Do you find eating to be a chore? Do you think that you would be just so much more productive if you didn’t to deal with the pesky task of eating? Did you wish that the sci-fi concept of a ‘meal in a pill’ existed?
Well, if you do, then you’ve definitely heard of Soylent. First launched in 2013, its creators, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who found eating real food all too troublesome, decided to create their own version of food.
They named after the food product in Harry Harrison’s 1966 science fiction novel Make Room! Make Room!, although most people probably associate it with the movie Soylent Green, which was loosely based on said novel.
Since the idea behind Soylent was quite novel at the time, its launch immediately went viral. Sure, meal replacement shakes are nothing new, but prior to Soylent, the idea was for you to replace one or maybe two meals with those shakes. Then Soylent came around and said you could replace ALL your meals with its product. Essentially, you could elect to never eat real food again and be perfectly healthy.
In fact, quite a few people have gone on Soylent-only diets for periods ranging from weeks to months and emerged none the worse for wear. Eventually, of course, they opted to go back to eating real food (with Soylent as an occasional meal replacement) because let’s face it, eating food is awesome and is besides being a social convention is one of the base pleasures of life.
But while Soylent may be the first brand that comes to mind when you think of ‘complete meal replacement’ products, in recent years, a few prominent competitors have emerged to challenge Soylent’s dominance of this niche. One of those competitors is Huel, developed just one year after Soylent.
In today’s comparison article we will be giving you a detailed review of each product as well as a head to head comparison of their individual pros and cons. By the end of this review, all you efficiency hounds will be better informed as to which of these products will be a better fit for you and your lifestyle.
- 1 Soylent: The Industry Leader
- 2 Soylent Basic Information
- 3 Huel: The Rising Competitor
- 4 Soylent vs. Huel: Which Is The Superior Product?
- 5 Our Verdict: Huel Is the Overall Superior Product
Soylent: The Industry Leader
With a somewhat tongue in cheek name (which no doubt added to its popularity), Soylent is definitely the most popular choice. But is it really the best? Let’s break down what goes into Soylent (don’t worry, it’s not people).
Before we go on, you should know that while they started out with just offering their base powder product, Soylent has since expanded to a pre-made drink, both caffeinated and non-caffeinated (the caffeinated version is known as Cafe).
Normally we would just review the base powder that Soylent offers however because the company has ensured the powder and drink versions remain remarkably similar, we will be reviewing all three versions at once.
Soylent Basic Information
Here are the very basics of what goes into a single serving of Soylent. Note that as of the time of this writing, the Soylent Powder on the market is version 1.8, which was released in March 2017.
|Soylent Powder||Soylent Drink||Soylent Cafe|
|Calories||400 calories||400 calories||400 calories|
*As described in the Carbohydrates Source section, these sugars are actually isomaltulose which acts more like a slow-acting carb. It is only classified as sugar due to FDA regulations.
As you can see, Soylent has kept the variations between each of their products remarkably low. Despite slight differences, mainly in the carbohydrates and fats content, all three Soylent products are quite consistent.
Soylent Café also has caffeine (from coffee powder) and L-theanine as additional ingredients. L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea and commonly supplemented as a nootropic. By itself, it promotes relaxation but has a good synergistic effect with caffeine, resulting in a higher attention and focus.
Roughly speaking, the macronutrient breakdown of each of Soylent’s products would have a protein/carbohydrates/fats ratio of about 20%/35%/45%.
We note that it is quite fat dominant, and while protein is adequate at 20%, some more fitness-minded people would probably prefer a higher amount of protein.
Each serving of Soylent (all three products) is designed to provide exactly 20% of the daily requirements of the following micronutrients. These daily requirements are based on a 2,000 calorie daily diet. The exact 20% calculation is precisely calculated; 5 servings of Soylent add up to 2,000 calories and the makers clearly used this as a benchmark for the micronutrients as well.
The micronutrients contained in Soylent are as follows:
Vitamin D, iron, Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin B5, iodine, zinc, copper, chromium, choline, calcium, potassium, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B3, Vitamin B9, biotin, magnesium, selenium, manganese, and molybdenum.
Overall, we have to say that Soylent’s micronutrient profile is perfectly adequate and balanced and is also very precisely calculated, which we like.
The source of Soylent’s protein is soy protein isolate, which is a complete source of protein. Depending on your view, this may not be the ideal protein source, especially if you are a male. You may have heard that soy protein can reduce testosterone levels, and wondered if it is a myth.
While it is not true that soy protein will cause your testosterone levels to plummet, one clinical study showed that excessive soy protein intake decreases serum testosterone levels in healthy men.
