Soylent: Is the ‘Food of the Future’ Really a Nutrition Solution?

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Julio Miles / Soylent

For the past five months, Rob Rhinehart has lived off Soylent, a milky mixture of vitamins and minerals he developed. He says it contains all the human body needs to be completely satiated and nutritionally balanced — and he believes it will change the way we eat.

“It started as a personal need for myself,” says Rhinehart, a 24-year-old software engineer based in San Francisco. “My diet before was pretty poor. I ate mainly convenient cheap foods because I wasn’t really that into food.”

soylent_2

Julio Miles / Soylent

Rob Rhinehart

For about a month, Rhinehart researched exactly what the body needs to survive, down to the biochemical level. His mixture is composed of lots of vitamins and minerals including calcium, potassium, zinc, vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K. Check out the full ingredient mixture here. He started testing Soylent on himself, and found it gave him more energy, he lost weight and always felt full. On a trip home to Atlanta, Rhinehart says he came across an elderly neighbor, who had become gaunt with age as he grew too old to continue properly cooking. He realized Soylent might have benefits for other people too.

“It seemed ridiculous that things have gotten so efficient and streamlined and we have come so far, but we haven’t figure out how to get healthy food to everyone,” says Rhinehart. “In San Francisco, the food and health differences between the poorer and more affluent areas are so clear. It’s not that people don’t know what things are healthy and unhealthy. They don’t have the means.”

Some of Rhinehart’s arguments for the adoption of Soylent won’t appeal to everyone. He argues current eating behaviors are inconvenient. “I think people’s relationship with food would be a lot healthier if it was more of an option. People should be working on their education and their career and their passion. If cooking is one’s passion then that’s great, but for a lot of people it’s not,” he says. Besides a few meals on the weekend, Rhinehart only subsists on Soylent.

But when I asked him about whether he sees any potential for Soylent to play a role in public health and combating hunger, he was well versed in the issues of food insecurity and how Soylent could be a part of a greater change. “I think diet has a lot to do with one’s overall health,” he says. “I think it has a lot to do with health care expenditure. I think this could really help preventative care by allowing a lot of the body’s natural mechanisms to keep up and [maintain] the energy it needs to make it a healthy system.” Soylent doesn’t spoil; all the mixture needs is water. So it could not only cut down on food waste but could be easily transported.

Although Soylent sounds like an elixir for good health, dietitians have serious concerns about the lack of evidence to support it.

“The claims he is making are not scientifically substantiated,” says Joy Dubost, a registered dietitian and an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokeswoman. “The composition of what he has made is not going to be nutritionally adequate. He has made a lot of assumptions, and it is not going to be sustainable by any means for a certain population or even for an individual.”

Nor is Soylent the yummiest thing around, notes Dubost. Many people who’ve tried it have not been fond of the tasteless drink. Taking the pleasurable experience out of eating is counterintuitive because savoring a meal helps release hormones that regulate satiety and suppression of appetite. “If you’re not enjoying your food, chances are, you are going to overeat or undereat,” says Dubost. “I think, in the long run, this isn’t setting someone up to be healthy.”

Watch Rhinehart and his colleagues explain the benefits of Soylent:

Soylent may not be a proven method for better nutrition, but similar nutrient-dense products that do not spoil have become game changers for treating severe malnutrition in developing countries. One of the major products with a 90% success rate in rehabilitating starving and malnourished children is called Plumpy’Nut, a ready-to-use therapeutic paste originally developed by the French company Nutriset. It’s now partnering with several nonprofits to get the product to a wide range of children who need it.

Plumpy’Nut is now one of the most commonly used treatments for kids under age 5 suffering from severe malnutrition in parts of Africa. The product is a high-calorie mixture of peanuts, sugar, milk powder, whey, vitamins and minerals, soy oil and palm oil. The milk powder is a formula called F100 that was developed over 17 years as nutritional rehabilitation for malnutrition. Plumpy’Nut doesn’t need to be refrigerated or mixed with water, which makes it easy to transport and safely consume.

