in this space, such as Soylent. What makes you different?
JC: We’ve had two leading competitor brands assessed independently by dieticians, and Huel came out on top. Huel is primarily (around 97%) natural ingredients based on food ingredients, whereas others are based on more non-natural ingredients. Huel also has a pleasant flavour and mouth-feel and it’s been claimed to be more satisfying than the competition. Furthermore, some competitor brands include large amounts of animal products, and these cannot be truly sustainable.
AL: Stopping eating is pretty radical. What brings your customers to choose this approach?
JC: A few customers have stopped eating solid food altogether and moved on to consuming Huel as their sole source of nutrition. However, most people consume Huel for one or two meals per day and have a traditional family evening meal. Those who do consume Huel solely, are those who don’t really enjoy eating and want something convenient.
AL: How much of the world’s food supply could potentially be replaced with products like Huel? I assume you’d have to reformulate it, as the ingredients aren’t grown everywhere.
JC: That’s an impossible question to answer, to be honest. I wouldn’t want to see people stop eating solid food altogether, but I would like to see people eating good quality food, certainly cutting out junk and move on to consuming products like Huel for some meals. Think of the difference it would make to their health and to the environment!
The world’s population is around seven billion and is set to grow to 9.7 billion by 2050. We can’t carry on the way we are. If everyone ate a Western style diet we would be in big trouble. We throw away 30% of all food. Furthermore, we use meat as a primary food source – which is inefficient, often inhumane, and unsustainable. It takes 7kg of grain to make 1kg of meat in the UK and USA. Livestock is responsible for more greenhouse gases than all the cars and planes in the world combined.
AL: What would be the consequences of such a switch? Would we be able to support a larger population or reduce pollution?
JC: The consequence of such a switch would definitely be a healthier population, as well as the benefits to the potential global food crisis described above. Pollution wise, animals create a lot of greenhouse gases – and this pollution would be massively reduced. Also, there’d be much less food waste. We would certainly be able to support a larger population, and simultaneously reduce pollution.
AL: How could a Huel-type diet affect health?
JC: Obviously, there’s the obesity issue – now, more people are now overweight than underweight. This is one way Huel would be of great benefit. As a population we have made food so delicious that we crave it, get addicted to it and over consume it. The result is that over 64% of English adults are overweight or obese. Of course, obesity-related conditions are now on the increase. Over four million people have diabetes, and over 15 million are classed as borderline diabetics. Did you know that obesity reduces life expectancy by an average of three years? The cost to the UK economy has been estimated at over £15 billion per year – and that’s without including the loss of quality of life.
AL: This seems like a bit of a labour of love for you. Do you think that Huel, and firms like it, can become global superbrands?
JC: I can’t speak for other companies, but Huel can absolutely become a global superbrand and a part of a lot of people’s daily nutrition. People love convenience. Of course, they love food as well! But with Huel readily available, they can enjoy the convenience of Huel, and still eat regular food when they have more time. I certainly do envisage Huel becoming a household name within three to five years.
AL: There are some people that depend on the state for their food: prisoners, hospital patients, kids in care and people on benefits. Should the government be supplying Huel, or similar foods, to these people?
JC: As a dietitian, I used to work in the NHS clinical setting, particularly with the undernourished. I can definitely see a value of Huel there – as it’s nutritionally superior to the prescribable sip feeds currently used. It’s also more palatable and easier to consume, which are two important barriers for many patients who need to eat. Indeed, Huel should be an option for all in-patients as an alternative to hospital food (which is often loathed). In other types of institutions, Huel could indeed be an option – as it’s more sustainable, cheaper and more convenient, while supplying consumers with better quality nutrition than they are currently having.
AL: Finally – do you still eat food?
JC: Of course! Food is great and should be enjoyed. Huel is high-quality nutrition in a convenient form. I consume 12-15 scoops of Huel per day, plus one or two solid meals of good food; I exercise regularly so I have higher than average nutritional requirements. I enjoy my food and I enjoy my Huel and it certainly makes my busy days easier.
Is it time we stopped eating? We’d welcome your feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org.