In said study, serum testosterone levels decreased by 19%, which is quite a significant amount. However, note the words ‘excessive soy protein intake’ in the study’s language. The male volunteers in the study took 56g of soy protein a day for four weeks, which is equivalent to about three servings of Soylent per day. Hence, if you take less than that amount, you should be fine.
Further, we should highlight that different studies have contradicted the above study’s conclusion. This article, which sums up the current research on the links between soy protein intake with testosterone levels and muscle mass, notes a few contradictory studies.
For instance, a similar study done using lower amounts of soy protein (20g daily) for a similar period noted zero testosterone lowering effects. Another one showed that even at 50g of soy protein daily for a longer period of 12 weeks, the volunteers not only did not experience any lowered testosterone but also showed similar increased in lean body mass to the whey protein control group.
All these means is that the research is yet to be conclusive. In all likelihood, high daily Soylent intake will not have any significant effect on your testosterone levels.
Nevertheless, some people might choose to err on the side of caution. If that is the case, we suggest you limit your Soylent servings to a maximum of once or twice daily.
We should note also that the use of soy protein is relatively new. Previously, Soylent used brown rice protein but switched to soy protein due to its superior amino acid profile and digestibility.
At about 35% of total calories or 36g to 39g per serving, Soylent has a significant amount of carbohydrates. This is, of course, to be expected given that it is a total meal replacement, not just a supplement.
Note that if you are calculating the calorie contribution of carbohydrates that you have to deduct the dietary fiber component.
In terms of its composition, Soylent contains both simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates provide a quick source of energy, immediately increasing blood glucose levels, while complex carbohydrates are broken down over a longer period, giving a more sustained release of energy.
Soylent has three sources of carbohydrates: isomaltulose, modified food starches, and maltodextrin. Isomaltulose is a slow digesting disaccharide, and is used to improve the overall glycemic index of Soylent (i.e. making the glycemic index lower). Studies have shown that isomaltulose is highly digestible and easily absorbed, while increasing blood sugar levels only gradually and moderately.
Maltodextrin, on the other hand, provides mostly simple carbohydrates and due to its low cost, is found in many supplements. It is classified as safe by the FDA, but carries a very high glycemic index value, ranging from 85 to 105. Hence, the addition of isomaltulose to balance it out.
You should also know that maltodextrin has been linked to negative changes in the composition of gut bacteria. This could be counteracted with a probiotic supplement; but if you have digestive issues, you might want to be wary of consuming large amounts of Soylent. However, we note that Soylent (drink versions only) also contains isomaltooligosaccharides, which is a soluble prebiotic fiber that can support probiotic growth.
The final source of carbohydrates in Soylent is modified food starches, a starch in this case derived from waxy maize. Waxy maize is another common carbohydrate supplement, although, in contrast to maltodextrin, it is a slow acting carbohydrate that can moderate the blood glucose and insulin response.
You might have noticed that Soylent contains a high amount of added sugars on its label. Well, rest assured that it is only a labeling issue. The sugars are actually from isomaltulose which FDA regulations stipulate must be classified as sugars, despite its complex carbohydrate properties (an estimated glycemic index value of only 32).
Finally, let’s look at Soylent’s fiber sources. These are mainly from either oat fiber or corn fiber. The oat fiber is found in the drinks, while the soluble corn fiber is found in the powder version.
Overall, Soylent’s carbohydrate content has clearly been optimized from a cost and efficiency perspective. The manufacturer tries to balance out low-cost ingredients with the need to get an optimal glycemic index for the product.
Overall, we can say that they mostly succeeded, although the quality of the carbohydrates is not the best. As a whole, Soylent has a glycemic index value in the 40 – 45 range and 14 to 16 glycemic load value per serving, which is moderate.
At about 45% of total calories, fat comprises the slight majority of Soylent’s macronutrients. The main sources of fat within Soylent are high oleic canola oil for the powder versions and a combination of canola oil and sunflower oil for the drink versions.
Both of these ingredients are good sources of beneficial Omega fatty acids. In addition, canola oil has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, fat oxidization, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
As you can tell from the breakdown in the earlier section, Soylent is comprised of mostly unsaturated fats with a minimal amount of saturated fats. Further, the addition of soy lecithin in the mix can provide additional benefits on your cholesterol levels.
Overall, Soylent has a decent fat profile, which is good considering that it provides the majority of its calories. The research behind the fats used in Soylent is quite robust, and people with high cholesterol levels could likely benefit from Soylent.
