Huel vs Subway

Last week I started using Huel for the first time. (It feels a bit odd to say “using” like that but I can’t really think of a better word. Technically I’m drinking it but telling people that I am drinking my meals makes me sound like an alcoholic.) I’m very conscious that I’m only at the start of my Huel journey and there is plenty of opportunity to become bored, frustrated by hunger, or even to have adverse reactions to having Huel instead of some of my meals. When I say adverse reactions, I’m not talking about anything serious, but there is always the possibility that the form of Huel disagrees with me over medium-long term.

I think I need to wait a little longer before making an assessment of its impact on me, but I have a couple of immediate thoughts.

First, it’s really not as bad as the impression that is sometimes given. It feels pretty ‘natural’ to be working at my laptop, with the vessel beside me and sipping it every so often. Spreading the meal out like this is probably better for me, in any case. I do feel like I ought to ensure that I’m getting outside, especially as the days get shorter (though Huel should supply all the Vitamin D I need, I still suspect just getting away is better for you than spending all your time in front of a screen).

Secondly, it is proving to be a real alternative to having a meal. I now think about it as an option for a quick or easy meal; kind of like a tin of beans that you keep in the cupboard as a backup meal when needed.

But the real thing I have been thinking about is how it compares to what I normally eat. So I thought I’d compare a recent Huel lunch I had to a standard lunch that I might otherwise have. That alternative is Subway – I think of it as a reasonably cheap, tasty, healthy and convenient alternative to either making sandwiches (not convenient) or getting supermarket sandwiches (not very tasty or healthy). So here are a few thoughts.

What am I having?

When I have a Subway, and I’m being nutrition-conscious but not very strict, I have a foot long chicken breast on Honey oat bread. I get pepper cheese on it (because it’s better), and I have all the salad, some black pepper and a serving of Ranch dressing. I usually have this at around 13.00.

The equivalent thing I have of Huel is 200g of Huel with about a litre of water (quantities align with their recommendations). I don’t have this all at once; I spread it out as two snacks and a main (50:100:50g), at around 11.00, 12.30 and 14.30 respectively. Currently I’m always making it in a shaker and drinking it from it but I am considering more discreet bottles and maybe even blending it at home in the morning.

How much does it cost?

The sub varies according to franchise, but it’s around £5 for the foot long sandwich.

Huel comes at £45 for 3.5kg, which I make as £2.57 for the 200g meal.

Nutrition

I had no idea what to expect of this. I know my Subway meal isn’t that bad as chicken breast is pretty low fat and I’m getting good vegetable intake. But the cheese and ranch dressing are not going to be great. The Huel, of course, is supposed to be really nicely balanced with macro and micro nutrients.

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So the real surprise to me is how similar they are. There are minor variations between the two, but although Huel tends to win out in the end the difference is fairly small and on the whole in macro terms they are fairly similar.

When it comes to vitamins, minerals and other nutritional needs like omega-3 and so on it’s difficult to say. I suspect Huel would comfortably win out here because Subway are unlikely to fortify their ingredients or make special changes in order to be healthy; where there are vitamins and things it’s most likely to be incidental.

There is another factor, though: with Huel I can be fairly certain that the margin of error is not very wide. Partly because it’s been so specifically designed for its nutrient content, and partly because it’s just a pretty homogenous powder, I am fairly confident in Huel’s nutritional composition. Subway sandwiches, however, are based on ingredients which can vary – vegetables and meat portions are dependent on chance and the circumstances of the server, and the dressing is probably the most changing thing about it. Plus, Subway’s nutritional information, while being probably quite carefully put together, is clearly just a guide – and I wouldn’t be surprised if the sandwich on which they based that table is different from the sandwich I get. (And another factor I didn’t mention is that their ‘standard’ nutritional values are based on a six inch sub with some but not all salad options; I have full salad so would have to up some of the calories above. I did not see the necessity of working out the nutritional composition of the gherkins, chillies and so on…sorry.) So another factor, quite apart from the nutrition, is the consistency and confidence in nutrition.

So Huel is pretty much the winner here in terms of macro and micro nutrients, and reliability of nutrition.

Satisfaction

Satisfaction has two angles to it: how much I enjoy eating it, and how full I feel, for how long.

On the first point I don’t need to say much. Pretty much anything is going to be more satisfying to eat than Huel, but that’s a given. It’s a necessary trade off for convenience that I’m not going to sit down to a meal and savour the different flavours. But Huel isn’t unpleasant either. If I gave Huel 3/10 on the immediate enjoyment of the food, then Subway would be 6/10 (and maybe a perfectly cooked steak with my favourite rub or some freshly prepared KFC would have a 9 or a 10).

Long term, however, things are more evenly matched. There are so many factors at play here (activity during the day, what I had for breakfast, what I had the night before) that just giving a number doesn’t quite work. But I would say that how hungry I got later on was comparable between the two. Possibly I get hungry a touch quicker on Huel, but I haven’t had it enough times to be sure. I certainly didn’t feel ravenous at 6pm or anything, so it’s doing it’s job: feeding me better stuff and keeping me full for longer.

Conclusion

The surprise is really how similar they are in nutrition. The winner would be much clearer if Subway was less healthy, but with that a pretty equal tie, or with Huel slightly ahead on that count, it really becomes a trade off between the price and convenience of Huel vs the satisfaction of Subway. It certainly makes me think that I don’t have to go all in with Huel to avoid a terrible lunch choice, and that occasionally switching back to a Subway isn’t a bad thing to do when I want to. In this case, I’ll be sticking with Huel for most days for the convenience and price, and the probable benefits of the vitamins and other little things.

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