Edesia Haiti Eating product-1

Karen O’Hern Photography; LLC / Edesia

A child eating Plumpy’Nut in Haiti

Parents bring their children in to community health centers that distribute Plumpy’Nut for an assessment. If the child is diagnosed with severe malnutrition, they will be instructed to consume two to three packets of the paste each day for seven weeks. At the end of the period, they should be back to solid health.

“A child with severe malnutrition presents either as skin and bones, with what they call baggy pants — when their skin sags on their bottoms — or all their limbs swell. They don’t have an appetite anymore, they don’t cry, they don’t move. The Plumpy’Nut physically changes them within a matter of days,” says Heidi Reed, the communications manager of Edesia, one of the nonprofits in the PlumpyField Network. Edesia provides Plumpy’Nut to buyers like UNICEF, the World Food Program, USAID, Action Against Hunger and other organizations with nutrition programs. The majority of their products are sent and distributed to West Africa and Ethiopia.

According to Edesia, 20 million children in the world are severely malnourished and 35 million are moderately malnourished. Edesia has served 1.2 million children over the past three years.

Could Soylent ever become another solution to the problem? Rhinehart says his company is preparing to serve the U.S. by August and will be staying stateside at the start. But that’s not to say the product won’t eventually be a player abroad.

“I think [Soylent] could have a global impact,” he says. “Food security is a very complex issue. It can take a lot of different approaches and this is not the silver bullet, but I definitely think it could help to some extent. I think we can approach these problems in all different ways, and I see Soylent as being one part in helping towards a solution.”

Dubost isn’t so sure, especially since similar products to improve nutrition, help an individual lose weight or treat malnutrition, typically utilize real food as well, or help transition an individual to solid food. “For malnutrition or weight loss, these products [like Plumpy'Nut] have been derived to meet that population. [Soylent] is taking this and trying to make it a one-size-fits-all approach, and nutrition is not like that at all,” she says.

53 comments
MichaelEnquist
MichaelEnquist

Nothing new here.

My wife has been selling a meal replacement shake that was developed by real nutritionists and physiologists and has been on the market for over 20 years. It has actual FDA approval (you can check) and is used by Olympic athletes (you can check).

Not only can you buy from her, you can sell it yourself and make oodles of cash - is Rob offering you that chance?

http://www.allsports.usana.com

liamwbently
liamwbently

Hahahah! Hilariously stupid... A single tomato has more than 70,000 phyto-chemicals all of which work synergistically. If it was possible to make a formula that could entirely replace a healthy wholesome diet, the market would be flooded with them already. But not a single product anywhere on this planet... Why? Because it is simply not possible... Although I have to admit that considering the diet of a great many Americans, this could be an improvement...:) Surviving on something is not the same as eating a varied, wholesome diet with an untold number of phyto-nutrients most of which we haven't even discovered and studied...

xenadogfood
xenadogfood

It may be everything the body needs but I still prefer a well balanced diet of tasty meats, vegetables, fish and fruits.  I may be an old fashioned conservative but there is nothing like a REAL well cooked meal.   By the way, is this a precursor to "Soylent Green"!!??

drexellake
drexellake

Where can I buy some?  Great idea.

HF75
HF75

This sounds soooo wrong at so many levels...

mkb
mkb

Do we need super food? Definately yes if we go to alien area.

All animals can digest any food that is avialabe in the Mother Earth. Human race has survived all adverse situations, we need to survive in difficutl situations not in the labs. Universe is changing drastically over the years. Humans should survive the extermes.

Pl visit http://mkbperfecthealth.blogspot.in/

We should digest any food that is availabel in the universe, walking and hard working are the only ways t digest the food.