If there’s one thing that nobody is crowing about with regards to Soylent, it’s its taste. At best, most people consider the taste of Soylent powder as neutral. It is hard to describe its flavor, but more than a few people have compared its taste to half and half, with a slightly gritty texture. Since Soylent powder is only available unflavored, this is to be expected.
The drink versions, on the other hand, do taste better. The non-caffeinated version comes in Original and Cacao flavors (the nectar flavor was recently discontinued) and its taste have been described as milk with a vanilla tinge. The Cacao flavor, of course, has an additional taste of chocolate fudge.
As for its Cafe product, it tastes mostly like the Original drink but with a very slight hint of a coffee flavor. It also has Vanilla and Chai flavors, which are quite new.
The flavoring in Soylent comes from small amounts of sucralose (better known as Splenda), plus other natural flavors.
The amount of sucralose is kept at under 25mg per serving and is higher in the powder versions. We note that the other natural flavors are only present in the drink versions while the powder version only has sucralose, which is mainly to mask the flavor. No wonder the drink versions taste much better!
Value for Money
Based on undiscounted prices from Soylent’s official website, we have broken down Soylent’s cost on a per serving basis (which is 400 calories) as well as on a per 100 calorie basis.
|Price per Serving||Price per 100 Calories|
|Soylent Powder||$1.83 (powder pouch) (For the latest prices and discounts, check here)|
$2.83 (powder tub) (For the latest prices and discounts, check here)
$0.71 (powder tub)
|Soylent Drink (Original)||$2.83 (For the latest prices and discounts, check here)||$0.71|
|Soylent Drink (Cacao)||$3.25 (For the latest prices and discounts, check here)||$0.81|
|Soylent Cafe||$3.25 (For the latest prices and discounts, check here)||$0.81|
As mentioned, prices are above are undiscounted. Soylent gives you the option of monthly subscriptions, which will entitle you to a 5% discount on all products except for the powder pouch, which has a much larger 16% discount.
And if you were wondering why the powder tub costs more than the powder pouch (it’s usually the other way round), the likely explanation is that the powder tub price is the MSRP price available at retail outlets. Hence, at present, buying Soylent online is the most cost-effective option.
As a complete meal replacement, Soylent mostly delivers what it promises. It gives you a good balance of both macro and micronutrients that match what the average healthy person should consume on a daily basis.
However, as we mentioned, its protein content can be considered rather low and the soy protein may be off-putting for some. But since it is rare that someone would replace 100% of their meals with Soylent, this can be easily mitigated.
We also have to give props to the manufacturers of Soylent for trying to keep their product as cost-efficient as possible. By using ‘cheaper’ ingredients such as maltodextrin, it is clear that the company wants its products to be used by the masses, and not just a well-off niche.
And this shows in its value proposition. If we assume a 2,800 daily calorie intake, which equates to seven servings of Soylent, this would cost as low as $12.81 per day or about $90 per week. Taking into consideration that the average American spends $151 to $180 on food weekly, and we see that Soylent demonstrates very good value for money.
The tradeoff of course, as we mentioned is that the ingredients aren’t of the highest quality. Further, Soylent uses plenty of GMO ingredients, particularly in its soy products, something the company is proud of (it notes that it is ‘Proudly Made With GMOs’). Despite what the conspiracy theorists will tell you, the scientific consensus on GMO is that is safe.
But as we believe that everyone should make their own choices, we have to highlight this fact as it would be a negative for some people. And of course, needless to say, if you are allergic to Soy, don’t take Soylent.
Huel: The Rising Competitor
Founded in 2014 by registered nutritionist James Collier and entrepreneur Julian Hearn, Huel quite readily acknowledges itself as a substitute and competitor to Soylent. Generally speaking, they are targeting the same customer demographic, although as it is based in the UK, there is still a bit of a geographical and logistical difference.
Currently, Huel is available in both powder and bar form. For the purposes of this review, we will be looking only at the powder versions, which is available in both regular and gluten-free versions.
Huel Basic Information
Here are the basics of what you will find in one Huel serving. Note that at the time of this writing, the version of the Huel powder sold on the market is V2.2. Further, notes two serving size options, ~100g and ~125g. For purposes of easier comparison with Soylent, we are only listing the information for the 100g serving size.
|Vanilla Powder||Unflavored Powder|
|Calories||402 calories||410 calories|
In terms of the basic information, the gluten-free versions of both the vanilla and unflavored powder have exactly the same specifications.
Each serving of Huel roughly breaks down into a 30/40/30 proteins/carbohydrates/fats ratio. While carbohydrates still remain the dominant energy source (as it is in most people’s diets), we like that Huel has put a strong emphasis on protein, something that many fitness-minded folks will appreciate.
