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Can Soylent Replace Food?

A new product claims to make eating a thing of the past. Are you ready for life without food? 

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
5-minute read
Episode #291

Cons of Soylent as an Alternative to Food

1. One Size Fits All. Some people love the idea of someone else making all the decisions. But that also means that you’re stuck with the decisions they’ve made.  For example, the folks at Rosa Labs have determined that you will get 50% of your calories from carbohydrates, 22.5% of your calories from protein, and 27.5% from fat. That’s a perfectly reasonable distribution, but it may not be ideal for everyone. Someone who is very athletic, for example, may want more protein. Others may want fewer carbs or more fat.

They’ve also added (mostly synthetic) vitamins and minerals to equal 100-150% of the standard Daily Value—which is the amount thought to be adequate for most of the population. These amounts may or may not be optimal for you. The Daily Value for vitamin C, for example, is just 60 mg, and that’s the amount you’ll get from a day’s supply of Soylent. That’ll certainly keep you from getting scurvy but many researchers—including me—believe that higher intakes of this important antioxidant are beneficial.

2. What’s Missing?  Soylent provides the daily value for the 23 vitamins and minerals considered to be essential to human health. However, I find this idea of “essential” nutrients to be outdated. Whole foods contain hundreds or even thousands of nutrients. Who are we to say which ones are truly essential?

The Daily Value for vitamin E refers to alpha-tocopherol but there are seven other forms of Vitamin E, each with different effects on the body. Alpha-tocopherol, protects the skin from ultraviolet damage, for example, while gamma-tocotrienol helps regulate cholesterol levels. Foods rich in vitamin E usually contain several different forms in different proportions. Soylent only contains alpha-tocopherol.

Beta-carotene can be converted into vitamin A in the body as needed but it also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities in its unconverted state. You won’t get those benefits from Soylent, which provides only preformed vitamin A.  

3. Lack of Variety.  As someone who very much enjoys cooking and eating different types of food, switching to a Soylent diet would remove an enormous source of pleasure, relaxation, and recreation from my life. I would miss the textures, colors, and flavors of food. I would miss the social aspects of cooking and eating with friends. I would miss chewing. You might not miss any of those things. However, a varied diet offers more than just aesthetic pleasures.

Varied DietBecause we have not yet isolated and identified all of the nutrients that contribute to health and longevity, eating a variety of whole foods is the best way to ensure that we’re getting a good range of these components. Fruits and vegetables that are high in vitamin C and A, for example, also provide an array of phytochemicals like quercitin, resveratrol, lutein, lycopene, anthocyanins, indoles, and sterols. You won’t find any of these in Soylent. 

See also: How Important is a Varied Diet?

Of course, you could use Soylent as a replacement for some of your meals instead of replacing your whole diet with it. If it isn’t your only source of nutrition, most of these concerns go away--but, for some, that would defeat the point.

Other Considerations

There are a few other things which may or may not be cons for you: The Soylent oil blend contains fish oil and is therefore not vegan. The powder contains soy lecithin. It is not certified organic or GMO-free. It also contains the artificial sweetener sucralose, aka Splenda.

None of those features is a deal breaker for me but, nonetheless, Soylent isn’t for me. Although I think it’s a fascinating project with important implications for the future, I don’t think human nutrition can be reduced to half a dozen food extracts and two dozen vitamins and minerals. But even if Soylent were nutritionally equivalent to an optimal diet,  food is much more than just bio-fuel for me—and I'm lucky enough to have access to good food and the time and skill to prepare and enjoy it.  

How about you? Are you ready to move beyond food? How might you spend the time and money you’d free up by going food-free? Post your thoughts below or on the Nutrition Diva Facebook page

Soylent Green and Woman Grocery Shopping images courtesy of Shutterstock

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About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.