For right walking and right foot wear pl visit

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=230995679150&ssPageName=STRK:MESE:IT

Kryptocake
Kryptocake

It says in the first part he has lived off this soylent milky mixture for 5 months... then it goes on to state that he has a few meals on weekends...

mmhmmm I wonder why he has those few meals on weekends. I bet his body would break down if it wasn't for those few meals on the weekends, which are probably large in size because he has been drinking vitamin slush for the past 5 days.

emora
emora

It's amazing how many people are willing to jump onboard something so quickly.  Let's take this step by step without ridiculing the proposed product or its inventors.  Here are the big questions for me...1. What is the track record?  2. How has the credibility of the inventors been substantiated?  How has the credibility of the research been substantiated?  How has the analysis of the products nutritional value been substantiated?  The bolder any claims the more this all requires scrutiny in my opinion...  In a way, the response to this is invigorating--people recognize a problem with public health, but that doesn't mean this is or isn't necessarily the solution...I do fear that people are still stuck in the "magic pill" or "quick fix" mentality so-to-speak.  Take the time to eat right--healthy fruit and veggies are at the same supermarket you get your cereal bars and fancy cereals at...try them--they have centuries of testimony behind them.

TrajanSaldana
TrajanSaldana

Soylent? Really?  Someone didn't do a very good job researching that name. Google it.

Caz
Caz

Well, Alexandra, I'm all for listening to the guy who researched this for a month, uses a main ingredient that is bad for your health and gave the product a sensational name. What could go wrong?

How is his take on this any different than anyone else offering another food supplement? Sure, food prices have sky-rocketed and eating healthy is quite expensive but does Time really think this guy's product is relevant or new? Besides, it's based on soy which you should most likely NOT eat.

MajorDamo
MajorDamo

He's really called it Soylent? I didn't have time to read through, but can't imagine I've missed whatever stops it from being the worst name I can think of that isn't scatological in etymology.

thewholetruth
thewholetruth

1. We are all insulin resistant now due to food chemicals

2. We are insulin resistant because many get rich of food chemicals 
3. Millions are living insulin resistant and do not know it, due to everyday foods 
4. We have been poisoned by artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrups and other FDA food chemicals

Reverse insulin resistant and you lose the weight and diabetes without drugs

Here http://type2diabetesdietplan.blogspot.com/2013/03/what-can-diabetic-eat.html

keith.aquino
keith.aquino

I think he kind of misses the point of life. It's a question of whether to live to eat or eat to live. To enjoy what you're eating is one of the best simple pleasures in life.

bojimbo26
bojimbo26

So , fast food doesn't help . If people cultivated their own food in the backyard and eat it , they would have healthier eating . ( and yes , I know some people don't have a backyard , which is where bartership come in handy or purchasing ) .

HollyKick
HollyKick

I just tried liking my own comment .. doesnt work :( 

One more thing - soon someone will come and make it tastier by adding saccarin or something else .. and then commercialize it and basically kill it .. think about the chicken farmers , think about monsanto .. this is a huge risk , you are saying what everyone already knows .. what we eat is not really required .. think about what people used to eat in stone ages.

HollyKick
HollyKick

Actually all we need is to stand in the sun for 1 hour a day, thats it .. we dont need food.  

Nehow ... i want to see how long this man lives ..

hohol_erica
hohol_erica

The synergistic effect of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants, fiber etc. in whole foods cannot be eclipsed by nutritional supplements and products. People need to get back to eating whole foods-not only for daily health and weight management but also disease prevention.

Raggedhand
Raggedhand

Rhinhart says himself that he "isn't that into food", which explains why he thinks that a tasteless liquid is just fine. It shows a certain lack of empathy and marketing awareness if he thinks that his disinterest in food extends to the rest of the world.

Beersheva
Beersheva

Soylent Beige is made out of ... vitamins and minerals including calcium, potassium, zinc, vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K!


candidus.corvus
candidus.corvus

He could've come up with a much better name for that product. Might as well have named it Long-Pork Shake.

Jeepsterdude
Jeepsterdude

Somehow I think rtpoeman below gets it.  This is one of the sickest things imaginable.  Google Soylent Green and read the plot summary in the Wiki article.  Either someone has a really crazy sense of humor, or they didn't do their homework!

rtpoeman
rtpoeman

You know, that stuff looks very unappetizing. Perhaps if it came in different colors, like red or yellow.