Each serving of Huel will provide a minimum 20% of the daily requirements (based on a 2,000 calorie daily diet) of the following micronutrients.
The micronutrients contained in Soylent are as follows:
Vitamin D2, iron, Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin B5, iodine, zinc, copper, phosphorus, chromium, choline, calcium, potassium, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B3, Vitamin B9, biotin, magnesium, selenium, manganese, and molybdenum.
While most of the micronutrients above are kept at that 20% of daily requirements levels, several are highly overdosed. They are Vitamin D2, Vitamin C, phosphorus, iron, and molybdenum. Overall, Huel has a great micronutrient profile that will fit your daily needs.
Huel’s protein, comprising 30% of total calories, comes mainly from a combination of pea protein and brown rice protein. This is one of the best combinations of vegan protein sources as it addresses the main criticism against vegan proteins: namely that it does not contain a full amino acid profile.
For instance, pea protein is high in lysine but low in cysteine and methionine whereas brown rice protein is high in cysteine and methionine but low in lysine. Further, Huel has also provided a detailed breakdown of the amino acid profile on its website. Such transparency is a nice bonus, and it also allowed us to compare said profile to whey protein.
One thing of note is that leucine content is lacking; about four times less compared to whey protein (soy protein has about 25% less leucine compared to whey). This is one criticism of plant protein; that it is low in leucine, the main muscle building amino acid, and one of the essential Branch Chained Amino Acids (“BCAA”).
However, you should know that an 8-week study comparing rice protein and whey protein showed equal improvements in body composition and exercise performance of both groups.
Huel’s amino acid profile also only contains small amounts of the other BCAAs, valine, and isoleucine. Compared to whey protein, Huel’s overall BCAA profile is lacking, with only about 5% BCAAs per 100g of protein. By comparison, whey protein contains about 26% BCAAs while soy protein has about 18% BCAAs.
Overall, while Huel has a good amount of protein, its amino acid profile is not as good compared to whey protein and soy protein. While this might be enough for the average person, people with more serious fitness regimes may view this as a negative as they would prefer a higher BCAA content.
Comprising about 40% of its total calories (including fiber), Huel’s primary carbohydrate source is fine-powdered oats. Huel pointedly avoids the use of maltodextrin in its ingredients, and further notes that because it has ground its oats so finely, that it is readily soluble. The company also mentions that in terms of cost, there is not a large difference compared to maltodextrin.
The fiber content in Huel is also quite significant, at about 7%. The fiber in Huel comes from both the oats as well as some of its fat sources, such as flaxseed.
Overall, we like Huel’s carbohydrate sources. By focusing on oats and not using maltodextrin, it is clear that they are focusing on quality. Lab testing has also showed a Glycemic Index value of 27 for Huel, which is low. People who prefer more complex carbohydrates for a meal will be well served by Huel. In addition, oats, unlike maltodextrin, are also not known to cause any digestion issues.
Comprising the remaining 30% of total calories, Huel’s fat is derived from flaxseed, sunflower oil, and MCT powder.
These are all good sources of fats, and we like that Huel provides an even more detailed breakdown, noting that each serving of Huel contains about 2.9g of Omega 3 fatty acids, 3.4g of Omega 6 fatty acids, and 1.1g of Medium Chain Triglycerides. In particular, MCTs have been a very popular ‘supplement’ lately, with studies backing up their short-term increases on metabolic rate, although we note the amount of MCTs in Huel is too small to likely have any effect.
Overall, Huel has a good and healthy fatty acid profile. Nevertheless, we do note that not everybody likes MCT (it has been known to cause some digestive issues in those unaccustomed to it) and that it is a saturated fat.
Despite all the hype surrounding MCTs (and coconut oil) in recent years, the American Heart Association has just released a scientific advisory cautioning against its overuse, noting that reducing saturated fat could also reduce the risk of heart disease.
However, we note that the American Heart Association also recommends a daily limit of 13g of saturated fats. Even assuming total replacement of all meals with Huel, you would still fall under this limit.
To put it mildly, very few enjoy the taste of Huel powder, whether it’s vanilla, or unsweetened. Obviously the vanilla version was designed to be taken by itself while the unsweetened version could be added to other drinks. While some more positive reviewers have compared the vanilla flavor to something akin to vanilla flavored cereal, the vast majority have greatly disliked the taste.
