Good Reads & Resources

Soylent

A bit of a personal update: I am finally back down in California for my dietetic internship. After all the craziness of travel, work, packing, and moving, I finally got around reading a Soylent article that’s been on my to-read list for a while.


I first heard about Soylent months ago, when a friend messaged me with this article entitled “How I stopped eating food” asking for my opinion. It was a short article, so I told her it may work for him (after all everyone is different), but more research was needed to determine the long-term effects of it. And that my biggest concern was that it didn’t feel sustainable for the average person, but no meal replacement as ever really felt sustainable for the general population to me.

So let’s talk about 28 year old Shane Snow, who did wrote a detailed article about his personal 2 week experiment with Soylent. There were a good variety of parameters measured, including anthropometric (e.g. weight, body fat), biochemical (e.g. blood panels), and behavioral (e.g. cognitive), which is why I was interested in this particular article. The article was published it on Tim Ferriss’s blog with his comments added at the end of the article. (Also here is Rob’s response to Tim’s comments.)

After reading both articles, and doing some more digging around, I decided to share my thoughts and findings.

What is Soylent?
Soylent is a meal replacement (which is not a new thing). Soylent is tasteless and odorless, but what makes Soylent a bit more unique is that is not marketed as a weight loss or fat loss diet. It’s designed to simplify health, and is marketed for those who “don’t want to deal with food”. Now there are those of us (me included) that are super passionate about foods and putting in time and love into cooking and eating. And there are others for whom eating is a chore, and eating healthy is a even bigger chore.

“For many people, on many occasions, food is a hassle, especially when trying to eat well. Suppose we had a default meal that was the nutritional equivalent of water: cheap, healthy, convenient and ubiquitous. Soylent will be personalized for different body types and customizable based on individual goals. It allows one to enjoy the health benefits of a well balanced diet with less effort and cost.” – Soylent Website

What is IN Soylent?
So that’s the target audience for Soylent. But what is Soylent? In spite of what you would assume from its name. Soy is not one of the main ingredients of Soylent. Soylent is currently still a work in progress, so there have been different formulations since it’s first development. (Currently Soylent is at version 0.8).

Here are the main ingredients of Soylent:
– Maltodextrin
– Oat powder
– Rice protein isolate + pure lysine (originally, they were using whey protein but this excluded the vegan and whey sensitivity/allergy market. Pea protein isolate was considered, but could not be purchased in the quantities needed. Rice protein does give soylent a particular texture so some might find it unappealing).
– EPA/DHA, flax seed (ALA), and medium-chain triglycerides (MCT)
– Vitamin and mineral blend (The plan is to encapsulate the vitamins and minerals in maltodextrose or some other substance to mask the natural bitter taste)

So it looks like Soylent covers all the necessary macro- and micro-nutrients needed. Of course, science doesn’t know everything that the body needs, and we don’t know what kind of synergy is needed for us to optimally use nutrients and other bioactives. Shane Snow asks the interesting question, “Is Soylent on the whole less healthy than the average person’s diet?”

Soylent claims

Okay, before moving on to the Shane’s experiment, I wanted to list off Soylent claims:

  1. Soylent provides all the energy and nutrients the body needs.
  2. The body can absorb all the nutrients Soylent provides.
  3. Soylent makes one more alert.
  4. Soylent can help people cut fat and maintain good body weight.
  5. Soylent saves time and money.
  6. And at the end of the day: Soylent isn’t dangerous.

Shane Snow

Now about Shane Snow. He’s a 28 year old male, who eats vegetarian, no-alcohol diet. From extrapolating the one day diet recall provided, there is room for improvement but it does look better than the typical SAD (“sad American diet”).

Anthropometrics? 5’8″ with a before weight of 168 lbs (76.2 kg) and an after weight of 160 lbs (72.2kg). Looking solely at his body weight, his before BMI of 25.6 would put him in the lower end of “overweight” category. With the 4.8% weight loss over two weeks period did put him into the the “normal” BMI category with a BMI of 24.4. His body fat percentage (measured through bioelectrical impedance – which has so-so accuracy) also decreased from 21.1% to 20.4%. (“Overweight” is considered to be >20%).

Weight: 160#
%Wt change: 4.8% wt loss over 2 wks
IBW: 143#-154#
%IBW: 103-117%

In order for me to assess his energy and nutrient needs, I need to take his physical activity in account. He does do some some light physical activity every week. (3 mile runs, three times a week; calisthenics on off-days) so I used as an activity factor of 1.3 for my calculations. I used Mifflin St-Jeor to calculate the energy needs, and 0.8-1 grams per kilogram for the protein needs.

   Recommendation  Before Diet  After Diet
Calories (kcal/d)  2200  1862  2404
Protein (g/d)  61-71  88  80
Fat (g/d)  49-86  74  65
Carbohydrates (g/d)  249-358  200  400
Fiber (g/d)  38  34  40
Sodium (mg/d)  1500  4277  2400

Shane’s before diet was low in vitamin D, thiamin, niacin, folate, biotin, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, vitamin E, riboflavin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, iodine, zinc, and chromium. In contrast, Soylent delivers at least 100% of daily recommended value of vitamins and minerals.

Biochemical?

  • Fasting blood glucose decreased
  • Total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides all decreased
  • Creatinine increased 30%
  • Estimated glomerular filtration rate dropped 27%
  • Monocytes and basophils counts went up, and eosinophils went down.

Shane also reported some altered gastrointestinal function, including decreased gastric motility – which would be a concern. I would be interested to see if/how his gut would have adapted to long-term Soylent use.

My personal feelings?

There is a place for Soylent or some version of Soylent in the future. In the bigger picture, a cheap, powdered meal replacement could be very beneficial for the malnourished population. There are places in the world where getting enough calories (let alone the enough nutrients) is a struggle. And there are those who are able to get more than enough calories, but are still not meeting their nutrient needs.

Soylent is not going to the answer for everyone. For me, food brings people together, and is one of the best pleasures of life has to offer — and that is something that I do not think that Soylent can provide for many.

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