Soylent is a beverage meal alternative that claims to meet all nutritional needs.
Soylent. Have you heard it? It’s the stuff of millenials veins for anyone working in finance, engineering, grad or medical school, tech, software development, design, self-proclaimed lifehackers or [insert anything trendy in any trendy city]. Born and bred in Silicon Valley itself, Soylent promises complete nutrition for the many lacking time, energy or money for food. So, real talk – empty promises or sweet fulfillment?
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The story’s too good, so let me give a brief background.
The Soylent Story
It starts in 2012 when 25(ish)-year-old Rob Rhinehart, engineer, is over the inefficiency, time and money food was taking away from his life. He saw food as an engineering problem. After scouring nutritional bio-chem books, and recommendations by the Institute of Medicine, FDA and USDA for exact nutrient requirements to sustain human life (and extensive self-experimentation – he has lived exclusively on Soylent), developed a “nutritionally-complete” alternative to food using raw chemical components. Demand was so high Soylent became the largest crowdfunded food project in history in 2013, raking in over $3M in crowdfunding. Fast forward through a lot of funding and formulary revisions and that brings us to today.
What is Soylent?
Soylent is a ready-to-drink meal. It originally started out as a pouch of mixable, powder.
The idea is Soylent is an entire meal alternative. And not just any meal. All meals. As many meals as you want or need.
No time? Soylent. No money? Soylent. Forgot your lunch? Soylent.
Rob’s idea was that eating food is inefficient.
In some ways, it’s true. For example, accurate that you don’t “need” milk – you need the amino acids (protein), calcium, phosphorous, potassium, etc. You need what you get from the food, if we’re being very specific, biochemically-speaking. His idea was, why am I spending so much time and energy on the input if I only need to glean specific components and my body will excrete the rest as waste? I can follow that, if we’re putting all psychological, social and cultural needs aside – with the disclaimer that we are constantly learning more about benefits of foods beyond macro- and micronutrient needs (think phytonutrients and antioxidants).
Okay so is Soylent all Soylent says it is? I’m going to stick to evaluating the Soylent Drink in the Original flavor, since ya know… it’s the OG. (Okay, technically the first runner-up to the OG since the powder came first.)
Soylent weighs in at 400 calories per bottle (414 mL), which is appropriate for a meal. It’s easy to stack up to whatever calorie needs you have by drinking multiple Soylents per day.
Fat. It’s got 21 g of fat, 1.5 g of that are saturated and the rest is unsaturated. There are no trans fats.
Evaluation: For one meal in a day, it’s fine. But for ongoing use it’s proportionally too high in fat, with nearly half of its calories coming from fat. The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range for fat is between 20-35% of total calories (I usually steer clients between 30-35%). To put it in context, if you are solely living off Soylent, 47% of your total calories will be coming from fat. The saturated fat is limited and there are no trans fats, which is good.
Carbohydrate. There are 36 g of carb per one serving of Soylent, including 3 g of fiber (fiber is non-digestible carb) and 9 g of added sugars (just over 2 tsp).
Evaluation: The amount of total carb is appropriate for a meal. But, if you were solely living off Soylent on a 1200 calorie diet, you would be consuming below the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for carb at only 108 g of carb per day. The RDA is 130 g daily of carb to meet glucose needs for normal brain function. Higher calorie diets (at least 1600 kcal) would include adequate carb to meet the RDA but still the overall diet would be proportionally a little low in carb. Notably a wide range of carbohydrate in the diet is acceptable, generally between 40% and 65% of calories can appropriately come from carb.
Likewise, the amount of fiber is too low if you were to live solely off of Soylent. One meal would be fine, you just would need to make it up elsewhere. The Adequate Intake of fiber is 35 g per day for men and 25 g per day for women. So… let’s just say that require a lot of Soylent.
The added sugars aren’t too bad for a meal. It’s recommended men have no more than 36 g/d of added sugars and women 25 g daily. You would reach the upper limit of sugar recommendations at 4 Soylents per day for men and 2.7 Soylents per day for ladies, so most people would realistically go over with multiple Soylents in a day. That said, probably most people are eating more sugar than recommended who aren’t using Soylent.
Protein. Soylent has 20 g of protein per serving, coming from soy protein isolate.
Evaluation: This is appropriate for a meal. It’s also appropriate if you were to be drinking solely Soylent, at 20% of your total calories.
Soylent uses a vitamin and mineral premix from raw chemical components. The micronutrients (AKA all the vitamins and minerals) in Soylent are set at 20% of the daily value. This is pretty appropriate for a meal, but if you were living solely off Soylent you would need to drink 5 in a day (2000 calories) to reach all of your micronutrient needs, which for some would put you overboard in overall calories and definitely fat.
Sodium is 300 mg per serving, which is appropriate.
Ingredient Notes about Soylent
Soylent is not a whole foods or “real foods” product. I’m not saying that’s wrong, and it’s true there’s not a security guard in your gut that’s identifying whether or not your potassium came from a potato or a supplement, it’s just noteworthy.
Soylent does use sucralose (Splenda), a non-nutritive sweetener. The amount is fairly small, less than a quarter of the amount you would find in a diet soda. Sucralose is Generally Recognized As Safe per the FDA, with an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of 5 mg per kg of body weight. Each Soylent drink has 3.36 mg of sucralose, which means a 150 lb person would need to drink over 100 Soylents in a day to breach the ADI. It can safely be assumed someone isn’t going to go overboard on sucralose from Soylent.
Flavor & Texture
Okay now in my opinion… Soylent tastes like a very thick, unsweetened soymilk. It’s mostly very creamy from the high fat content, with a slightly grainy feel. I couldn’t get down more than a few sips of the Original flavor because I thought it was gross (sorry!). That said, I have friends who genuinely love it and others who developed a taste for it over time.
Bottom Line, Would You Recommend Soylent?
Personally, I think if you wanted to use Soylent once or twice in day I don’t have a problem with it. It could be beneficial when you’re short on time or in cases of wanting controlled calories. It could also be beneficial as a supplement for weight gain, in addition to your normal meals.
I wouldn’t recommend living off of Soylent because:
- If you’re having less than 5 in a day, you’re low on micronutrients
- If you’re having less than 4 in a day, you’re low on carbohydrate
- Regardless of your calorie intake, it’s almost 50% fat
- It’s too low in fiber
- It’s missing phytonutrients and antioxidants
- Aside from Soylent’s nutritional gaps, food has important psychological, social, and cultural roles
If you did decide to solely use Soylent and are consuming less than 2000 calories in a day (<5 Soylents) you might want to take a multivitamin with minerals to make up the difference in micronutrients, and regardless of calorie intake use a fiber supplement (some of my colleagues swear by these Metamucil Fiber Thins – Amazon affiliate link). Using solely Soylent would not be my recommendation or preference, but the supplements may help meet some of my concerns.
Personally, I’m a big fan of focusing on real, whole foods. BUT, if you were to use Soylent I would suggest using it only to supplement your diet rather than a hostile takeover.
Have you ever tried Soylent?
What has your experience been with Soylent?