Or even green.....

DaveDavis
DaveDavis

@MichaelEnquist 

Nice sales pitch, I can get a case of MREs for about the same price per meal, as the crap you are advertising, and get far more value for the buck.

AspiritgirlBelieves
AspiritgirlBelieves

@SissiWedgwood  was my first thought when I read this. Why on earth would you call it Soylent when so many of us remember that movie of what really happens to people when there are too many of them. Is this a prelude to the future? Scary *shivers* Thank you for posting this. :)

drexellake
drexellake

@TrajanSaldana ,  he named it that on purpose as pun to the movie.  Most people with brains know it's not made out of people.   Doh!

tronlet
tronlet

@Caz Literally none of what you said is true. Try again.

Researched for a month: Wrong, and he's employing the help of nutritionists before releasing the product to the public, as well as producing it under FDA-approved conditions.

Main ingredient bad for your health: Which? Maltodextrin? Oat flour? Whey protein? None of these are considered detrimental to health.

Sensational name: Wrong again, a fairly typical name that also happens to be a reference to a science-fiction book, which also had a food called "Soylent" made of soya beans and lentils. Not a reference to the movie, and not made of humans in real life or in the book.

How his take is different: This is meant to actually be a meal replacement, as opposed to "meal replacement" shakes that one would feel ill from consuming for even two days. In addition, it is not overly marketed, it is simplified, and the aim is not to turn a major profit.

Based on soy: Hilariously wrong.

In conclusion, were you even trying, or just pounding your hands on the keyboard when you wrote this post?

tinnic
tinnic

@keith.aquino Yeah but not everybody loves eating. I do and I am happy to haul groceries, cook and do all the cleaning that goes with cooking but for some people, they do just "eat to live". I am sure they would love Soylent. Not to mention if Soylent can be produced for cheap, it a godsend to poor people who have to eat off the dollar menu because that's all they can afford!

tronlet
tronlet

@Raggedhand Er, no. What you're saying shows a certain lack of empathy and marketing awareness.

He's certainly into food. Since starting Soylent, he's been able to save money such that he can now eat more high-quality, premium food, when he feels like eating, around once a week if I recall correctly. Sushi, for example.

And regardless, who are you to say this? He never said he thought every person in the world would go for this, he said that people who wanted to optimize and streamline food and those in developing countries in need of cheaper easier food would appreciate it, and he's absolutely right.

Leave your sentimentalism and upturned nose at the door, please.

HollyKick
HollyKick

@Raggedhand he is basically trying to commercialize it and earn millions for this tasteless and possibly harmful concoction.   

Add weight loss to any crap, there are millions who will jump in to eat it .. Add to that in this world where we have so many buying snuggie anything can happen.

postingonline42
postingonline42

@Jeepsterdude dude, the guy is a software developer. You know, a geek? "read the plot summary"? He probably owns the movie and contributed to the plot summary on the Wiki article! There are references to this in many places, including Portal 2. It's fairly standard humor for fans for science fiction (i.e. geeks who program computers).

concernedreader
concernedreader

@tronlet @Caz Where are you from?!?!?!  This guy is a GAMER, and the name SOYLENT is SOYLENT for a REASON.  I, for one, am reporting it to the FDA ASAP.

Caz
Caz

@tronlet @Caz

Apparently you didn't take the time to read the article:

1) "For about a month, Rhinehart researched exactly what the body needs to survive, down to the biochemical level." I dunno about you, but it sounds like he researched this for a month. Now, how about reading the article?

2) While this does not matter much the name of the movie is obviously more famous than anything else with that name. I actually think it is a really cool pun.

3) How you'd know the reasons behind their business model tells me you're either involved or making it up; two reasons not to take what you say seriously. This is touted as a meal replacement which is the end is doom to failure as a way of life. You can never ever replace whole foods as the optimal nutritional source. This is Slimfast and Ensure, but since it's new people will give it a try, and like all meal fads it'll fade away because nothing feeds like real foods does.

Raggedhand
Raggedhand

@tronlet @Raggedhand Oh, good heavens. How much were you paid to post that? 