Recognizing such feedback, Huel has come up with ‘flavor packs’ that you can add to your regular Huel. These flavor packs come in nine flavors: Mocha, Chocolate, Strawberry, Toffee, Pineapple and Coconut, Rhubarb and Custard, Cacao, and Matcha Tea.
The flavoring from each pack comes mainly from maltodextrin and stevia. And while each pack has a fair amount of calories (300+ calories per 100g), you are supposed to only start with a 2% flavor pack to Huel ratio. Meaning for a standard 100g serving of Huel, you are supposed to only add 2g of flavor.
From what we have seen, it is near impossible to keep up significant and long-term consumption of Huel without the use of these flavor packs.
Value for Money
Using undiscounted prices on Huel’s official website, we have broken down the price per serving (~100g) as well as the price per 100 calories. Further, given that Huel is a UK-based product, we are using a GBPUSD conversion rate of 1.32, which is the rate as of mid-November 2017.
|Price per Serving||Price per 100 Calories|
|Huel Powder||$1.71 (For the latest prices and discounts, check here)||$0.43 (For the latest prices and discounts, check here)|
If you subscribe to monthly deliveries, you will be entitled to a further 10% discount. Further, you should also know that the minimum order size is two bags (1.7kg each).
For a time-stressed person looking for a quick and easy yet healthy meal replacement, Huel fits the bill perfectly. We like its high proportion of protein, despite its lack of BCAAs, as well as its high-quality source of carbohydrates and fats.
The lack of BCAAs would only be a concern among the more hardcore fitness enthusiasts with more intense workout regimens, but that can easily be mitigated through the use of a BCAA supplement.
In terms of micronutrients, Huel is excellent. They have gone above and beyond the daily requirements, as they note that they believe that some of the daily requirements for certain micronutrients are too low. Further, they have also added in additional beneficial phytonutrients in such as lutein and lycopene.
Value for money wise, Huel turned out to be much more worth it than we expected, given the quality of its ingredients. At only $1.71 per serving which would equate to $11.97 a daily for a 2,800 calorie diet, Huel is great value for money. We do note that this does not include the price of the flavor packs, which are unfortunately all too necessary given the poor taste of Huel.
Nevertheless, given the low ratio of flavoring to Huel, the additional cost from the flavor packs would only add up to about $1.00 per day extra, assuming a 2,800 calorie Huel diet and a 2% ratio.
Soylent vs. Huel: Which Is The Superior Product?
Now that we’ve gone over a detailed breakdown and review of both products, it’s time to see which one comes out on top. Of course, both products are rarely in direct competition given that most Soylent users are in the US while most Huel users are in the UK.
But that may change very soon as both products become more widespread.
Our Verdict: Huel Is the Overall Superior Product
When comparing both products, the result is quite clear in our view. Huel comes out on top over Soylent with a superior ingredient list for an equal price.
First, Huel contains more protein compared to Soylent, and although its brown rice and pea protein combination is not as complete compared to Soylent’s soy protein isolate; the 50% higher protein per serving overrides this difference. As we also said, athletes consuming a lot of Huel might still opt for an additional amino acid supplement.
Talking about their carbohydrates and it’s a clear no contest. Huel’s carbohydrate sources are superior by far. We have already highlighted some negatives of maltodextrin, and overall Huel’s sources of carbohydrates are much more natural compared to Soylent’s highly processed ones.
Also, based on their respective Glycemic Index values, it is clear that Huel is the better choice for those watching their blood sugar levels. Plus, it also has a higher fiber content compared to Soylent.
For fat sources, we rate them about equal, although of course, Soylent has a higher bias toward fat compared to Huel. Whether or not you prefer a higher fat diet depends on your goals, but we note that in most high-fat diets, higher protein goes hand in hand, which Soylent does not provide. Hence, while we rate their fat sources equal, on an overall macronutrient profile, we give the edge to Huel.
Micronutrient-wise, Huel also wins. While Soylent keeps its micronutrients at exactly the recommended daily limit, Huel goes above and beyond on several of them. Further, the addition phytonutrients is also an added plus as Soylent contains none of these.
So Huel wins over Soylent in both macro and micronutrients, but what’s most surprising is that it does so at a comparable cost. This surprised us, but all it means is that since they are about equally priced, there is no reason to choose Soylent over Huel. In fact, the only reason we can see that anyone would choose Soylent over Huel is that if they absolutely could not stand the taste of Huel, even when flavored.
Quick Review Table
|Contains a complete source of protein||High amount of maltodextrin|
|Good source of fats|
|Superior source of carbohydrates||Flavor unpalatable without flavor packs|
|Higher amount of protein|
|Higher amount of fiber|