Soylent is a meal-replacement powder, which the company says contains all the components of a balanced diet. Instead of eating, you would add water to the powder and drink it. The product hasn’t been released yet but has already raised $1.5 million in venture capital and attracted a lot of attention — due, in part, to its successful crowdfunding campaign.
So is this the future of food? Does it really contain “everything the healthy body needs”?
Liquid food is nothing new. Think Ensure and medical food products given to people who can’t eat normal food. But a young programmer, Nick Poulden, has found the right marketing and the right audience with a product offering “food without the hassle.”
And yes, Soylent sounds promising. The website claims it “puts you in excellent health,” “reduces your environmental impact,” and might even help solve world hunger — all in a simple, cheap powder.
But does Soylent live up to its claims?
How nutritious is it?
A liquid diet seems to be okay, as long as you get the right nutrients. There’s no evidence that the consistency of food affects nutrition, says a professor of pharmacy and the past president of an organization that focuses on the science and practice of providing food to patients through both intravenous injections and feeding tubes. But Soylent most likely is as complete as it says it is.
Here are some reasons to be concerned about the nutritional value of Soylent:
- It’s not vegan/plant-based! For a product that claims to “reduce environmental impact” and “solve world hunger,” avoiding animal-based protein derived from a wasteful and environmentally destructive industry would have been a good first step. To be fair, the company says it plans to offer personalization and customization based on individual goals, so perhaps this will change over time.
- It contains a bad kind of soy. Although it’s not a main ingredient, soy lecithin is used. This processed form of soy may be detrimental to some people’s health.
- It has too much protein. One package of Soylent has 120 grams of protein. But a person who weighs 125 pounds needs only 45 to 57 grams of protein per day. (Most Americans eat too much protein, which can be harmful.)
- It has a high glycemic value. Tracy Anthony, associate professor of Nutritional Sciences at Rutgers University, told i09, the fast-digesting soluble protein source (whey) in combination with the simple sugar source (maltodextrin) would not promote healthy glucose control, satiety, and cognitive well-being.
- It creates an unhealthy relationship with food. Eating liquid food, rather than whole foods, could distort people’s relationship with food and possibly create eating disorders as well.
- It likely doesn’t have all the nutrients we need. Researchers have only discovered a fraction of the components of food and how they work on our bodies. Food is complex, and most studies on supplementing with vitamins are not good. (In other words, whole foods seem to the best for our health.) Some nutrients also work in synergy, while others, when combined together, work against one another.
- We don’t need the same nutrients every time we eat. If you were to eat Soylent for three meals per day, you would be getting the same nutrients each time. But research has shown that certain nutrients are best at certain times. For example, protein is more effective after a workout.
Is it the future of food?
Soylent says “food should be automated.” But we’re not robots. The process of choosing, cooking and eating foods with others is good for us — nutritionally and psychologically. Food is about more than nutrition. It’s about taste, texture, enjoyment and the experiences we share with others.