You must know Mr. Rhinehart..or are him yourself... since you claim to know his eating habits. The article says nothing about sushi.

I'm not the one "bizarrely out of touch with reality".

Caz
Caz

@tronlet @Raggedhand 

You're splitting hairs: eating sushi "around once a week" and living of soylent the rest of the time is pretty much living off soylent, period.

tronlet
tronlet

Actually, proper meal replacements have taken off in their relative fields. This is an attempt to make it accessible to anyone. Take a look at Ensure's ingredients to see what I mean.The article clearly states he researched for a month, then began drinking it. Nowhere does it say that was the end of the research, and numerous articles as well as his personal blog say otherwise. The sad thing is that you are probably writing that with a straight face. Try reading the article next time.

nhpb1
nhpb1

@Caz @tronlet 

You're actually wrong. It says he researched Soylent for a month, which is true, but that was before he tested it on himself.  He continued to research it for months, having blood tests and physicals done, refining the ingredients, etc.  After he'd survived for a few months, he began testing on small samples of other people. Again, more research.  I'm sure they're still researching as we speak. My source? I'm no expert, but I've read literally every article I could find, both positive and negative, on Soylent, along with all of Rhinehart's own posts about his trials and findings.  They've done much more than just a month worth of research.  

Also, for every nutritionist that says Soylent is a bad idea, there are plenty they say the opposite - that there's no evidence to suggest we need real food, and that his experiment shouldn't have any real negative long term effects.  If I can survive on the crap in fast food for months at a time (believe me, I've done it) then I see no reason why Soylent could be any worse.  And neither do people that have been testing, living off of and thriving on Soylent.

Caz
Caz

@tronlet @Caz 

You may have read elsewhere but didn't seem to have read the article trhougly here: it says "a month" not "other months". The sad thing is that you are probably writing that with a straight face. Now, you seem to be adding your own anecdotal an subjective material here and trying, badly, to pass it as some authority. Your take on Ensure is anecdotal at best.  Meal replacements are nothing new, that idea goes a long, long way back and it's never fully taken off because NOTHING FEEDS LIKE REAL FOOD. Say it!

So, yeah, whatever. 

tronlet
tronlet

@Caz @tronlet I assure you, I did. It's just that I've also read other articles, and other materials on the subject.

1) He did indeed research it for a month. He also researched it other months. After about a month of research, Rhinehart began testing solely on himself. That's all the article says, nothing more. Plenty of research has been done since then, and there is still more research to be done by more qualified people than Rhinehart before it is brought to market.

2) Cool.

3) Er, no, I know the reasons because I've just read more than this one article, that's all. You know this one article isn't the end-all, be-all authority on this, right? As I said, it is not like Slimfast or Ensure, because you'd feel ill trying to actually replace meals with those. Those things are meant for when you've forgotten breakfast or something, you couldn't possibly go for a week or more consuming almost nothing but that sludge and manage to keep it down. And you seem to be focused on weight loss, which is in no way the point of this substance.

So like I said, literally all of your post was wrong, with the possible, subjective, exception of a "sensational name", and the technical exception of food prices skyrocketing.

MajorDamo
MajorDamo

@SquidEatinDough @MajorDamo Sorry, didn't mean to sound that rude. I am saying that the only names that I can think of that are worse, are scatological; not that this name is scatological. I guess English isn't your first language as my heavy use of cancelling negatives can confuse :-)

tronlet
tronlet

@Raggedhand @tronlet Er, neither, and I wasn't paid anything.

You realize this article wasn't the breaker of the news, or anything, right? This isn't anywhere near the first article written about this thing, not to mention the public logs he writes while testing.

I read, and so, I know his eating habits.

tronlet
tronlet

@Caz @tronlet @Raggedhand Of course it is. I was pointing out that Rhinehart indeed can enjoy food and in fact does enjoy "real" food on a regular basis, food of a higher quality than he would be consuming without Soylent, and also that Raggedhand's points were bizarrely out of touch with reality.